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Battle of Britain Day, Sunday, Sept 15, 1940 + 79 years

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Today marks the 79th anniversary by date and day, of “the thirteen hours that saved Britain” (and the world):

Again, food for thought to awaken us to sobering lessons of history. END

Axel, you raise many, many issues. Perhaps, we can take some time to explore. Yes, 303 [a suggestive number!] Polish Squadron with a certain Czech "guest" was famous, including for their repeated head-on airborne cavalry charge Winged Hussar-style at bomber formations. Polish troops were -- as usual -- outstanding [recall, who broke the Ottoman siege at Vienna on Sept 12 1683, with king Jan Sobieski personally leading his Winged Hussars at the head of the greatest cavalry charge in history] and it was the polish cryptology work that was the key secret weapon. BTW, post-war re-evaluation showed that the highest kill count for the battle was that of their Czech "guest." Sgt. Josef František. Of course, I must note that a key element in their performance was that they were deeply experienced flyers, some of whom had fought over Poland and France already. In WW2, once reasonably equipped, highly skilled pilots had consistently disproportionate performance. In this case, 126 kills AND one of the lowest casualty rates of any RAF Fighter Squadron -- the marks of exceptional skill and sound strategy, not merely suicidal desperation. Even the famous head-on charge tactic makes sense as one of the key functions of heavy cavalry, breaking a phalanx and disrupting a defense depending on ordered, coordinated action. But to do that takes the Hussar mindset. Here, I note the Heinkel 111, for example, had one forward firing and two rearward firing defensive MG's. So skilled, bold pilots able to avoid collision could reasonably argue that an attack from the front made sense; especially if one carefully balances the break-away point: rate of convergence ~ 500 mph, 750 fps, so this is a matter of a few well judged seconds. And later, German pilots would conclude that head-on attacks were the safest aspect to attack USAAF Flying Fortresses. As crazy as foxes. This is the evaluation reported by BBC: "Had it not been for the magnificent material contributed by the Polish squadrons and their unsurpassed gallantry," wrote Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding, head of RAF Fighter Command, "I hesitate to say that the outcome of the Battle (of Britain) would have been the same." High praise indeed. KF kairosfocus
Incidenally, you'll seldom, if ever hear about it, but the Poles had an outstanding record in the Battle of Britain, and I dare say, either side of it - but they were not invited to take part in the victor parade tha was held, after the war ! Wouldn't you know it. There was a fasinating TV documentary on the subject. I suspect with their country having been flattened by the Germans, they were beside themselves with rage. Anyway, when it came over the tannoy that German planes were approaching, they would dash off without waiting for an official order, and tear at the enemy planes full-bore and aimed right at them. The German pilots, if they lived long enough, must have thought they were dealing with madmen - which in a sense I suppose they were. Mad as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking-chairs. (You could imagine how mad they would get, since they tend to think we are their domestic staff, menials). Similarly, after our best troops had exhausted themsleves, fighting at great cost of life and limb, against the well dug-in German paratroopers (and other infantry?) on Monte Cassino, the Poles were given the task of completing the ascent and subduing the remaining defenders - which they duly did. A wing-commander strongly doubted the offical figures for the German 'kills' by the Polish pilots, so took a plane up himself to see at first hand, if it was nonsense or not. He was about to approach a German plane, when a Polish plane darted in front of him, full throttle, seemingly aiming straight for it, and downed it. I once had a conversation with a Polish cafe-ownner who had been one of their pilots at that time, and he said he always kept his ears open to hear any advice about the quirks of a particulat type of plane, and it saved his life on more than one occasion. He was a wise old bird in so many ways, though. Axel
