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Forces War Records Blog

ON THIS DAY - 10TH JULY 1940 - BATTLE OF BRITAIN - THE FIGHTERS!

July 10, 1940, taking place in the skies above the UK was a vital aerial conflict of World War II, between the British and German air forces.

A Spitfire patrol are on duty and ready to attack the instant enemy aircraft are sighted

The fierce battle raged on from July until October 1940, as the Germans tried to win air superiority over Britain by destroying their airforce, and aircraft industry. "The Battle of France is over. The Battle of Britain is about to begin," famously quoted Churchill in June 1940. The French had just surrendered to Germany, which caused Hitler to turn his attention to Britain. Before Hitler could even think of an invasion though, German air superiority in the south of England was essential, and Hermann Goering, the head of the Luftwaffe, was instructed that the RAF must be "beaten down to such an extent that it can no longer muster any power of attack worth mentioning against the German crossing". It all kicked off in July 1940 with German bomber attacks against British convoys and ports. On August 13, Hitler heated things up a bit and unleashed the main offensive called Adlerangriff (‘Eagle Attack’) which was initially against air base, aircraft factories and against radar stations in southeastern England. To defend the country the British arranged more than 600 frontline fighters and Fighter command employed squadrons of durable and heavily armed Hawker Hurricanes. Britain also had the faster and more agile Supermarine Spitfires up its sleeve - saved for use against the bombers’ fighter escorts. Thanks to their superior equipment the British actually had the advantage against the German bombers that were mostly lightly armed, twin-engine planes like the Heinkel He 111 and Junkers Ju 88. These aircraft in daylight were very vulnerable and also lacked the bomb load capacity to strike fatal blows. Even more vulnerable to being shut down was the once feared Junkers Ju 87 “Stuka” dive-bomber and the German premier fighter—the Messerschmitt Bf 109— was operating at the limit of its flying range so could only provide brief long-range cover for the bombers. By the end of August 1940, the Luftwaffe had lost more than 600 aircraft and the RAF only 260. However, Fighter Command was still losing fighters and experienced pilots at too great a rate to be sustained. Number 11 Group in particular was in a fight for its life and subsequently for Britain’swell-being too. Churchill recognised that the country’s fate hung on the sacrifice of its airmen, and in a speech to Parliament on August 20, said: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” Thankfully, Britain had the advantage of fighting against an enemy that had no systematic or consistent plan of action. By mid-September, it was becoming clear that the Luftwaffe could not gain air superiority over Britain. British fighters were shooting down German bombers faster than German industry could produce them. The Luftwaffe even shifted almost entirely to night raids on Britain’s industrial centres, in order to avoid the RAF fighters. The night raids, also known as the “Blitz,” caused many deaths and hardship for the people of Britain at the time, but it didn’t help the Germans dominate the skies and invade Britain. On October 12, 1940 Hitler announced that the operation was off for the winter, and long before the arrival of spring he decided to turn eastward against Russia. Plans for an invasion were discarded and the campaign against Britain then became a blockade of its sea approaches, conducted mainly by submarines and only supplemented by the Luftwaffe. The Battle of Britain really tested the efficiency of British airplane technology and the swift development of German airpower cause Britain to sharpen their own airforce. Britain developed the use of radar and galvanised the air force into a separate military branch and. The British Air Force helped defeat the Germans and played a vital part in turning the tide of the Second World War. The Battle of Britain was very significant because it was the first major military campaign in history to be fought entirely in the air – below we look at the two main British fighters in more detail:

Supermarine Spitfire The Spitfire has a sleek, graceful fuselage, noticeably slimmer than the Hurricane and has a domed canopy with a smaller, more angular fin. It can be traced back to the failed Supermarine Type 224, designed by Reginald J. Mitchell, creator of the magnificent Supermarine seaplanes. The Type 224 was a gull-winged monoplane with a fixed "trousered" undercarriage, powered by a 600-h.p. Rolls-Royce engine, and Mitchell was dissatisfied with it even before it flew. He then designed a new aircraft as a private venture and the conception was revised twice, to incorporate the new P.V.12 (Merlin) engine and an eight-gun battery. The final design was accepted by the Air Ministry in January 1935 and the first prototype flew on 5th March 1936. The first order for 310 machines was placed three months later, followed by a further 200 the following year shortly before the tragic death of its designer at the age of 42. In April 1938 the Nuffield Organisation was awarded an order for 1,000 Spitfires to be built at a shadow plant planned for Castle Bromwich near Birmingham, and further orders in 1939 brought the number of aircraft on the order book to a total of 2,143 by the outbreak of war. Between August and December 1938 No. 19 Squadron at Duxford was equipped with the Spitfire Mk.1. By the outbreak of war nine squadrons were fully equipped and two others were in the process of conversion. A total of 1,583 Spitfire Is were built. Deliveries of the Mk. II (basically a Mk. I powered by a 1,175-h.p. Merlin XII) began in June 1940, but widespread re-equipment with the new version did not commence until the following winter, and it was the Mk. 1 which bore the brunt of the fighting during the Battle of Britain; by July 7th nineteen Fighter Command Squadrons were operational with the type. Powerplant: One 1,030 hp Rolls-Royce Merlin III twelve-cylinder liquid-cooled engine Span: 36ft 11 in (11.25m) Length: 29ft. 11 in (9.12m) Max Speed:362 mph (584km/h) at 19,000 ft (5,790m) Armament: Eight .303 in Browning machine guns mounted in wings Accommodation: Pilot only

