Hugh Dowding is retired from the RAF

Hugh Dowding, official portrait

Yet the reserved uncharismatic, Dowding, nicknamed “Stuffy”, was not popular amongst the higher echelons of the RAF. Some argued that he was not a sufficiently personable leader and should be spending more time visiting the front line Squadrons. There was no evidence that any fighter Squadron needed any form of inspiration – but this was just an alternative view of military leadership.




Spitfire versus six Messerschmitt 109s

Solo Spitfire in flight

One Messerschmitt did a barrel roll to the left. I fired at him as he did so, and he dropped back. I was then engaged from astern, and lost a bit of ground. By the time we got to Hastings I had caught up the rest of them again, and knocked bits off one. Another was half a mile or more below and behind the others as they crossed the coast. He was dropping back rapidly, and I was hoping to finish him off when six more Messerschmitt 109’s came down at me from over the Channel in line abreast.




A multi-national Royal Air Force

Indian air force pilots arrive in Britain 8th October 1940

During the German invasion of Poland he flew reconnaissance missions in an unarmed trainer aircraft but managed to take the fight to the enemy by throwing hand grenades out of his aircraft at columns of troops. He survived being shot down and was ordered to Rumania when Poland collapsed. Here he was interned but managed to escape and made his way, via North Africa, to France where he again served with a Polish unit. It is believed that he shot down as many as 11 aircraft during the German invasion of France.




Top fighter pilot reflects on ‘Big Wing’ tactic

Journalists from Dominions newspapers watch a flight of Hawker Hurricane Mark Is of No. 56 Squadron RAF taking off for a sortie over France from North Weald, Essex. In the foreground another Hurricane Mark I of the Squadron, P2764 'US-P', stands at its dispersal point near the perimeter track on the south-western edge of the airfield.

All too frequently, when returning to North Weald in a semi-exhausted condition, all we saw of 12 Group’s contribution to the engagement, was a vast formation of Hurricanes in neat vics of three, steaming comfortably over our heads in pursuit of an enemy who had long since disappeared in the direction of France. Our reactions on such occasions, though mostly of resigned amusement at first, grew to be more harshly critical later on.




Douglas Bader leads the ‘Big Wing’ into attack

The RAF met successive waves of German aircraft on the 15th September and came off best, although not as decisively as the contemporary propaganda suggested.

They were directed to enemy aircraft by A.A. fire and made a perfect approach with the Spitfires between the Hurricanes and the sun and the E/A below and down sun. The Hurricanes had to wait until Spitfires and Hurricanes already engaging the enemy broke away. The Spitfire Squadrons above held the enemy fighters off and 242 Squadron went in with the other Hurricane Squadrons to destroy the bombers.




Spitfire versus Dornier

A rare close up aerial perspective of Battle of Britain combat.

Things are starting to get rough. Automatically I have followed my self-imposed drill that I always do at times like this. Reflector sight on; gun button to fire; airscrew pitch to 2,650 revs; better response. Press the emergency boost over- ride, lower my seat a notch and straps tight. OK, men, I’m all set. Let battle commence. Please, dear God, like me more than you do the Germans.




Spitfire versus Messerschmitt

Spitfires in flight: relatively rare contemporary British image

Then, just below me and to my left, I saw what I had been praying for – a Messerschmitt climbing and away from the sun. I closed in to 200 yards, and from slightly to one side gave him a two-second burst: fabric ripped off the wing and black smoke poured from the engine, but he did not go down. Like a fool, I did not break away, but put in another three-second burst. Red flames shot upwards and he spiralled out of sight.




303 (Polish) Squadron’s first combat patrol

An Me 109 that just made the coast of France. 303 Squadron shot down six in under an hour on their first combat patrol.

‘A’ Flight, at 16,000 ft east of Biggin Hill, saw about 60 Dorniers going east, protected by fighters. The bombers were in tight vics with sections of Me109s circling around them. Some fighters were covering them above. ‘A’ Flight attacked out of the sun and took enemy escorts by surprise. Each of our pilots selected one Me109 and six dogfights took place.




RAF Ace ‘Sailor’ Malan’s Ten Rules for Air Combat

Still from gun camera film shot by Flight Lieutenant A G "Sailor" Malan, leader of 'A' Flight, No. 74 Squadron RAF, recording his first aerial victory, a Heinkel He 111 over Dunkirk. Although debris and billowing smoke issue from the Heinkel's starboard engine and the starboard undercarriage has dropped, Malan's claim was categorised as unconfirmed since he did not observe the aircraft's destruction. 'A' Flight was based at Hornchurch but was flying out of Rochford at this time in order to shorten the patrol range to France. By the end of July 1941, Malan had achieved a total of 27 and seven shared confirmed victories, and two and one shared unconfirmed victories to become the highest scoring pilot of the war in Fighter Command.


Wait until you see the whites of his eyes. Fire short bursts of one to two seconds only when your sights are definitely “ON”.

Whilst shooting think of nothing else, brace the whole of your body: have both hands on the stick: concentrate on your ring sight.

Always keep a sharp lookout. “Keep your finger out”.




Hurricanes attack bombers head on

Hawker Hurricanes of No. 85 Squadron RAF, October 1940.

Ease the throttle to reduce the closing speed – which anyway allowed only a few seconds’ fire. Get a bead on them right away, hold it, and never mind the streams of tracer darting overhead. Just keep on pressing on the button until you think you’re going to collide – then stick hard forward. Under the shock of ‘negative G’ your stomach jumps into your mouth, dust and muck fly up from the cockpit floor into your eyes and your head cracks on the roof as you break away below.