I'm very close to 79 now, and am deeply resentful that after WWII, we were fed utter b/s propagnda, lionising our role in the war, almost as maniacally as the Americans. If it were not for the Russians we would have been speaking German today ; and without the Americans, we'd have been speaking Russian ; although I read recently that the Manhattan Project was initiated largely on the basis of the nuclear research carried out by our boffins. Perhaps Penny had played a hand in that. Far from being the avenging angels of both world wars, we were in fact, the instigators. Prior to WWI, because the Germans were thrashing us out of sight industrially and commercially, and the empire was imperilled – certainly its thriving. Then we BLOCKADED the German ports, to starve the population - many of who did, indeed, die – and to deny them the prospect of prospering. So what's new ? An Iranian leader, I believe, described the US sanctions as an act of war on the victim countries. What was perhaps the most shocking aspect of the whole matter was the monied folk in the West were quite besotted with fascism, Hitler and Mussolini. Even Lloyd-George joined in the adulation of the latter, whom, Churchill, moreover, was said to have described as the greatest leader in the world. It was all in the living memory of many Brits, so it should be no surprise that Labour was allowed to win the first post-war, general election in a landslide, and set up the welfare state. Why even Stalin had become Uncle Joe. How about that ? In both Stalingrad and Kursk, more Russian troops were killed than the total of the slain Allied troops throughout thee whole war. Then of course there were the multiple millionsof civilians.... All empires are psychopaths – arguably all nations – and the British empire and nation were certainly not exceptions, the latter, still beyond the scope of the horror-film industry to even to delineate in the sketchiest way. Witness Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, etc. Another aspect of the propaganda, perhaps more by neglecting to correct the false impression – was that the Italians had proved to be cowards. Apparently, it could not be further from the truth. In a TV programme, a former sergeant-major, who had been responsible for their liaison with London of the resistance fighters in every theatre of the war, became quite emotional as he related that he had never witnessed such outstanding bravery anywhere else, as that shown by the civilian population in Italy, notably in the North, where even by the standards of war, things had become really bad, A German soldier who had been fighting in Russia remarked that in his experience, Italy had been worse. Why would Italians atrociously ruled over so many centuries and all too familiar with the corruption of the Great and the Good there, and most probably having relatives in the US and UK, want to be yoked to a war-machine such as Germany ; Goering even remarked that Hans the farm-worker would prefer not to go to war, since he would get nothing from it, while leaving his home and family, and risking his life. As regards the Italian military, after the war, German and Allied commanders agreed that the Italians' best troops were as good as those of any of their own. But the rest were far too savvy to be motivated. They had been obliged to buckle under to the fascists so favoured by the wealthy. Think Omar Khayyam, rather than Wheels of Terror. However, the biggest eye-opener for me was the brief tract (viewable online) by US marine General Smedley Butler, War is a Racket. Axel
Lo! these many years ago when I was interested in building a wargame about WW2, I was a frequent visitor to 3 or 4 VERY active web sites run by and for amateur historians. And for the air war in Europe, even 10 years ago the arguments had gotten down to the middle names of co-pilots. German losses are known from German records, and English losses are known from English records. And of course amateurs are MUCH more interested in the details than professionals. I've probably lost track of the websites. War is about Politics and Politicians, not about war machines. Germany wanted a negotiated peace with England so that Germany could proceed with the invasion of Communist Russia. Because of an intelligence failure, key members of the English government believed (falsely) that Germany was overextended and on the verge of revolution. And of course Anglophiles in America's Northeast, including Franklin Roosevelt, were desperately attempting to find a way to get the USA into England's war. After running on a Peace platform in 1940, Roosevelt did 2 things IMMEDIATELY after winning re-election in 1940: 1) he sent representatives of the US Treasury to London to CONFIRM that England had gone BANKRUPT and would have to negotiate with Germany because England could not afford to buy bullets and gasoline; 2) he ordered the US Navy (who were considered the American experts on Japan) to prepare a report explaining how to PROVOKE Japan into attacking the US. England was in fact bankrupt, but Stalin came up with the ingenious idea of "Lend-Lease" to keep England afloat, and the US began bankrolling England's war in 1941. Similarly, the US Navy identified 8 things that would REALLY tick off the Japanese, and Roosevelt had "accomplished" all of those by the summer of 1941... But I switched over to studying the politics many years ago, and the details of specific battles don't interest me much any more. vmahuna
