Thursday, 12 August 2010


Approaching the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain a few words are warranted. Of all of the aerial battles that have been fought since the formation of the Royal Flying Corps in May 1912, our Wing of the Air Force Association of Canada here in Colorado Springs has selected the Battle of Britain as the crucial one to remember and commemorate each 15 September which was its climax in 1940. Having produced Wing newsletters, now for 24 years, that included comments on 4 successful invasions of Britain: Celtic, Roman, Saxon-Angle-Jute, and Norman, plus 3 unsuccessful ones: Spanish, French, and German, there is bound to be repetition as I dare to comment again.

Yes, we can justifiably bask in Churchill’s words: “Never in the history of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few.” But, we also need to heed the critics who argue it was the Royal Navy that was the main obstacle to an invasion and that the frightening invasion preparations were just huge bluffs because Hitler never intended an actual land invasion as he needed his manpower and resources for his drang nach osten obsession.

However, had the Luftwaffe been able to establish and maintain air superiority over the UK, no land invasion would have been needed. The immense buildup, including Commonwealth, Polish, Free French, Czech, Norwegian, and US forces in the UK would not have been possible; the factories that turned out the 4-engine bombers, tanks, and so on that played such a decisive role would have been flattened; British harbours would be the graveyards of the ships needed to sustain the country.

While the UK did not stand alone as is too-often stated, for the 1940 Battle of Britain it provided 79% (1,878) of the pilots who flew the Hurricanes, Spitfires, Defiants, Blenheims, and Beaufighters and almost 100% of the ground crew. Other pilots were from: Poland 141, Canada 88, Czechoslovakia 88, New Zealand 73, Belgium 26, Australia 21, South Africa 21, Ireland 8, United States 7, Rhodesia 2, and Palestine 1. Of the 446 killed, the majority were 348 British, 29 Polish, and 20 Canadian.

Before I leave, let me explode a myth: “Chamberlain the Appeaser”. With an electorate still traumatized by the bloody losses of WW1, Chamberlain had to tread cautiously even though he knew the threat the dictators posed. He estimated that things would come to a head with Hitler in 1939-40 and re-armed accordingly, but had to do it quietly as the joke goes: As a former Chancellor of the Exchequer, he knew how to manipulate account books so it went unnoticed as he changed Hangers, coat, into Hangars, aircraft. But Hitler’s demands at Munich came in 1938. Chamberlain had no recourse but to capitulate. However, by September 1939 when Hitler invaded Poland, Spitfires were coming off the line and new squadrons were being formed in substantial numbers. He now had some muscle. He went to war.

While Britain, France, and the USA must accept the major blame for paving the way for Hitler by vindictive handling of Germany and Austro-Hungary after WWI, there is no denying that WWII was thrust upon us and few now remember just how close we came to losing that war and plunging into a long dark age of human cruelties. This surely would have happened had not Chamberlain started his rearmament in time.

We can never thank enough those millions of people from so many countries who suffered, sacrificed, and died in all corners of the world to avert that fate.

While the Battle of Britain was one small, short, intense battle in a 6-year struggle, it was the first to give us hope and it was vital in retaining the UK as an aircraft carrier and as a launch pad for ultimate victory.

We, now basking in the wealth and comfort of a free society, should turn out in droves to remember, honour, and thank all those whose lives were torn so violently from them. Those who can retain dry cheeks have no inkling of the intensity and horrors of that struggle. Many try but collectively we are not doing enough to eradicate the root causes of wars.

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