The Battle of Britain 1940
The Leaders and Commanders
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.