Spitfires Mark 75 Years Since Battle Of Britain
The 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain will be marked today by a service at St Paul’s Cathedral and the largest fly-past of Spitfires since World War II. Forty Spitfires will be joined by Hurricanes and Blenheims, which also defended the skies in 1940.The planes will fly across the south of England in a spectacular display, over towns that were bombed by Nazi aircraft and the airfields that played such a key role in the battle.Prince Harry will be a guest of honour at Goodwood Aerodrome in West Sussex, where the aircraft will take off. He will join veterans of the battle and fly in a two-seater Spitfire. Aircraft have flown to Britain from around the world, including the United States, to take part in the fly-past. In London a service of commemoration will be held at St Paul’s Cathedral. Prime Minister David Cameron and other political leaders will attend along with other dignitaries.Today marks the official Battle of Britain day.Although the Luftwaffe attacked England throughout the summer months of 1940, it was on this day, 75 years ago, that Hitler decided in the face of fierce RAF opposition to call off Operation Sea Lion – the Nazi plan to invade Britain.
Although the RAF was vastly outnumbered by the German enemy, the Spitfires and Hurricanes were more than a match. Radar, a relatively new invention, gave the British an advantage. It could scan 120 miles out to sea. Some 30,000 human spotters reported the path of German waves. It was the world’s first fully coordinated air defence system and gave the RAF an early warning the Germans were coming.
They would report how many aircraft there were, how high they were and where they were heading. At night-time it was done by sound only. The human spotters became known as the eyes and ears of the Royal Air Force. Young men went into the skies with little experience flying the aircraft – some straight out of school. They were often scrambled to their planes many times in a single day to face the enemy. Men joined squadrons and died before anyone got to know their name. Those who landed alive in the English Channel would drown in the cold seas. There was no rescue for them. One RAF officer at the time described it as a game of tennis: The Germans kept serving, the British just had to defend. As soon as Spitfires landed, they were refuelled and readied for takeoff again. On 15 September, Prime Minister Winston Churchill was 60ft underground in the command bunker at RAF Uxbridge outside London. He saw all the lights on the board turn red, indicating that all the Spitfire and Hurricane squadrons were up in the air.
Churchill turned to the RAF Officer in charge: “How many do we have in reserve?” he asked. “None,” came back the answer. Only around 30 Battle of Britain pilots are alive today. They are known as “The Few” after Churchill remarked in his official car on leaving RAF Uxbridge, that “never, in the field of human conflict, has so much been owed by so many to so few”.
Those few will be honoured today.