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An RAF Airman's Blog

Their Finest Hour…

On this day, 18th June 1940, the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, gave a speech over the radio – a repeat of one he had made earlier in the day in the House of Commons.  It was now clear to everyone that the German war machine had driven France out of the fight and that Britain was now alone against Germany, and recently Italy who had declaired war on the UK.

“What General Waygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization…the whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. 

Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the War.  If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad sunlit uplands. 

But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.

Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, “This was their finest hour.”

Any invasion of Britain by Hilter’s Wehrmacht would not be as simple as the river crossings it had summounted in mainland Europe. Although Britain was just 22 miles away from France across the Channel, the miles were made wider by the power of the Royal Navy.

For those invasion barges to sail safely across the sea – and to arrive un-molested by the Royal Navy –  the Germans needed one essential condition checked.  The German Navy was never strong enough to take on the Royal Navy, however the Luftwaffe and the Navy together could neutralise the RN, and launch an invasion. Put simply, the Germans must win total control of the air.

Standing in their way was the Royal Air Force, and in particular the ‘Fighter Boys’ of Hugh Dowding’s Fighter Command. Bearing the brunt of the attack would be No. 11 Group in the South East of Englad, with 10 Group to the South West, and 12 Group in the Midlands. 13 Group defended the UK to the North of the Islands.

Facing the hordes of German fighters (Messerschmitt Me109 and Me110) and the vast fleets of bombers (Junkers Ju87 Stukas, Dornier DO17’s, Heinkel He111’s and Junkers Ju88’s) were the British Hawker Hurricane, Supermarine Spitfire and a few Bristol Blenheim fighters of the Royal Air Force.

2600 German aircraft faced some 670 British.

The scene was set for the greatest air battle in history.

The Battle of Britain.


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10 thoughts on “Their Finest Hour…

  1. Ian Willis - Bentley on said:

    Lest We Forget our brave men and women of The Royal Air Force.
    Past, Present and to the Future of our Royal Air Force, we thank you

  2. Very good article..Thanks.

  3. Big Bro on said:

    A truly inspiring speech – pity the BBC chose to ignore the 70th Anniversary of this fact and concentrate on De Gaulle’s speech instead.

    By the way – the Boulton Paul Defiant initially lined up in the Battle until the Luftwaffe figured out it’s weaknesses and it was withdrawn into the Night Fighter role.

    • Actually, I was taking the aircraft from the Fighter Command orbat 10 July 1940. I believe the Defiant had already been withdrawn to night fighter duties by then. 😛 Although it was listed as 264 Sqn (part of 12 Group at Duxford).

  4. Big Bro on said:

    I took this from Wikipedia (I know they are not always accurate but in this case ….) – I don’t know if you want to publish.
    “According to the book The Turret Fighters by aviation historian Alec Brew, 264 Sqn developed a counter against single-seat aircraft such as the Bf 109. By flying in an ever-descending Lufberry circle, Defiant crews sacrificed the advantage of height but eliminated the possibility of attack from underneath, while giving 360° of defensive fire. This tactic was used successfully by 264 Sqn but when the Defiants of 141 Sqn were committed to combat a few months later during the Battle of Britain, it chose to ignore their advice with devastating consequences. On 19 July 1940, six out of nine Defiants of 141 Sqn sent to cover a convoy off Folkestone were shot down and the remaining three only survived due to the intervention of Hurricanes of 111 Sqn. The Hurricanes reported that the Defiants had shot down four Bf 109s. Although 264 Sqn claimed 48 kills in eight days over Dunkirk, the cost was high with 14 Defiants lost. The actual German losses were no more than 12 to 15 enemy aircraft; the turret’s wide angle of fire meant that several Defiants could engage the same target at one time leading to multiple claims.

    264 Squadron lost two aircraft on 26 August and five on 28 August with the deaths of nine crew members. With these losses, the Defiant – which had been intended from the start as a day and night fighter – was transferred to night fighting and there the Defiant achieved some success.”

    You were partially right with 264 Sqn.

    • I would like to point out that the Defiants of 141Sqn were already in the Night-fighter role by early July as a result of the incident you mentioned. And that 141 was also declaired combat ineffective, and moved to RAF Prestwick, as a result of it.

      I maintain that by 10 July (the date of the orbat I used – produced by Patrick Bishop a noted BoB expert) Defiants were already predominantly nightfighter sqns. AND that 264 Sqn was the only sqn in RAF Fighter Command.

      So there 😛 If you carry on like this I am telling Big Sis…

  5. Big Bro on said:

    Go on then, I DARE you, she doesn’t frighten me!!

    By the way, I still maintain the Defiants were involved in the Battle….
    “No 141 Squadron was formed at Rochford on 1 January 1918 as a home defence unit for the London Area, moving to Biggin Hill in February and giving up its mixed collection of types in favour of Bristol Fighters during March. In March 1919, it moved to Ireland where it was disbanded on 1 February 1920.

    On 4 October 1939, No 141 reformed at Turnhouse and by the end of the month had received some Gladiators followed shortly afterwards by Blenheims and these two types formed the training equipment of the until the arrival of Defiants in April 1940. Becoming operational on this type on 3 June 1940, the first operational patrol was flown by No 141 on 29 June and in July it moved to West Malling. The maintenance flight was based at Biggin Hill while the Defiants used Hawkinge as an advanced airfield and it was from the latter that the Squadron had its first and last daylight encounter with the enemy. Six out of nine aircraft were lost over the Channel to Me 109s and the sqauadron was withdrawn to Prestwick two days later as the ineffectiveness of the Defiant against single-seat fighters became evident. In September, a detachment was sent back to southern England but this time for night patrols and the whole squadron moved there in October.

    141 Sqn – Stations
    Turnhouse 28 June 1940
    West Malling 12 July 1940
    Prestwick 21 July 1940”

    Shall we end now???

    • I NEVER said they weren’t! I just didn’t include them, like I didn’t include the Henschel Hs 126s Recce aircraft that the Germans used, simply because there wasn’t that many of them.

      You see I didn’t want a long list of aircraft to get in the way of the flow of the writing.

      So THERE. And I am telling when I see her, and she’ll give you a Chinese Burn and everything.


  6. Big Bro on said:

    you little sneak!!

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