The Battle of Britain 1940

The Leaders and Commanders

Adolph Hitler. As a young man, Adolph Hitler experienced both triumph and defeat in the first world war, he was a leader, a tactiction, a master and a dictator. It was on being made Chancellor that at long last gave him the power that he wanted.
The Versailles Treaty made a mockery out of the German military regime, the German people were at their lowest ebb with no jobs, no money and no pride. Hitler promised his people he would restore everything that they had had taken away from them despite the conditions of the treaty. He took the young children off the streets and organised a Hitler Youth Movement, he reorganised the military and by forming such organisations as the SS, the SD and the Gestapo he then set about to take control of the whole of Northern Europe. One by one countries fell to him, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Norway, Luxenburg, Poland, Holland, Belgium and finally France. By now he had restored faith to the German people, he had shown them that Germany was a power, a power that will make the world take notice.
The next step was Britain, and with Italy entering the war and taking the side of Germany, Hitler announced to Field Marshal von Rundstedt that an invasion of Britain may not be neccessary because they should by now be willing to make peace. Later, knowing that Churchill was not going to be intimidated by backing down Hitler wrote '.....I can see we are dealing with a fool......and will fight on until those in power on Britain and in France are prepared to respect the rights of our two peoples to exist.'
He had always said, "...that Britain is not our natural enemy", but to maintain absolute power in Europe the time has come when they have to be defeated. For some strange reason, Hitler admired Britain and the Empire that it controlled, he wanted to be like them, the British Empire was spread right across the globe, and if he could take control of Britain, he would then give Germany world power. But he could not understand the politicians, he spoke of them as hostile little political beings.
See further information in the "File on Adolph Hitler"

Winston Churchill. Like Hitler, Churchill had experienced war. This was in both the Boer war in South Africa and in the First World War. Even in South Africa in 1899 as a war correspondent he was an organiser. "I told Buller on the advance at Spion Kop that he was headed for disaster and if he had done as I suggested it would have been just a little easier. But he was but a General and I only a correspondent". Churchill returned from South Africa in 1900 and immeadiately stood as a conservative candidate for the seat of Oldham and in the General Election won the second seat from the Liberals with only a slender majority. He was critical of his own party from the very beginning and in the House of Commons and in 1903 gave praise to the Liberal opposition on the matter of Free Trade and by 1904 he joined the Liberal party after much criticism with the Conservatives. In 1911 he was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty and it became his task to prepare the Royal Navy for the possibility of war. This position was given to him because of his great showing of leadership, his natural instinct as a tactician and his unique approach to organisation in the field as well as from behind a desk. In 1914, at the outbreak of the First World War Churchill's Naval Fleet showed the greatest assembly of Naval power ever seen by Britain, he showed that the Fleet was ready and prepared for war. But in 1915, after a disagreement regarding Naval strategy with the First Sea Lord John Fisher, Churchill resigned his post just as the Conservatives formed a Coalition Government.
As the years passed, Churchill saw such positions as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster(1915), Minister for Munitions(1917), Minister of War(1918), Chancellor of the Exchequer(1924) and First Lord of the Admiralty(1939) until becoming Prime Minister after the resignation of Neville Chamberlain in 1940. On the night of may 10th 1940 he wrote....'I had the authority to give directions over the whole scene. I felt as if I were walking with destiny, and that my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial'. On May 13th as Prime Minister of a Britain at war, he spoke the words that every British person would remember...

During the Second World War Churchill's constant radio talks and messages to his people not only encouraged thousands, but gave inspiration and hope to every man, woman and serviceman. His leadership was second to none and this can only be acclaimed to his experience during the First World War where he gave up his political position to take up service with the Army in France. A dock worker in London's East End summed up every Britains feelings towards Churchill when asked about Britains chances in the war. ".....we know Britain will claim victory, why?....because 'Winnie' told us so".
For further information see the "File on Sir Winston Churchill"

