RAF Fighter Squadrons prepare for battle

Spitfire Mark IA, X4474 ‘QV-I’, of No. 19 Squadron RAF, taking off from Fowlmere, Cambridgeshire, with Sergeant B J Jennings at the controls.

Dispersal pen and my Spitfire. I pause and look at her. A long shapely nose, not exactly arrogant but, nevertheless, daring anyone to take a swing at it. Lines beautifully proportioned, the aircraft sitting there, engine turning easily and smoothly with subdued power. The slipstream blows the moisture over the top of the wings in thin streamlets. Flashes of blue flame from the exhausts are easily seen in the half light, an occasional backfire and the whole aeroplane trembling like a thoroughbred at the start of the Derby.




American support promised – but Britain fights alone

Spitfire pilots pose beside the wreckage of a Junkers Ju 87 Stuka, which they shot down as it was attacking a Channel convoy, 1940.

What was later to be designated the Battle of Britain was now firmly underway, with more and more of RAF Fighters Command’s squadrons being drawn into action. Nevertheless much of the fighting was still taking place offshore, as the Luftwaffe continued its attacks on convoys. As a consequence the battle was not yet taking place […]




Australian pilot downs Me 109 over English Channel

Troops and police inspect Messerschmitt Bf 109E-1 (W.Nr. 3367) "Red 14" of 2./JG52, which crash-landed in a wheatfield at Mays Farm, Selmeston, near Lewes in Sussex, 12 August 1940. Its pilot, Unteroffizier Leo Zaunbrecher, was captured.

Stuart tried to contact control to see if the relief section was on its way but could not raise them. He then ‘turned and headed for convoy climbing to get into sun’. When he was 5 miles from the vessels, he saw bombs exploding around the escorting destroyer. Despite being alone, he ‘pulled the plug and went after the enemy aircraft which had turned southwards’.

When he was southeast of the convoy, at 10000 feet, he saw ‘three Me 109s flying in wide vic at about 9000 feet’. He dived and attacked the machine on the left, opening fire at 200 yards and firing two rapid 2—second bursts as he closed to astern at approximately 50 yards.




The glorious ‘Few’ who are defending Britain

Spitfire pilots of No. 610 Squadron relaxing between sorties at 'A' Flight dispersal at Hawkinge, 29 July 1940.

It was impossible to look at those young men, who might within a matter of minutes be fighting and dying to save us, without mingled emotions of wonder, gratitude, and humility. The physical and mental strain of the long hours at dispersal, the constant flying at high altitudes (two or three sorties a day were normal, six or seven not uncommon), must have been prodigious.

And yet they were so cheerful, so confident, and so obviously dedicated. They were always thrilled to see Churchill, and they gave me a kindly welcome.




Air combat over the Channel at Dover

The Junkers 87 'Stuka' dive bomber was vulnerable to attack and invariably had fighter protection, in this case the Me 109.

“Now then, oh, there’s a terrific mix-up over the Channel! It’s impossible to tell which are our machines and which are the Germans. There was one definitely down in this battle and there’s a fight going on. There’s a fight going on and you can hear the little rattles of machine-gun bullets. Crump! That was a bomb, as you may imagine.”




46 Squadron successful in skies over Narvik

RAF Hawker Hurricane aircraft from 1940, as flown by No. 46 Squadron in Norway

‘I fired a 4 second burst and there was a burst of black smoke and the undercarriage dropped. Heavy return fire was coming from all four rear upper gun positions and it appeared that the top gunners had twin guns. I had now closed to about 80 yards and broke away downwards to port. As I did so I noticed that my oil pressure had dropped tp zero. I turned towards the aerodrome, gradually losing height and landed.’




RAF outnumbered in last dogfight over Germany

Tempest Mark V, EJ743, on a test flight following completion at Langley, Buckinghamshire. This aircraft served with No. 3 Squadron RAF.

My speed had swept me far on — straight on to the torpedo boat which was spitting away with all her guns. I passed within ten yards of her narrow bows, just above the water and the thousand spouts raised by the flak. I caught a glimpse of white shapes rushing about on deck and of tongues of fire from her guns. The entire camouflaged superstructure seemed to be alive with them. Tracer shells ricocheted on the water and exploded all round over a radius of 500 yards. Some shrapnel mowed down a flock of seagulls which fell in the sea on all sides, panic-stricken and bleeding. Phew! Out of range at last!




Captain R.T. Partridge encounters the enemy up close

The Blackburn Skua: the Fleet Air Arm fighter that operated from HMS Ark Royal

Whilst following the HEINKEL down after the attack. Captain Partridge realised that his engine was failing and that he would he forced to land immediately. Selecting a frozen lake which appeared to have a road running beside it, he landed his machine successfully with the undercarriage up. A bent airscrew was the only damage and the machine came to rest alongside the road in about four feet of snow.




263 Squadron land at Lake Lesjaskog

Glster Gladiator landed on surface of snow covered frozen lake

A runway measuring about 800 by 75 yards had been prepared with local labour, which had also swept the snow from a track between the main road and the lake edge. Unfortunately, only one inadequate route had been swept from the edge to the runway; this was half a mile long and a foot deep in snow, and the stores had to be conveyed over it on three horse-drawn sledges, intermittently available. The village of Lesjaskog was two miles away, so that even the provision of forage for the horses involved difficulties.




German Me 262 jets ambush Allied bombers

Messerschmitt Me 262 Schwable, the world's first jet fighter. Messerschmitt Me 262 Werk-Nr. 111711, seen here post-war during a test flight in the USA. It was the first intact Me 262 to fall into Allied hands on March 31st 1945.(U.S. Air Force photo)

At the same moment someone from our unit cried, ‘To the right of us, nothing but bombers, to the right of us!’ Schall, as well as the rest of us, saw the bombers, flying north in a fomiation that was new to us. They flew staggered, about 1,000 metres deep and 2,000 metres wide. They were not US bombers, however, but Tommys in night-flight formation, doing a daytime attack on Hamburg. Schall ordered us to take up attack formation, already having long forgotten the order ‘assume 180’. We were lucky to reach the band without fighter protection and Schall, a fighter with real heart, was not going to pass up a chance like this.