IN PICTURES: Battle of Britain Day

Today, 15 Sep­tem­ber 2010, marks the 70th anniver­sary of the day which saw the peak air activ­i­ty of the Bat­tle of Britain and was described by the wartime Air Min­istry as ‘one of the great­est days’.

Spitfire P7350 (front) flies alongside Hurricane LF363 (back). The P7350 (Mk IIa) is the oldest airworthy Spitfire in the world and the only Spitfire still flying to have actually fought in the Battle of Britain
Spit­fire P7350 (front) flies along­side Hur­ri­cane LF363 (back). The P7350 (Mk IIa) is the old­est air­wor­thy Spit­fire in the world and the only Spit­fire still fly­ing to have actu­al­ly fought in the Bat­tle of Britain
Source: Senior Air­craft­man Neil Chap­man, Min­istry of Defence, UK
Click to enlarge

The actions of that momen­tous day were described by Prime Min­is­ter Win­ston Churchill in the House of Com­mons as:

“The most bril­liant and fruit­ful of any fought upon a large scale up to that date by the fight­ers of the Roy­al Air Force.”

Britain’s air defence rest­ed prin­ci­pal­ly on the Roy­al Air Force. While Bomber Com­mand and Coastal Com­mand would both make a sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tion to the bat­tle by attack­ing the Ger­man inva­sion prepa­ra­tions and air­fields across the Eng­lish Chan­nel, and the Army’s anti-air­craft guns would inflict loss­es on any raiders, only the pilots of Fight­er Com­mand, under Air Chief Mar­shal Sir Hugh Dowd­ing, could meet the Luft­waffe head on.

Near­ly 3,000 air­crew would serve with Fight­er Com­mand in the course of the bat­tle, of whom near­ly 600 (around 20 per cent) were from the British domin­ions and occu­pied Euro­pean or neu­tral coun­tries.

To com­pen­sate for the lack of num­bers, the RAF had the advan­tage of a high­ly effi­cient and advanced com­mand and con­trol sys­tem. At var­i­ous lev­els in the com­mand struc­ture, oper­a­tions rooms gath­ered and col­lat­ed infor­ma­tion gleaned from the radar sites that looked out from Britain’s coast­line, from the vol­un­teers who staffed Observ­er Corps posts fur­ther inland, from air­craft in the air, and oth­er sources to build a remark­ably accu­rate and near ‘real-time’ pic­ture of the sit­u­a­tion in the skies above.

A re-enactor dressed as a wartime airman guards a replica Spitfire outside St Paul's Cathedral in London as a special service is conducted to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain
A re-enac­tor dressed as a wartime air­man guards a repli­ca Spit­fire out­side St Paul’s Cathe­dral in Lon­don as a spe­cial ser­vice is con­duct­ed to com­mem­o­rate the 70th anniver­sary of the Bat­tle of Britain
Source: Senior Air­craft­man Gareth Lit­tle, Min­istry of Defence, UK
Click to enlarge

This allowed the com­man­ders to direct their sparse resources towards the points where they were most need­ed, rather than wast­ing effort guard­ing emp­ty skies.

The Bat­tle of Britain acts as a touch­stone for today’s RAF. The courage and self-sac­ri­fice demon­strat­ed serves as a con­tin­u­ing inspi­ra­tion to serv­ing per­son­nel, and also acts as a con­stant reminder that the RAF’s fore­most duty remains the con­trol of the air.

The threat to the UK may have changed in char­ac­ter, and the ongo­ing con­trol of the air mis­sion in Afghanistan takes a very dif­fer­ent form from the air bat­tles over Kent and Sus­sex 70 years ago, but the objec­tive remains the same: to secure the free use of the air for our­selves and our allies and to deny it to our adver­saries.

Air Chief Mar­shal Sir Stephen Dal­ton, Chief of the Air Staff, said:

“The sum­mer of 1940 cer­tain­ly saw an epic clash. It was only through the exer­cise of air pow­er that the Nazis could bring pres­sure to bear and either force Britain to make peace or bypass Britain’s sea pow­er and mount an inva­sion.

 Pilot figure on the Battle of Britain Monument on London's Victoria Embankment
Pilot fig­ure on the Bat­tle of Britain Mon­u­ment on London’s Vic­to­ria Embank­ment
Source: Sergeant Andy Malt­house, Min­istry of Defence, UK
Click to enlarge

“Air supe­ri­or­i­ty over south­ern Eng­land and the Chan­nel was the pre­req­ui­site. By deny­ing that suprema­cy, the Roy­al Air Force saved Britain and ulti­mate­ly laid the foun­da­tion to free Europe from the scourge of Nazism.

“The air­men pre­pared to fight tyran­ny in a just cause were by no means all British; in all about one-fifth of them were from coun­tries in the Com­mon­wealth and Occu­pied Europe, or neu­tral nations.

“It is with a sense of sor­row that we find that so many of the ‘Few’ died dur­ing the bat­tle, and that of those still liv­ing in Novem­ber 1940, close on half did not sur­vive to see the final vic­to­ry for which they fought. For their brav­ery and sac­ri­fice in defence of our free­dom, we will nev­er for­get them — indeed, we will remem­ber them.”

Press release
Min­istry of Defence, UK

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