Lord Beaverbrook. One of the most key appointments after Churchill became Prime Minister in 1940, was that of Maxwell Aitkin, Lord Beaverbrook to the position of Minister of Aircraft Production a newly created portfolio because of the war in Europe. Beaverbrook was a Canadian born newspaper tycoon but prior to the war was regarded as a pacifist. But on being given the new ministerial position Beaverbrook vowed to give total support to Churchill. At the time of his appointment Britains strength in aircraft was low and an embarassment to the Royal Air Force and it was Beaverbrooks task to bolster in whatever way he could the aircraft production of the nation. At the outbreak of the war, Britain had only a fraction of the aircraft that the Luftwaffe had and on paper in the event of an air war with Germany, Britain would stand little chance. Beaverbrook gave himself total control over aircraft production. He would decide as to which aircraft would be produced, he would decide as to which proportionate numbers they would be produced and it was his decision that with the threat of a German invasion possible at any time, fighter production should be given the utmost priority even at the expense of bomber production. He insigated scrap metal drives amongst the British peoples, posters were printed requesting everybody to save their old pots, pans and kettles and donate them to the government. Newspapers ran advertisments asking that people hand in any old metal appliances because their contribution will build the planes that will fly against Hitler. The system worked, even though in reality, very little of the scrap was ever used in aircraft construction it gave the people the satisfaction that all the British people were pulling together and 'doing their bit' for their country. Overall it boosted their morale, it was another phase that the government were getting the people involved. By 1940, what was once a faltering British aircraft industry, Beaverbrook had the aircraft factories churning out some 500 Spitfires and Hurricanes each month which was considerably more than the Germans were producing at the time. In fact so many aircraft were being produced, Britain could now boast that they had more fighter aircraft than they had pilots to fly them. Beaverbrook also devised a system in which spares could be readily attained from damaged and written off crashed aircraft which was to become known as the Civilian Repair Organisation, a group that were producing nearly a third of Britains aircraft production during the Battle of Britain.

Sir Hugh Dowding. It is hard to imaginge, that for a man that virtually alone, had the main responsibility of Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain period, a man that was responsible for Britains victory, was because of the power struggle between leaders at the time, relieved of the position of Commander-in-Chief of Fighter Command and who later left the Royal Air Force in 1942. But the people of Britain, the leaders of the government and the Royal Air Force owes Britains success of the Battle of Britain to this man, Sir Hugh Dowding who began his military career as an artillery officer. Dowding was the eldest son of a preparatory schoolmaster and was brought up with a Victorian middle-class background. Like his father he was educated at one of Britains prominent schools, Winchester. It has been said that he joined the schools Army Class because he detested the Greek language and refused to partake in such. He applied and was accepted into the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich in 1899, the same year that Winston Churchill departed for South Africa and the Boer War. Dowding wanted to become an engineer, but failed in his bid and was accepted as a gunner instead. After spending some ten years with various garrisons around the world, he returned to England and took flying lessons at Brooklands. His father heard about it and instructed him not to fly again because it was too dangerous. Dowding, who respected his fathers Victorian ways obeyed and and gave up flying even though he passed his flying tests and gained his wings.
But being 'grounded' did not last long, in a matter of weeks England was at war with Germany and Dowding now as a qualified pilot was called up into the Royal Flying Corps. Promotion came quickly, in 1915 he was a squadron commander and by 1918 after seeing the war through became a Brigadier. Britain was now reforming its air power and the new Royal Air Force came into being to which Dowding was transferred. He made his presence felt immeadiately with his ideas, and with the Spitfire and the Hurricane undertaking prototype testing he could see that tactics would have to change with the newer more manoeverable and faster aircraft, and being the Air Member for Supply and Research which he accepted in 1930 he was transferred from planning the technology of air defence to that of commanding Britains fighters in the field. He took up office at Bentley Priory in 1936 with a residence closeby. Hugh Dowding was not a man that made friends easily, he was a difficult sort of man, arrogant to many, a very self-opiniated man who was a loner and described by many as rather eccentric. But it was his determination and his knowledge of air warfare, his ability as a tactician that having the rank of Air Chief Marshal was given the task of being the Commander-in- Chief of Fighter Command at the outbreak of the Second World War. He chose Keith Park as the AOC of 11 Group which was to be Britains front line of defence, Dowding chose Park because he knew that this was the man that would get things done. Even though Dowding was respected by both ground control and the aircrews, there was often bitter feelings with other leaders and those in authority. When France requested assistance from Britain, it was Dowding who refused to commit additional fighter squadrons be sent saying 'I cannot allow squadrons to be based in France because losses would seriously deplete our fighting strength, a strength that would be needed to defend itself from the enemy'. Dowding was not in favour of the 'Big Wing' of sending in large groups of fighters, instead he was a master of organising smaller groups, he insisted that smaller groups could be dispersed far more quickly and easily, and that smaller groups would have the freedom to become more manoeverable in combat than the large groups of the 'Big Wing'. Figures now show that the large number of Luftwaffe aircraft shot down durning the Battle of Britain only went to prove that the tactics used by Dowding were correct. Dowding continued to have constant brushes with the political heavies, he had done his job, he had succedded in winning the Battle of Britain. But he was forced to relinquish his position as C-in C in November 1940 and resigned from the RAF in 1942.

