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Simon Parry – Author.
Although I had been involved in recording the events of the Battle of Britain for nearly 40 years, it was not until recently that I seriously considered producing a new and comprehensive history of ‘The Battle’. Iconic books such as Mason’s Battle over Britain, After the Battle’s ‘Then and Now’ and Wynn’s ‘Men of the Battle of Britain’, it seemed, would not be surpassed in their detail, but I felt there was something lacking – a detailed analysis of the air combats themselves.
Attempts to chronicle air combats have usually resulted in lengthy interpretations that leave the reader deeply confused, or resort to saying little more than, ‘…and they all whirled around a lot’.
If a serious effort was to be made at a history worthy of the Battle of Britain, a radically new and innovative approach would have to be found. It would also need to be produced by a team of specialists, each bringing their own particular knowledge or skills to the project.
Fortunately, over my many years as a publisher of aviation books it has been my privilege to work with many experts in their fields, not only historians, but also artists and designers.
After a few weeks of discussions, the feedback was overwhelmingly positive and in the spring of 2015 our newly formed editorial and design team set to work on a few ‘prototype’ days to test the concept. What evolved over the next few months was a highly graphic portrayal of the combats, using maps to give a sense of place and scale and cutting-edge artwork to bring events to life. Text was to be restricted almost exclusively to transcripts of intelligence and combat reports and tables would be used to show losses and claims on a blow-by-blow basis.
The biggest problem was keeping the series within manageable proportions, so we set a rough target of 10 volumes and have edited the work accordingly in Volume One, although we have yet to see how many pages the big days in August and September will use up!
The team and I hope that you will gain as much from reading this series as we have from creating it. It has been a genuine privilege to work on Volume One and we are all looking forward to getting started on the rest of the volumes. If any of you have material or specialist knowledge on any aspect of the Battle then please do get in touch, we would be delighted to welcome you to the team.
Having been a professional aviation artist for over 25 years, the Battle of Britain has always been a special interest of mine. So much so in fact that back in 1991 I won the TV quiz show The $64,000 Question answering questions on this very subject!
When Simon and I first discussed this project, we knew that the biggest challenge would be to make the very complex daily events understandable. Our solution was to break the days down into individual combats wherever possible and then illustrate those combats with a map to show roughly where they took place and how many aircraft took part. We further set out to illustrate as much of the written material as possible by including a photo of each RAF pilot whose combat report we quoted as well as trying to find a photo of every RAF pilot who was killed in action. (Quite a challenge by the way!)
We both thought that it would be great to include a painted combat scene for the opening page of each day of the Battle. Clearly, this was unrealistic from a paint and canvas point of view as it would take me several years to complete them all! However, I knew it could be possible using digital art and I’m very lucky to be good friends with one of the best digital aviation artists in the world, Piotr Forkasiewicz.
Luckily, Piotr was very keen on the idea and over the following months we worked closely together to illustrate each day with a dramatic action scene for Volume One. We commissioned very high resolution 3-D models of all the relevant aircraft for this project which can not only be used in Piotr’s illustrations but also as the basis for the many profiles that also appear throughout the books.
Piotr and I hope that you like the results. As we move onto the future volumes we will be looking for events to illustrate each remaining day up to 31st October 1940. If you know of a particular incident that you think might be a worthy representation of any of these days then please let us know.
Defining the ‘Battle of Britain’
During his speech on 18th June 1940 Winston Churchill declared, ‘The Battle of France is over. I expect the Battle of Britain is about to begin’. Thus, even before the Luftwaffe assault began in earnest, the nation had been gifted a most stirring phrase.
The ‘official’ period of the ‘Battle of Britain’ was defined in the dispatch written by Dowding and submitted to the Secretary of State for Air on 20th August, 1941. In this comprehensive analysis of the Battle, Dowding wrote in Paragraph 11:
‘It is difficult to fix the exact date on which the “Battle of Britain” can be said to have begun. Operations of various kinds merged into one another almost insensibly, and there are grounds for choosing the date of the 8th August, on which was made the first attack in force against laid objectives in this country, as the beginning of the Battle.”
