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15th September 2021
Today marks the official end of The Battle of Britain, the major air campaign fought over southern England in the summer and autumn of 1940.
After the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk and the Fall of France, Germany planned to gain air superiority in preparation for an invasion of Great Britain. We were a nation in peril. Supported by our allies overseas, the British Government refused to make peace with Hitler. In this country's darkest hour, the British Armed Forces prepared to defend the United Kingdom.
Millions of ordinary men and women across the UK played vital roles, including Air Raid Wardens, firefighters and members of the Home Guard. Thousands worked in aircraft factories, building the aircraft that would defend the country. Between June and October 1940, around 2,000 Hurricanes and Spitfires were built and the female pilots of the Air Transport Auxiliary –flew the fighters and bombers from factories to air bases.
By 1940, dozens of radar stations had been constructed along the British coastline. This system, called ‘Chain Home’, was the first early warning radar network ever built. Men and women in the radar stations could detect approaching German aircraft from up to 80 miles away. Speed was crucial. Information gathered by radar and the Observer Corps went to RAF Fighter Command Headquarters at Bentley Priory in North London. They checked the information, and circulated this by phone to RAF Groups across the country. Each Group controlled the RAF aircraft, anti-aircraft guns, searchlights, and barrage balloons in their areas. Every action was plotted on a large map. Known as the ‘Dowding System’, it was the world’s most advanced air defence network and critical to the RAF’s victory in the Battle of Britain. It used the latest science and technology to detect hostile aircraft and coordinate how air defences would respond.
The bravery and sacrifice of RAF aircrew was matched by the ceaseless effort and devotion of RAF ground crew. RAF engineers, mechanics, and armourers, as well as countless others on the ground, worked day and night to keep the RAF ready for battle. RAF stations were often targets for bombing, so RAF ground crew often found themselves in the line of fire.
However it must not be forgotten that The Battle of Britain was an international victory. Aviators from across occupied Europe, the Commonwealth, and the wider world flew for the RAF during the Battle. Roughly a fifth of the RAF's Battle of Britain aviators were not British.
The pilots of RAF Fighter Command, flying iconic aircraft including the Hurricane and Spitfire ultimately defeated the Luftwaffe forcing Hitler to abandon his invasion plans. RAF pilots at the heart of the terrifying dogfights in the skies over England were known as “The Few”. Their bravery and courage never wavered despite the impact of heavy losses and extreme fatigue, these men and all who supported them played a vital role in Britain’s struggle for survival in the summer of 1940.
Wing Commander Ian Cumming, Erskine CEO said: ‘Today marks the official end of The Battle of Britain. The Royal Air Force victory in the Battle of Britain turned the tide of WW2. It gave us the future we now live. We owe a debt of gratitude to those who fought a huge team effort, in our defence and for our liberty. Ever since the Battle of Britain until the present day, the RAF has continued to mount a constant vigil in defence of UK airspace, in aid of our friends and interests around the world and in over-watch of our troops deployed in harm’s way. The aircraft, the technology and the training are now very different to 1940. However, the courage, professionalism and teamwork of Royal Air Force personnel, as they project “Airpower” all endure!