Keith Park. A New Zealander by birth, Keith Park had an unblemished record during the First World War having been credited some twenty enemy aircraft. Between the wars, Park was a Commanding Officer at one of Britains peacetime fighter stations. Prior to 1940 he was appointed senior air staff officer to Hugh Dowding where together they built a bond where they had the greatest respect for each other. At the beginning of the war, when Fighter Command was divided into Groups, Dowding had no hesitation in placing Keith Park as the C-in-C of 1 Group, the most important Group in Fighter Command, as it was this group that was not only to protect the southern coastline of Britain and South-East England from enemy attack, but was to protect London which it was obvious that at some stage during the war would be the prime target of the Luftwaffe.
It was during the evacuation of troops from Dunkirk that Keith Park organised the air protection, shuttling his fighters back and forth across the English Channel and intercepting the Luftwaffe before they could attack the tired and exhausted British troops on the beaches. Park had limited aircraft that could be deployed on these missions, and what aircraft did take part could only spend limited time over the battle area before they were left with only enough fuel to return to base. Members of the British Expeditionary Force greatly criticised the Royal Air Force for not doing enough and providing greater cover for them, and further placed much of the blame for the number of casualties sustained on the beaches to the RAF. After the evacuation, it was not safe for a pilot of the RAF to mingle or be seen near any members of the Army, he was either spat at, assauted or verbally abused. It was not until the resounding success of the Battle of Britain did the RAF get the respect that they deserved and even then, many soldiers could still not forgive the RAF for what happened at Dunkirk. Park later stated that, under the circumstances he done his best with what was made available to him, and that he sympathised with those that had turned against him, but the experiences that our fighter pilots had over Dunkirk placed them in high stead, and gave them the experience that they needed for the Battle of Britain that was to follow. Dowding agreed with Park, but there was always the constant argument that the new pilots were too 'green', and Park made no bones about it. "I have pilots here that are still thinking they are turning left and right, they have no idea what port and starboard are. There are pilots who think that the radio is for idle chit-chat, they have no radio knowledge at all. Fourteen to twenty hours in a Spit and they are given their wings.....it's downright ridiculous". Dowding sympathised, "I know" his voice was solemn, which for Dowding was normal, "but we must be prepared, London could be attacked at any time, and we must be ready. These boys are young, keen and theyr'e trying, they are intelligent enough that after two sorties they will have all the experience they need". It has been stated, that, Dowding controlled the Battle of Britain from day to day, while Keith Park controlled it hour by hour. Park organised and managed his squadrons and men brilliantly, he was respected and admired by many, yet as with all commanders one has to be open for criticism. Most of this was due to the fact that he fought the battle in a defensive manner when it was thought that he should give greater consideration to taking the fight to the Germans in an offensive manner. Park's answer to that was that the role of the fighter aircraft was one of defence and should be used in attacking those that were attacking us. In a similar political move that forced the retirement of Dowding from the RAF, Keith Park was relieved of his command of 11 Group soon after the Battle of Britain, taking up a position with a training squadron. He stayed with the RAF until the end of the war commanding squadrons in Egypt in 1941, Malta in 1942 and in South-East Asia in 1944-45.

