THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN
Winston Churchill paid tribute to the airmen when fighting for Britain over the skies of England, stating in a speech that “NEVER IN THE FIELD OF HUMAN CONFLICT WAS SO MUCH OWED BY SO MANY TO SO FEW”. The turning point in the battle is believed to have taken place on September 15, 1940 – the day we remember the Canadian air and ground crews who were part of “THE FEW”.
The Battle of Britain actually went from July to October, l940 and was the first battle of the Second World War fought mainly in the air. After nearly four months of anxious combat, the Royal Air Force (RAF) Fighter Command stopped the German air force attempt, in advance of a planned invasion, to dominate the skies over southern and eastern England. Hundreds of CANADIAN air and ground crew participated in the battle, most as members of the RAF. EVENTS LEADING UP TO THE BATTLE:
When Britain declared war on Germany on September 3, l939, the RAF was still in the process of building p its strength, its pre-war focus on the strategic bombing of German targets had gradually given way to the need for an active defence again enemy aerial attack on Britain.
Technological innovations, such as radar, and a new generation of monoplane (single wing fighters – the Hawker Hurricane and Supermarine Spitfire – were linked together to be a unique command and control system under the authority of Fighter Command. Supplying a sufficient number of pilots was a problem but aggressive recruiting in both Britain and the far-flung dominions of the British Empire, including CANADA, brought in new recruits at a steady pace.
Combat between the RAF and Luftwaffe has been sporadic until May 10, l940. On that date the German invasion of the Netherlands, France and Belgium brought the RAF and Luftwaffe into violent conflict. By the time France fell to Germany on June 22, l940, the British had lost l,029 aircraft and l,500 air crew, many of whom were CANADIAN. CANADIAN CASUALTIES included Pilot Officer Duncan Hewitt, 20 years old, from St. John, New Brunswick who became the first Canadian killed in the air battle and Pilot Officer Robert Beley, 20 years old from British Columbia along with many other brave men who took to the air even though they knew their chances of survival looked grim.
Sent aloft sometimes two or three times a day, the pace was tortuous for both men and aircraft. The unsung heroes during this phase and for the remainder of the battle were the ground crews who worked tirelessly to refuel, rearm and maintain enough Hurricanes to keep the Canadians in the fight. It is estimated that more than 100 CANADIAN PILOTS took part in the battle but the exact number is unknown. Most officials agree that 23 Canadians were killed in action, with many more wounded and injured mainly due to burns. Three members of the No. l RCAF Squadron were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for their accomplishments.
Bye for now and ask your grandchildren if they are being taught about this in History Class.
Dorothy Wilson is a freelance writer specializing in senior’s issues. Comments are welcome by e-mailing email@example.com or writing c/o St.Thomas Times-Journal, 16 Hincks Street, St.Thomas, Ont