The Battle of Britain is worth remembering. It was undoubtedly a brilliant feat of arms. However, there are loads of myths surrounding it. And its aftermath was a classic example of the worst sort of British stupidity
One of the myths is that the RAF were greatly outnumbered. The Germans had more planes and pilots but the difference was not as pronounced as legend sometimes suggests. And the Allies had a great advantage
If a Luftwaffe plane was shot down and the pilot or crew survived, they were prisoners. A healthy RAF pilot could be in another plane within hours
RAF tactics were brilliant. Dowding's integrated system of air defence was superb. Park's approach was genius. When German flotillas crossed into Britain, individual squadrons were sent to intercept
On the face of it, this seems mad. A handful of planes attacking 100s of the enemy. In reality it worked wonderfully. The engagements were a matter of minutes and after disengaging, RAF squadrons could return to base, refuel and were ready to attack the Germans again on way back
You can see why the pilots thought they were 'the few' because they were in local dogfights. In the bigger picture, the Germans were attacked by hundreds of sorties and could not rest for a minute over England.
On August 18, 'the hardest day,' the Germans few 970 sorties. The RAF 927. Some squadrons were up and down all day and it must have felt like they were being overwhelmed. The Germans lost 68 aircraft, the defenders 69. But it hurt the Luftwaffe far more
In truth, it would have been hard to lose the Battle of Britain. But guess what? Some tried. Leigh-Mallory and his ally Bader wanted to create a 'Big Wing.' Form up a number of squadrons and attack the Germans en masse
It took them so long to form up, the Luftwaffe had been and gone before that arrived on the scene. And what happened after the Battle of Britain was over?
Dowding and Park were effectively sacked and sidelined. Leigh-Mallory was promoted. The architects of victory were discarded, the man who almost screwed it up elevated
How very, very British. Incompetence rewarded. The inability to recognise the architects of success. The cherishing of legend over reality. A film was made about Bader. He was a national hero when I was growing up.
It wasn't until I read The Most Dangerous Enemy by Stephen Bungay that I'd even heard of Dowding and Park
So, as the 80th anniversary passes, it's worth recalling the two men who effectively won the battle - as well as the pilots who carried out the plans in the face of what appeared to be overwhelming odds against them. In reality the odds were on the pilots' side
It is worth finding out about the Park/Lee-Mallory rivalry. Park was commander of 11 group, responsible for protecting south-east England and London. Lee-Mallory led 12 group in East Anglia and pursued his own agenda to the detriment of overall tactics
If Leigh-Mallory would have had his way, they could really have been fighting them on the beaches
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