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National Journal: First published 16/07/2010


By Michael Walsh (August 2000)


The Battle of Britain, an airborne epic which has received much fanciful embellishment by the propagandists of the victor nations, is, at every opportunity, recycled again.

Phillip Knightley: "Throughout the battle the RAF regularly lost more fighters than did the Luftwaffe."

Battle of Britain Myths

British "Spitfire", chased by a German "ME 109".

The background events leading up to the Battle of Britain are well recorded. On September 1st 1939, Hitler’s Germany finally reacted to a decade of economic blockades, trade embargos, isolation and sabre-rattling. Poland goaded by England and France, naively believing promises of English assistance in the event of German retaliation, militarily attacked Germanys borders once too often. As the German armed forces swept through lands that had belonged to the German nation throughout history but were ceded to Poland by the iniquitous Versailles Treaty, the promises of the Slav states backers remained empty promises. Other than the knee-jerk declaration of war against Germany life in Europe went on as normal. It was a period journalists described as the bore war. There was simply nothing to report.

On Poland being neutralized (Soviet Russia had invaded simultaneously) it was stand-down time in Germany. The armed forces were partly demobilised and much of its equipment mothballed. As foremost Second World War historian, Basil Liddell Hart surmised, Hitler and the German High Command had made no plans or preparations to deal with Britain’s opposition. Hitler still clung to the belief that England would recognise her military hopeless situation. (1) Even when Winston Churchill made it clear that whatever the cost he was intent on carrying his war aims forward, Adolf Hitler was convinced that the claret-pickled cigar-smoking un-elected autocrat was bluffing.


Fast moving events however had already proved that Churchill was far from bluffing. By May 1940, eight months after England’s declaration of war, England had invaded neutral Norway, was planning an operation to mine Germany’s great rivers and sinking Germanys life-line shipping. England was also in the process of adding 1.6 million square miles to its empire by occupying Italian and French colonies; Syria, Iraq and Persia. It had conspired in a Yugoslavian coup, assassinated political leaders, blackmailed neutral countries, and was making overtures to Stalin’s murderous regime that was intent on adding to its own blood-soaked empire.

By July 2nd 1940 Churchill had rejected out of hand all of Germany peace proposals and was single-mindedly pursuing its war against its North Sea neighbour. Meanwhile Stalin’s Russia was mobilizing to the East. Adolf Hitler and the German Supreme Command were in no doubt as to the threat to Germany should it be caught between the Soviet Union’s Red Army and England’s war machine.


Hitler decided to deal with the English enemy first. This would leave him free to concentrate on the defence of Germany’s eastern borders and its eastern allies. The Führer ordered a study for the invasion of England. Operation Sea Lion was about to commence. It was a strategy bound to fail. Because of Hitler’s earlier belief that England would come to the peace table, Germany was woefully incapable of mounting a sea borne invasion against England. No troops had been given training in sea borne and landing operations, there were no landing craft built. However the growing Soviet threat demanded speed and improvisation. There was a hurried effort to make amends and even barges were commandeered to provide training for troops. As German preparations to bring England’s war to England’s shores began it became apparent that time was not on Germanys side. Hitler called for an August invasion; his Naval Staff set the earliest date for at mid-September. Indeed the latter authority had recommended that the operation be postponed until the following year but the Soviet menace made such a delay unthinkable. Essentially, an element in the ensuing struggle would be control of the skies over the English Channel.


Herman Göring had assured the Fuhrer that the Luftwaffe was capable of holding off the Royal Navy whilst driving the Royal Air Force from the skies. Germany’s Naval and Army chiefs were quite happy to let him prepare the way. The Battle of Britain was launched in August 1940. According to Phillip Knightley, special correspondent to the Sunday Times and noted author the legend goes like this: While England stood alone, the RAF outnumbered and down to its last cartridge, with brilliant improvisation, skills, and unbelievable bravery, soared into battle with a smile on its lips and shot the Luftwaffe out of the sky. Down below London’s newspaper sellers chalked on their billboards, Biggest Raid Ever. Score 78 to 26 England still batting. While children marched off to the air raid shelters singing Bless them All Churchill, reeking of claret, exhorted England’s defenders to fight them on the beaches, calling for blood, toil, tears and sweat.


In fact, England was far from being the underdog of propagandists lore and the claim that the RAF was outnumbered by two to one is wholly false. When Germany retaliated against England thirteen months after Englands declaration of war they had a total of 702 single-seaters and 261 heavy fighters. A total of 963 aircraft. RAF Fighter Command had a tactical strength of 666 (a figure to conjure with!) fighter aircraft plus nearly 750 reserve aircraft a total of 1,416. (2) It was a year in which Britain produced 4,283 fighter aircraft compared with Germany’s production of just over 3,000 single and twin-engined fighters. Contrary to propaganda, re-cycled and original, German aircraft were not superior to their RAF adversaries. The predominantly used Messer Schmidt 109 although slightly faster was at a disadvantage when turning and maneuvering. Unlike the RAFs fighter planes it offered no armour plated protection for the pilot. Furthermore, since most of the fighting was over British soil, German pilots and planes shot down were irretrievably lost. On the other hand downed British pilots often survived to fight again. Their planes were either salvaged or could be cannibalized for essential spare parts. Finally it must also be remembered that the ME 109s cruising range was just 100 miles or 95 minutes in the air; it was constantly time vulnerable and unlike the RAFs fighters had to break away prematurely to return to their distant bases. The also-ran ME 110, which had a top speed of less than 300 mph, was easily outpaced by Spitfires and Hurricanes.


The odds were roughly even in the air yet throughout the Battle of Britain the RAF regularly lost more fighters than did the Luftwaffe. It is now a matter of albeit hidden record (3) that the RAFs young pilots were under no illusions about the glamour of their task and many found Churchill’s rhetoric embarrassing. There was little about the air conflict that placed valour highly. Air combat in the Battle of Britain was a matter of calculating the apparently improbable co-incidence of small pieces of machinery in very large air spaces, with the aim of placing one group of men in a position to shoot another group of men in the back with as little risk to themselves as possible. (4) The Battle of Britain was a conflict far removed from the nobility of knightly gallantry. The Germans did fire on descending British parachutists knowing that failure to do so would see them airborne that same afternoon. The RAF equally calculating had no compunction about doing likewise, shooting down aircraft clearly marked with the Red Cross symbol and even shooting down a civilian Heinkel 59 seaplane as it was rescuing German pilots floating in the English Channel. England’s Home Guard units habitually opened fire on Luftwaffe pilots as they descended and in one gruesome incident, used the decapitated pilots head as a football.


Such events are happily in the far distant past. The world has moved on and Europe’s prosperity and advances are light years away from Churchill’s brother-war; austerity, jingoism, military colonialism, protectionism are all in the past. The survivors of a generation that fought and lied now stand looking into the same tomb abyss they sent so many others to. Now as never before it is time for those who replace them, today’s beautiful youth, to renounce manipulative leaders with their secret agendas, to embrace their racial kin across the false boundaries of nationhood, and swear that never again will like-blood be shed by like-blood. Tomorrow we live!

1. (History of the Second World War, B.H Liddell Hart, Chassell + Co Ltd, London, 1970).
2. (B. Collier, A Short History of the Second World War, London, Collins, 1967, pp 155/166).
3. The First Casualty, Phillip Knightley, Andre Deutsch Ltd, 1975, p.235)
4. (B. Page, Winston Churchill and the War of Dream, (manuscript).

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