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The Vintage Aviation Echo

ARTICLE -- Revisiting Europe's top vintage aviation event: we reflect on what makes the Hahnweide Oldtimer Fliegertreffen so special -- ... See MoreSee Less

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6 days ago

The Vintage Aviation Echo

ARTICLE -- Introducing the latest Hawker Restorations Ltd project to take flight, Battle of Britain-era Hurricane 501 --

Hawker Hurricane Mk.I V7497 flew for the first time post-restoration on 30 August 2018 in the hands of Stuart Goldspink, and has now relocated to its new home at Imperial War Museum Duxford. Read our November 2017 From the Hangar feature on this Hurricane's history and hear from its owner at
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15 September is Battle of Britain Day in the UK. We remember the men and women who stemmed the Luftwaffe's onslaught in summer 1940.

On 10 May 1940, Hitler launched his attack against France and the Low Countries. Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg were quickly overrun, and German troops and armour poured into France following a successful flanking manoeuvre by Panzergruppe von Kliest. The British Expeditionary Force and the French Army routed to the port of Dunkirk, where 330,000 troops were evacuated to Great Britain.

By the end of June, France had surrendered and the German Army – and Air Force – sat across the English Channel.

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill addressed the House of Commons that summer:

“What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilisation. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us.

“Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.

"Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.'"

The Battle of Britain officially began on 10 July 1940, opening with Luftwaffe attacks on convoys in the English Channel and the North Sea before attention turned to RAF Fighter Command’s sector stations, with those in the south and east of England receiving a sustained hammering from German bombers that threatened to put some of them out of action permanently. Tactics shifted again on 7 September 1940 when London became the new target; this and many other cities were bombed both day and night, but at a cost. 15 September 1940, ‘Battle of Britain Day’, saw the RAF deal a tremendous blow to the Luftwaffe – days later, Hitler postponed Operation Seelöwe (Sealion - the invasion of Great Britain) and by October, the unsustainable attrition rate had forced Germany to resort primarily to night attacks to stem the mounting casualties. Thus, the Battle of Britain officially concluded on 31 October 1940.

The popular notion is that the Battle of Britain was something of a 20th century Thermopylae – a handful of fresh-faced young Englishmen (RAF Fighter Command largely being remembered as a predominantly English force, despite its inherent multiculturalism throughout the conflict – more on which later) facing a vastly overwhelming force of grizzled German veterans in a decisive air battle against withering odds, upon which the survival of the defenceless United Kingdom depended. Hand-in-hand with that is the ideal of Churchillian “bulldog” spirit – of the oppressed civilians across the land unifying and rallying in the wake of withering daily bombing raids, unmoved by the wanton brutality of it all.

A real-life David versus Goliath for the modern era, full of inspirational courage in the face of adversity, the succession of Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain and the Blitz in 1940 helped form the nation’s perception that Great Britain is, as a country, at its strongest when pushed to the limit and fighting alone. The ultimate underdogs.

It’s a striking story, but pull back the cloak of idealism and you’ll find quiet, gritty heroism in abundance, that is all the more rewarding a tale. The conflict that may very well have defined a generation should not be reduced to mere platitudes. As the survivors of that era fade with the passing of time, the raw and often brutal reality of the Battle of Britain in its entirety becomes all the more important a story to tell honestly, lest the ‘Few’ be diminished by the same banality that befalls so much of modern society.

The fighter pilots themselves came from myriad backgrounds; within a squadron, an Etonian may have flown and fought alongside a teenager who left school at 14 and earned a living labouring in a factory. Yet, moreover, they were a deceptively ordinary bunch, thrown into an exceptional situation upon which so much depended. They suffered the toll of excruciating periods sat on standby, then the rush, the scramble, the intense climb to height and the sweaty, brief melee of aerial combat.

Then waiting - and waiting. The missing faces of the men who didn't return; some veterans recall a new pilot arriving in the morning, heading off on a patrol an hour later and never returning to unpack his gear. The cold, brimming anticipation of fear and death that drove men sick to the stomach. A daily churn that mere mortals could seldom comprehend.
Fighter Command was at the very forefront of the conflict, but it did not bear that burden alone. The men flying the Spitfires and Hurricanes into combat relied on a far greater combined effort: the men and women on the ground who operated the Radio Direction Finding stations and the Observer Corps that helped guide the fighters to the intruders played a vital role, whilst the ground crews who worked tirelessly to maintain and repair the aircraft that engaged the Luftwaffe daily faced a different kind of mounting pressure.

