It’s been an important few months for the RAF, as the anniversaries of some very big dates in their history fall between June and October, primarily dates connected to the 1940s Battle of Britain. It is RAF Fighter Command’s finest hour, and is well remembered by one and all. The Few stood against the many, scrambling as many times a day as they could to fend off the prolific Luftwaffe.
Firing up a Rolls Royce Merlin V12, strapping in and climbing to Angels 20 to meet a force of 100 German aircraft was a unique undertaking. Or was it?
The RAF still scramble to intercept ‘enemy’ aircraft on a regular basis to this day. Of course, today’s enemy isn’t piston engine Heinkels from the Luftwaffe, numbering in their hundreds, with the goal of destroying Britain’s cities and will to fight. No, it’s turboprop, Tupolev nuclear bombers from the Russian Air Force, simply testing how quickly the RAF reacts to potential threats. Whilst the thought of Rolls Royce Merlin powered aircraft going up to meet them is an intriguing one, it is instead the Eurojet powered Eurofighter Typhoon that is given this job.
The Royal Air Force’s premier fighter continues the role made famous, and perfected by, the Hurricanes, Spitfires and their aircrews during the Battle of Britain, now called the Quick Reaction Alert Force.
The QRA aircraft are based at RAF Coningsby and RAF Lossiemouth, covering the southern and northern Sectors of UK airspace respectively. RAF Lossiemouth replaced RAF Leuchars in September 2014, and celebrates one year of successful operations this month.
Pilots on duty, like their comrades from 1940, are at continual readiness 24 hours a day, fully dressed in the Aircrew Ready Room near the hangars housing their aircraft. The Eurofighters, unlike their 1940s compatriots, are equipped with air to air missiles and a 27mm cannon, can climb to twice the maximum altitude of a Spitfire inside a minute and accelerate to nearly twice the speed of sound. Air Chief Marshal Dowding’s jaw would probably hit the floor if he could see these amazing aircraft in action.
While the technology has moved on, the fundamental principles of the UK’s Air Defence strategy, which allowed the RAF to defeat the Luftwaffe and scupper Hitler’s plans for Western Europe, remain broadly the same as they were 75 years ago.
The Battle of Britain was a turning point of the Second World War, it showed that Hitler's Nazi Germany could be beaten. His plans for Britain and Western Europe went down in flames like Luftwaffe bombers, at the hands of the Royal Air Force. Check out one of our new collections to see exactly who Hitler and the Nazis wanted to capture in Britain, had they managed to successfully invade our island, in Hitler's Black Book - The Most Wanted List for Britain