Thursday, September 24, 2009

With Wings Like Eagles

A History of the Battle of Britain

By; Michael Korda

Another prize found at the library. It was published just this year. I found it extremely interesting. It is not what you might expect. It did quote from a few pilots about their dog fights but for the most part it concentrated on the strategy and planning that helped to make the pilots efforts successful.
Students of history will remember that all of the Allied countries drastically reduced the size and quality of their armed forces after winning the First World War. This continued into the early 1930’s until it became apparent that Hitler was rearming at an accelerating rate. Until then the RAF consisted of bi-wing fabric airplanes not much improved since the war. The author gives credit to a few leaders that started the modernization which resulted in the production of Hurricanes and Spitfires plus the network of radar sites which were most valuable in allowing for better utilization of the limited fighter force.
Stanley Baldwin was the Prime Minister up until 1937 when he resigned. He was one of those who believed that bombers were more important than fighters but could not accept the havoc bombing would inflict on innocent civilians of any country. It was easier to get Parliament to approve funding for fighters to be used to defend English cities. His attempt to speed up production was what brought his downfall. He was replaced by Neville Chamberlain. Before he left the radar network was in place and the first Hurricanes were reaching fighter command. He also appointed Sir Hugh Dowding as Air officer Commanding-in-chief of fighter command. This was the man who directed throughout the battle while facing extreme criticism and to whom it was said by Winston Churchill, “To him the people of Britain and the free world owe largely the way of life and the liberties that they enjoy today”. We all remember Chamberlain for giving in to Hitler and proclaiming, “Peace in our time”. This author goes out of his way to give him credit for continuing the production speed up of modern fighter planes without which England certainly would have been defeated.
2,000 young fighter pilots were all that stood between Hitler and victory. Their victory like the defeat of the Spanish Armada and Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar is etched deeply into the national conscience as the most important victories in their long history. September 15th each year the “Battle of Britain” is commemorated. That was the final decisive day after which the threat of imminent invasion was over. They had held out long enough so that worsening weather made an invasion impossible. Hitler then turned his attention to Russia. Had these young men, with the courageous support of the men and women on the ground, not been successful, history would have been altered. America would not have had England as a base to assemble our soldiers. The Axis Powers perhaps would have prevailed.
I would be remiss if I did not end this with Churchill’s famous words spoken August 20, 1940; “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few”.
If history is important to you, I strongly recommend this book to you.

Jack B. Walters
3961 N. Hillwood Circle
Tucson, AZ 85750
(520) 722-2958
September 24, 2009

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