Spitfires shared with Hurricanes the glory of the daily combats with the Luftwaffe of 1940


Hawker Hurricane  The Hawker Hurricane has a stubby, angular fuselage with a large rounded fin and flat, heavily-framed canopy. The Hawker Hurricane was the first operational R.A.F. aircraft capable of a top speed in excess of 300 m.p.h. The design of the Hurricane, directed by Sydney Camm, aimed to break the deadlocked biplane formula. In these discussions Camm proposed a monoplane, based otherwise on his Fury biplane, using the proposed new Rolls-Royce P.V.12 engine (later to become the Merlin), and in time incorporating a retractable undercarriage. Originally, in concert with current armament requirements, a four-gun battery was proposed; but in 1934, with successful negotiations to licence-build the reliable Colt machine gun, it was deemed possible to mount an eight-gun battery in the wings, unrestricted by the propeller arc and thus dispensing with synchronising gear. The first Fighter Command squadron to receive Hurricanes was No. 111, commanded by Sqdn. Ldr. John Gillan, based at Northolt before Christmas 1937; and it was the squadron's C.O. who flew one of the new fighters from Turnhouse, Edinburgh to Northolt, London at an average ground speed of 408.75 mph (659.27km/h) - a feat which earned the pilot the nickname "Downwind Gillan". Nos. 3 and 56 Squadrons took delivery during 1938, though the latter was not operational at the time of the Munich Crisis in September of that year. By the outbreak of war a year later 497 Hurricanes had been completed from an order book totalling no less than 3,500. At about this time the Gloster Aircraft Company started sub-contract manufacture of the standard Mark 1, which was now emerging from the factories with metal wings and three-blade variable-pitch propellers. One final refinement was adopted between the outbreak of war and the opening of the Battle of Britain; this was the Rotol constant-speed propeller which, apart from enabling the pilot to select an optimum pitch for take-off, climb, cruise And combat (thus bestowing a better performance under some of these conditions) also prevented the engine from overheating in a dive. A total of 1,715 Hurricanes flew with Fighter Command during the period of the Battle, far in excess of all other British fighters combined. Having entered service a year before the Spitfire, the Hurricane was "half-a-generation" older, and was markedly inferior in terms of speed and climb. However, the Hurricane was a robust, manoeuvrable aircraft capable of sustaining fearsome combat damage before write-off; and unlike the Spitfire, it was a wholly operational, go-anywhere do-anything fighter by July 1940. It is estimated that its pilots were credited with four-fifths of all enemy aircraft destroyed in the period July-October 1940. Powerplant: One 1,030 hp Rolls-Royce Merlin III twelve-cylinder liquid-cooled engine Span: 40ft 0in (12.19m) Length: 31ft 4in (9.55m) Max Speed: 328 mph (529km/h) at 20,000 ft (6,095m) Armament: Eight .303 in Browning machine guns mounted in wings Accommodation: Pilot only

Artist's impression of a Hawker Hurricane

Source: Encyclopaedia Britain and RAF

 

Commemorating the 76th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain – Win an Air Experience Flight with ‘Flying for Freedom’.

Forces Reunited chose to support Flying for Freedom as this amazing charity demonstrates what it is possible for severely disabled veterans to achieve. Wounded or injured service personnel from our Armed Forces are supported through Microlight flying training post-recovery, and past trainees have overwhelmingly reported that they have gained substantial benefits from the new-found freedom of flying. Learning a wide range of skills rebuilds the veterans’ confidence and provides an exciting post-rehabilitation activity.

To commemorate those who fought 76 years ago, we're offering 1 lucky new member a FREE FLIGHT in a microlite plane with the charity 'Flying For Freedom'

To be in with a chance of receiving your FREE FLIGHT....all you need to do is register with Forces War Records anytime from 10th - 12th July, 2016, and email: customercare@forces-war-records.co.uk quoting 'FREEFLIGHT'.

The air experience flight can to a degree be what YOU want it to be. If you simply want to get your feet off the ground and have the pleasure of seeing stunning Cotswold views that is fine but all flying takes the form of a lesson in which you participate. How much actual ‘hands on the controls’ experience you have is entirely a matter for you and the instructor.

Note that the flight will be from the Cotswold Airport, situated seven miles to the South West of the old Roman town of Cirencester.

Make a donation via Help for Heroes: www.bmycharity.com/flyingforfreedom

 

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