However, after further considering German tactics and the heavy attacks made upon coastal convoys, Dowding added, in part of Paragraph 13:
“I have therefore, somewhat arbitrarily, chosen the events of the 10th July as the opening of the Battle. Although many attacks had previously been made on convoys, and even on land objectives such as Portland, the 10th July saw the employment by the Germans of the first really big formation (70 aircraft) intended primarily to bring our Fighter Defence to battle on a large scale.”
An end date of 31st October was easier for Dowding to define, ‘The “Battle of Britain” may be said to have ended when Fighter and Fighter-Bomber raids died down.’
This dispatch was published in full as a supplement to the London Gazette on 11th September 1946.
The Scope of this Work
Despite the vast canon of published works, there has never been an attempt to detail – blow-by-blow – the actual aerial combats fought over the UK and its coastal waters during the period defined as ‘The Battle of Britain’.
This is precisely what this work seeks to do.
It has not been our intention to re-examine any of the following:
The re-birth of the Luftwaffe
The organisation of Fighter Command or the Luftwaffe
The invention of Radar
Technical specifications of the aircraft
The work of the Royal Observer Corps
The tactics of the senior commanders
The contribution of RAF Bomber and Coastal Commands
All of these aspects have been examined at length in previously published works.
As with any work of this scale, a consistent set of guidelines needs to be established governing the contents. These are as follows;
For each significant combat of ‘The Battle’ a map illustrates the approximate number and position of the forces at the beginning of the engagement and the places where aircraft fell. The locations of aircraft that fell in the sea are, necessarily, generalisations. The purpose of these maps is to give the reader, even those without a comprehensive knowledge of the geography of the British Isles, a sense of place and scale at a glance.
Each significant engagement is detailed using contemporary accounts written by either the pilots themselves or Intelligence Officers attached to the squadrons. The detail contained in these reports varies considerably. Some Intelligence Officers were most punctilious, yet others seem to have paid scant attention to their paperwork. The pilots’ reports again vary considerably in their detail and unfortunately not all have survived, many having been taken from the National Archives (PRO) by unscrupulous collectors.
These reports have received a minimum of editorial change, which may lead to some raised eyebrows. If a pilot reported encountering He113s or Chance-Vought dive bombers – then it has been deliberately left as such; readers can interpret these as Me109s or Ju87s as they wish. A decision has also been made to refer to Me109s and Me110s, throughout, rather than the technically correct Messerschmitt Bf109s or Bf110s. Whilst the purist will rile against this, the pilots of Fighter Command knew them as Me’s or Messerschmitts and did not engage Bf’s. Verifiable spelling errors in names of people and places have been corrected to avoid confusion.
The losses and casualties for each individual engagement are detailed within the account of that engagement, not simply grouped together on a daily basis. A particular squadron might feature several times during the course of a single day if involved in more than one combat. Thus it is relatively easy to compare actual losses with claims on an engagement-by-engagement basis.
Please bear in mind that only operational losses due to combat are featured. Thus an aircraft slightly damaged in combat will be included, but a fatality where no contact with the enemy was involved, is generally not. This principle has been adhered to for both Fighter Command and Luftwaffe losses.
Accuracy of Losses
It will rapidly become apparent that fighter claims far exceed actual aircraft losses, even when seemingly explicit descriptions have been written. An obvious conclusion to arrive at is that the Luftwaffe records are incomplete and that far more aircraft and crews were lost on a particular day than were recorded. Whilst it is entirely possible that an occasional casualty did ‘slip through the net’ the Luftwaffe records are substantially complete and there are no ‘lost Staffeln’ of Stukas and Me109s to make up the numbers. The Luftwaffe losses shown here are based on the records of the ‘Luftwaffe Quartermaster’ Returns – Oberbefehlshaber der Luftwaffe Genst. Gen. Qu./6 Abteilung/40.g.Kdos.IC – supplemented by more recent research. In the simplest of terms, a unit did not get replacement aircraft or men unless it was reported to the Quartermaster, therefore it was in their interest to submit accurate accounts.