Trafford Leigh-Mallory. A well educated man, having graduated with honours at Cambridge University in the subject of history, Leigh-Mallory was to become the controversal leader and Commander-in-Chief of 12 Group protecting and being responsible for the fighter coverage of Central England. He was a soldier during World War One and saw considerable action during that period, but towards the end of the war was transferred to become a commander of an aerial reconnaisance squadron. In 1937, he had visions of becomming the commander of 11 Group a position that he wanted and a position that many expected him to get, but Hugh Dowding gave the prestigeous position to Keith Park and assigning Leigh-Mallory to 12 Group, a decision that Leigh- Mallory resented and throughout the Battle of Britain period considerable bitterness was shown between the three. One of Leigh-Mallory's squadron commanders was Douglas Bader, 'tin legs' as he became known, and both Bader and Leigh-Mallory were firm believers of the 'Big Wing' where fighters could attack in large formations, in fact the 'Big Wing' theory was developed by Bader, but Dowding was not in favour if this, believing that too many aircraft would take to long to disperse and large formations of fighters would get in each others way. But it was not until towards the end of the battle where Dowding agreed, and the 'Big Wing' theory was responsible for many of the enemy aircraft shot down over London. Dowding would remember this when 12 Group was called upon to assist and protect the nothern fighter bases of 11 Group, Leigh-Mallory employed the 'Big Wing' theory and it proved to be a failure. By the time that all of 12 Groups aircraft had got off the ground, it was too late by the time that they had arrived to assist 11 Group and the Luftwaffe had sustained considerable damage to the northern bases. After the Battle of Britain, Leigh-Mallory seemed to follow Keith Park around, always taking over where Park had left off. Following Park leaving 12 Group, Leigh-Mallory took over, he had got the position he wanted after all. When Dowding resigned in 1942, Leigh-Mallory accepted the post of Head of Fighter Command. In 1943 he became Commander-in Chief of the Allied Expeditionery Force controlling the air cover required for the invasion of France in Operation Overlord. After the invasion of France in November 1944 he was appointed C-in-C of South-East Asia, but unfortunately he was killed in a plane crash on his way to take up this position.

Hermann Goering. An exciteable man, Hermann Goering was the man responsible for creating what was perhaps the most dangerous and most potent of any air force in the world.....the Luftwaffe. Incorporated into this formidable force were heavy and medium range bombers, versatile and manoeverable fighter aircraft, dive bombers and towards the end of the war, the first of the fighting jet aircraft although the latter barely took part in any noted battle.
He was a hero in the first World War having shot down twenty-two aircraft. He recieved the Blue Max, Germany's highest award for valour, he took over the role previously played by Baron Von Richtofen (the Red Baron) and it was not until 1922 that he joined the Nazis at a time when the party was fighting for power. He was a politically motivated man and displayed great loyalty to his leader Adolf Hitler for which he was immeadiately adorned with medals, titles and a promise of comfortable living. He immeadiately rose to the rank of Second in Command only to Hitler himself, and this gave him considerable power. In 1933, Goering created the police organisation that was to become known as 'The Gestapo' an organisation to which many Germans themselves did not feel safe from. Georing also played an important part in the establishment of the concentration camps and finally he was given the power to form the most powerful air force in the world despite the restrictions that had been placed on Germany at the Versailles Treaty.
Hitler was not a man that liked to be humiliated, and when Goering's Luftwaffe failed to destroy and stop the British withdrawl at Dunkirk Goering fell out of favour with Hitler. Many promises were made by Goering which Adolph Hitler expected to be kept, but most of these promises turned to failure. Goering promised to smash the RAF airfieds in southern England and destroy the Royal Air Force on the ground. This did not happen, the RAF engaged in serious dogfights over the southern countryside and although many airfields were damaged, none were completely put out of action. Although London was accidently bombed, it was Goering's decision to continue bombing London, but fighuires show that on every occasion, the Luftwaffe lost more aircraft than did the RAF. As the war and the Battle of Britain wore on, the British fighter pilots were gaining the upper hand and the German losses started to become critical. Goering's failure to support the supplies getting through to the German 6th Army was the reason that the German battalion was forced to surrender to the advancing Red Army. The mightiest Air Force in the world was now disgraced and Goering, once a hero in the eyes of Germany was now disgraced. He was captured by the Allies on May 8th 1945 and was placed on trial at Nuremburg where he was sentenced to death by execution, but he swallowed a poison pill and died just two hours before he was due to be executed.