Sev, yes the numbers are high, apparently a consequence of using dogfight reports. Decades ago, the explanation I saw was that an aircraft may be shot at by several opposing fighters. Also, seemingly hopeless cripples make it home. If anything, I would argue the Bf109 was superior to the Hurricane and possibly marginally superior to the Spitfire Mk 1 (noting that variable pitch propellers were put on RAF aircraft very late). Discounting bombers shot down, despite "tethering" the Bf109 had a favourable exchange rate with the UK fighters -- and later the FW 109 would be markedly superior to Spitfire V and arguably IX. In 1941, RAF raids on France with fighter escort would see similar patterns. It was only across the first six months of 1944 with heavy deployment of P51 Mustangs with RR designed Allison-built 1650 HP Merlin engines that the German fighter force was decisively defeated. And yes, the Mustangs were deployed in waves and released to go sweeping and hunting far from bomber formations -- which still paid a stiff price. However, in 1940, the RAF did not strictly need to win the exchange on dogfights, it just needed to blunt the bomber offensive into a stalemate (accepting serious but not ruinous losses in UK cities) and it did. That was operationally and strategically decisive, so historically pivotal. KF kairosfocus
Both sides exaggerated their losses in the Battle of Britain. That happens in all wars. But the RAF had two of the most advanced and capable fighters in the world at that time in the Hawker Hurricane and Supermarine Spitfire, which were part of what was the most advanced integrated air defense system of its kind in the world at that time. The Luftwaffe had the advantage of numerical superiority and much more combat experience having fought in the Spanish Civil War and the invasions of Poland and France. The Luftwaffe had the disadvantages of fighting entirely over enemy territory and at the extreme limit of the Bf109's combat range. The misguided insistence on the fighters staying close to the bombers they were escorting didn't help them either. There were strengths and weaknesses on both sides as is usually the case. In the end, both sides suffered heavily and there is no question it was a very close-run thing. Seversky
VM, most of the history books were not written by the RAF, and ever since my youth I have known from relevant works (mostly written in the UK) that loss estimates were revised down, with this day being a capital case. Yes, the RAF's fighters exchanged overall at an adverse exchange against the Bf 109, but knocked down or frustrated enough of the bombers to blunt the effective German intent, to force the UK out of the war. Where, German hegemony over Europe was an existential threat to the UK (as Napoleon's similar domination was 150 years before) and where the German pattern of successive domination over Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland was more than enough cause to understand that a global threat and programme of conquest had begun. In 1938, the RAF simply was not in any position to act, otherwise that is when a decisive intervention should have been made at the latest. Even better would have been acting when Hitler moved to re-militarise the Rhinelands, but a public reeling from 900,000 dead and years of slaughter in WW1 simply would not act in good time. The result was a much worse war. And today marks the anniversary of a day when it was made clear to the watching world that Hitler would not be able to break British resolve. It also meant that when the Americans mobilised to fight (and already in 1940 it was organising hemispheric defence and pondering a possible German thrust at Brazil), there would be an unsinkable aircraft carrier 20 miles off the German occupied coast of France. That is why the anniversary is still strategically pivotal, never mind the tactical balances. Rather similar to Jutland, in short. KF kairosfocus
Most of what is popularly written about the German bombing of England is wrong. Although the RAF has declined to change any of the history books, the English GROSSLY overstated German losses during 1940. The Germans actually traded better than 1 for 1. The RAF admits that officially, but it would be embarrassing to change the history books. (Wargamers and other serious history buffs have known this for DECADES.) And the bombing stopped because THE WEATHER TURNED BAD. German bombing raids in 1941 were heavier than in 1940, with the heaviest raids in May, 1941, just before the bulk of the Luftwaffe transferred to Poland for the invasion of Russia. There was never a serious threat of German invasion. The Germans simply wanted to end England's war against Germany on a status quo basis: you stop shooting, we stop shooting. Note that English school children are taught that WW2 began on 3 September, 1939, not 1 September. That's because the Germano-Polish War only became "WW2" when England declared war on the 3rd. Also note that the English STARTED the bombing of civilian targets, in contravention of international treaties, IMMEDIATELY after declaring war on Germany in 1939. And one of the very first "German" casualties to the illegal English bombing was an ENGLISH woman who lived just across the border from Holland. But in general, the RAF was a joke, and everybody knew it. vmahuna
Battle of Britain Day, Sunday, Sept 15, 1940 + 79 years kairosfocus

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