THE BAT­TLE OF BRI­TAIN

St. Thomas Times-Journal - - LIFE - Hi Fel­low Se­niors:

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 wil­son1@isp.ca or writ­ing c/o St.Thomas Times-Jour­nal, 16 Hincks Street, St.Thomas, Ont

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