Adolf Galland. Where many of the other German leaders had their first air combat experiences during the First World War, Adolf Galland began his career with the Luftwaffe during the Spanish Civil War. He was a master tactician and often confronted his commanders with new ideas in air to air and air to ground combat. He devised a tactic of the use of aircraft in the support of ground troops and goes into considerable detail in the many of his writings. He loved writing because he could carefully record his many thoughts down on paper, and it was because of this that Galland was commisioned to Berlin and given an office desk position. "I learnt the art of flying to fly planes" he retorted, "not to sit at a damm desk and listen about others that were doing the job that I prepared myself for". He constantly pleaded and pestered his superiors about getting back in the air, for a while his requests fell on deaf ears but just prior to the outbreak of the Second World War he was transferred to a ground support unit flying outdated and delapidated biplanes. While other squadrons were flying the now established Messerschmitt Bf 109, Galland was keen to fly these faster and exciting machines and he managed to enrol the services of a physician who was to fabricate his medical records that in the interests of his health it was not advisable that he should continue flying in aircraft with open cockpits. He was immeadiatly transferred to JG27 a Bf 109 squadron in eastern France but to his dissapointment he was made adjutant and once again found himself involved only with mountains of paperwork with very little time set aside for flying. On his very first combat assignment he shot down a Hurricane of the Belgian Air Force, then later in the day he shot down two others saying, "....there was nothing special about it, I had not felt any excitement and I was certainly not elated at my success".With the onset of the Battle of Britain and engaging in many more combat duties his total of 'kills' mounted quickly. During the battle of Britain, Galland was credited with 37 'kills' while up to the end of 1940 he increased this to a massive 58. When Werner Molders who was General of Fighters of the Luftwaffe was killed in November 1941, Adolph Galland was promoted to command the Luftwaffe fighter arm which he done most effectivly. But probably the most notable remark that Galland made was when, at the stage when the Luftwaffe was sustaining heavy losses to the RAF. Goering asked of him that if he could beat the RAF he (Galland) could have anything that he wanted, he only had to name it, to which Galland replied "Then give me a squadron of Spitfires". Goering, was not impressed.

Hugo Sperrle. Once a veteran of the First World war, Hugo Sperrle was a commander of the Condor Legion which was an air unit that saw action in Spain during the Spanish Civil War. Sperrle like Goering, also served in the First World War. On returning to Germany after the fighting in Spain, Hugo Sperrle was assigned to Luftflotte 3 in the south of Germany and rose to the rank of General. The squadrons under his command took place in the conquest of Western Europe and later the area of the Luftflotte 3 was increased to take in the centre and the western areas of France.Sperrles headquarters was in the City of Paris and he was given a life of luxery being allocated a palace to conduct his operations from, and a large contingent of non-commissioned officers to wait on him and to provide him with all his needs.
During the whole of the Battle of Britain, Luftflotte 3 and Kesselring's Luftflotte 2 fought side by side constantly bombarding London by day and night. Although a leader it could not be said that he would be classed as one of the greatest, in fact rumor has it that Sperrle made no decisions at all throughout the war, it was actually his Chief-of-Staff who made all the decisions while Sperrle sat back and took all the credit. He was not the most popular person with the civilians either, often when being treated as just another German officer, would say 'don't you know who I am' and expected the finest food, the best tables and the finest of wines.