Saturday, 21 August 2010

Just how few were The Few

Almost unnoticed, an important anniversary has slipped past. Lost in reports of tarts receiving diamonds she did not even recognise, human rights of transvestite coal-miners and in the uselessness of a cobbled together coalition. OK - I invented the bit about the transvestites; we no longer have coal miners do we?

Had the Battle of Britain been lost and were UK overcome in the follow-up invasion, Europe would not have been liberated from Nazism. The camps designed and operated to annihilate those deemed lesser beings or Untermensch would have multiplied such that Oxford or Windermere would have taken on the significance of Dachau or Belsen. Russia would have been defeated and Japan would have risen triumphant in Asia and India. Commonwealth and Empire would have been melted down like scrap. As Churchill said, "A new Dark Age would have fallen on the Earth"

So, just what were our material resources? If you wish a highly detailed account, there is a very good resource available. I think I have abstracted and added up properly. There were 2,340 Brits, 32 Australians, 112 Canadians, 1 Jamaican, 132 Kiwis, 3 Rhodesians and 23 South Africans. Ranged alongside those were 9 Americans, 28 Belgians, 89 Czechoslovakians, 13 French, 145 Polish and even 10 from the Republic of Ireland. Their resolve and gallantry would be tested from when Herr Schickelgruber signed War Directive 17 for the destruction of RAF Fighter Command that was an essential in disrupting the Royal Navy from action against a German Armada.

At the start of the war, Germany had 4,000 aircraft compared to Britain's front-line strength of 1,660. By the time of the fall of France, the Luftwaffe had 3,000 planes based in north-west Europe alone including 1,400 bombers, 300 dive bombers, 800 single engine fighter planes and 240 twin engine fighter bombers. At the start of the battle, the Luftwaffe had 2,500 planes that were serviceable and in any normal day, they could put up over 1,600 planes. The RAF had 1,200 planes on the eve of the battle which included 800 Spitfires and Hurricanes - but only 660 of these were serviceable.

We did have a very limited radar detection system but this was a double edged sword in many respects. RAF crews spent more time in the air; something like seven sorties or more each day. The enemy knew when they would be operational but RAF had to be held on stand-by between dawn around 3:30 am until dusk at 8:30pm. The German Air Force had real live experience dating from the Spanish Civil War and the Blitzkrieg in Europe. Some of our pilots were committed to action after just five weeks training to fly.

By mid-August the enemy had lost 360 aircraft and most of the crews were dead or prisoners of war. We sustained loses of 181 fighters in combat and a further 30 destroyed on the ground. These 211 losses had cost us 154 pilots; newbies added 63 replacements.Significantly, our casualties included 80% of squadron commanders lost to death, injury or battle exhaustion. This meant that inexperienced officers were in charge of even less experienced aircrew.

My birthday falls on 15th August and I have enjoyed many fine celebrations over some 77 years. However, the most impressive and memorable was 15th August 1940. We had started out in the car to visit my grandmother who lived at the edge of the London docklands. A important fighter base was at Hornchurch close to where we lived. During that day, more than 1,800 aircraft assaulted Britain in five massive attacks. The sky was quite literately darkened with bombers, fighters and the explosions of anti-aircraft artillery shells. There were planes - of both sides - crashing in flames. I particularly recall the sight of parachutes seen so very clearly, The whole thing was like a child's drawing.

What happened was very impressive at the time. In retrospect, it was greater than that. We are making such a hash of a tin pot war/security operation that one wonders just what has happened to us in the years between. We need those men today.

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