Equally, Costal Command kept watch over the approaches and sea lanes, and Bomber Command flew near suicidal raids against invasion shipping and Luftwaffe aerodromes, often at a great loss. Training Command nurtured fledgeling pilots, civilian factories built and repaired vital aircraft at the rate needed to keep the frontline squadrons at strength, and medical staff treated the many wounded.

That's to say nothing of the anti-aircraft batteries, the anti-invasion preparations and the Home Guard - the militarisation of a country whose survival depended on unity, much like Medieval townspeople drafted to defend their homes from invaders. Behind all this stood an army weakened after Dunkirk but far from defeated, and the world's strongest navy, which arguably posed a greater deterrent to German invasion than any RAF fighter or bomber.

Furthermore, the mantra of Britain standing alone against Germany doesn't ring entirely true with hindsight - not only did the country have the weight of the Commonwealth behind it, but the make-up of the ‘Few’ was tremendously diverse, with 574 foreign pilots participating in the battle from Poland, New Zealand, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Belgium, Australia, South Africa, France, Ireland, the United States, Southern Rhodesia, Jamaica, Barbados, Newfoundland, Northern Rhodesia and Palestine. Some pilots had sailed thousands of miles to fight, others escaped from German occupied European countries to continue their personal wars from abroad alongside another 2,353 British Fighter Command pilots.

But, as Stanley Baldwin proclaimed in 1932, “the bomber will always get through”. No matter how many dozens of Luftwaffe bombers were knocked down by Fighter Command, substantial numbers made it through to their targets, reaping catastrophic damage to military, industrial and civilian targets alike. The immense pressure placed on the British populace during the Battle of Britain and the Blitz should not be overlooked when recounting the efforts of the ‘Few’. Likewise, all too often the era is romanticised by sweeping generalisations that overlook the fragile morale and rising crime rates of the day – looting, for example, was increasingly rife as the Blitz progressed – all of which make up the real picture of a nation beginning to cracks under the pressures of war. A nation struggling to hold itself together while on the verge of falling apart.

Civilians – men, women, children and the elderly – were thrust onto the frontline and the ‘Many’ paid a heavy price to the toll of nearly 30,000 civilians killed by bombing raids from July to December 1940 alone, and scores more left critically wounded. Civilian casualties vastly outweighed those suffered by the British military, even at the very height of the Battle of Britain. 544 RAF fighter pilots were killed during the brief conflict; by contrast, more than double that number of civilians were dead before the Luftwaffe even turned its attention to British cities in September 1940.
With all that said, Fighter Command’s ‘Few’ did play a defining part in ensuring Britain’s survival against Germany’s assault of summer 1940. The weakness of Germany’s navy dictated that air superiority and air supremacy would offer Hitler victory, be it through Britain’s surrender or its invasion. All depended on it – without the RAF swept from the skies, Germany’s bombers and invasion fleet would be left vulnerable to aerial attack. Fighter Command denied Germany that passage, setting in motion a series of events that culminated with the invasion of occupied Europe in June 1944 and, eventually, the end of World War Two on 8 May 1945.

There were acts of great courage, and there were great sacrifices made by the men of Fighter Command in achieving that; but let’s not forget the wider sacrifices made by an entire nation. It is the job of generations hence to build and protect the freedoms those men and women fought and died for. The Battle of Britain isn’t just the story of young men flying Spitfires – it’s about humanity, and the stoic resolve of a nation and its allies to press on in the bleakest of times. It’s a reminder that perhaps we, as ordinary men and women of the 21st century, could find that inner strength if called upon to fight for our own salvation.
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1 week ago

The Vintage Aviation Echo

ARTICLE -- Air Force Heritage Flight Foundation stars at Flying Legends 2018 as F-35 Lightning joins P-51D Mustang 'Hun Hunter \ Texas' and Spitfire Mk.V JG891 --

The F-35 was making its 'Legends debut, whilst the Mustang had received a new paint scheme and Spitfire JG891 was fresh out of overhaul and repaint. Get the full story at
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