It is often impossible to establish the circumstances of a Luftwaffe loss, where an aircraft has simply ‘failed to return’ for example. Details of these losses are included at the end of each day’s account. There are many instances where these ‘other losses’ may well relate to combats that we’ve covered, apart from maybe a problem with the timing or location. In these instances we have chosen not to warp the information to fit the story, the documentation is simply presented as is, and it’s up to the reader to decide if there is enough circumstancial evidence to link the combatants.
This most hotly disputed aspect of air combat has led to confusion and misunderstanding from the dawn of aerial warfare. The approach in this work is to place in front of readers the ‘raw’ detail of each engagement, claims and losses from both RAF and Luftwaffe, to enable them to interpret it as they wish.
In a small scale ‘one-on-one’ or often ‘three-on-one’ engagement it is clear to see that ‘Red Section’ etc. brought down a particular bomber, but as the scale of combats increases it becomes clear that many pilots from multiple squadrons claim a part in the downing of an enemy. ‘Pilot one’ may cause a bomber to break formation, ‘pilot two’ attacks a straggler and causes an engine to smoke, ‘pilot three’ sees an engine burst into flames, ‘pilot four’ reports the crew baling out, ‘pilot five’ fires and watches his victim crash into the ground – but which man dealt the fatal blow is impossible to know.
Readers will also come across claims that at first glance appear to be pure fantasy. Whilst it is known that some pilots from both sides did indeed make claims up, the majority of these mystery claims can be attributed to mis-identification. For example, in one early combat, several RAF pilots made claims for Me109s and graphically described them smashing into the sea in huge plumes of water. Unfortunately, no 109s went down that day, the splashes were most likely caused by RAF fighters hitting the water. It’s human nature to assume that a crashing aircraft is not one of your own and in a twisting and turning dogfight it is almost impossible to watch an aircraft all the way down from the cramped confines of a Hurricane or Spitfire’s cockpit.
The decision has been taken not to include the reported time of each separate report of a combat or loss. The time-span of engagements is given in the header for each combat, i.e. 13.00 – 13.20 hrs where applicable and the events detailed will fall within that period. Experience has shown that times reported for one particular event often vary by many minutes.
The ‘long-hot summer’ during which the Battle is sometimes said to have been fought was no longer, or hotter, than any other. The timing of Luftwaffe, and therefore Fighter Command, operations was often dictated by the weather conditions and on many days cloud, rain or fog prevented large-scale operations. A weather summary is given for each day and maps are overlaid with symbolic cloud formations.
Fighter Command effort
The idea that Fighter Controllers, aided by ‘Radar’ and the Observer Corps, were able to accurately direct their forces to an incoming attacker is, for the most part, erroneous. Each day hundreds of flights were made and patrols flown without any contact being made with the enemy. A case in point is 22nd July when 637 aircraft took off on 208 patrols and only three minor interceptions were made! It would be completely impractical to attempt to include every uneventful patrol, but a total of flights and patrols is given for each day to show the scale of Fighter Command’s effort.
The daily introductory illustrations have all been based upon a particular event of that day. Where possible all relevant factors are shown as close to reality as possible. On occasion, some aircraft code letters have been assumed where the information is not readily available.
The aircraft profiles are all based upon photographic or documentary evidence and are therefore believed to be very accurate representations of the aircraft depicted.
The author and the team of experts behind this series were all inspired at an early age by the heroic stories of The Battle of Britain. This inspiration grew into a lifelong passion for the subject, with some of them collecting memorabilia and creating museums, some recovering crashed aircraft, and others writing, researching or even painting the subject. This combined knowledge and material has now been brought together to hopefully provide a definitive account of what those gallant young men of RAF Fighter Command were faced with in the summer of 1940. It is not our intention to prove or disprove theories, to glorify or to denigrate individuals, or to find a new angle on the Battle. It is simply our intention to present a clear and accurate day-by-day account of what actually happened. The effort, heroism and sacrifice of The Few will become very apparent as the series progresses.
Here are some sample spreads;
We hope that you found this introduction of interest if you would like to order a copy of Volume One please click HERE