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Spitfire Ace -

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(generated from captions) was only five years old, Fighter Command the fate of the nation in its hands. but now it held Its job was brutally simple - to ensure national survival. POIGNANT MUSIC Over the last couple of weeks, for a unique aviation prize, four young pilots have been battling in a real World War II Spitfire. a nine hour course themselves on Tiger Moths, Our pilots first had to prove the same type of plane used trainee pilots. by original Battle of Britain to move on to Duxford, Two were then selected at the controls where they got three hours

of Carolyn Grace's Mk IX Spitfire. It was civilian pilot Dave Mallon to the final leg of the competition. who then won through So, over the next week, two key Battle of Britain skills. he will be learning in tight formation, How to fly the Spitfire one of all, and then the most demanding to air combat survival. the aerobatics essential But first comes navigation.

Today's sortie will be a flight to the south coast of England. all the way is Spitfire pilot Carolyn Grace. Briefing him really significant, I thought it would be now that you've got to this stage, the battle was really at its peak. that we'd go down to the area where down to the south coast. So, we take a flight Duxford. We're in 12 Group area here, past Stapleford, So, we'd come down past Stansted, via the Thames Estuary, obviously... and head down into the south

The route Dave will be flying rich in Battle of Britain memories. will take him through skies Kent and Surrey, It was here, over London, was fought and won. that the Battle of Britain The RAF was always outnumbered, were British strategy, but in the end what proved decisive

that conceived and implemented it. and the leadership on the ground as in the air. This was a battle fought as much the aircraft or the pilots There was little to separate who flew on either side. But where the RAF and the Luftwaffe different was in their leaders. were utterly and significantly Fighter Command was facing In the summer of 1940, formidable air force in the world. what people considered the most had been unbeatable, The German Luftwaffe boasted would never stop. something its leader, Herman Goering, STUKA ENGINE SCREAMS in his own right. Goering was an experienced airman during the First World War, He had been an air ace for bravery, he had won the highest award of the Richthofen Squadron, he had been in command which was the prime squadron. very shortly afterwards, And he joined the Nazi party as Hitler had it. so he was an "old fighter",

in 1933 when he came to power, And Hitler, was going to be his prime weapon, made Goering responsible for what the Luftwaffe. according to his own lights. And he developed it that 'he' had created, It was 'his' Luftwaffe and he saw it in his terms. fighter pilot. Very much as the World War I technical understanding. Not with a great would achieve almost anything, And with a view that his Luftwaffe greatly strengthen his position and that that would in the German hierarchy. about Goering, There's a huge myth the 'amiable face' of Nazism. that he was kind of Actually he was a ruthless killer, capable of any kind of brutality. supporter of the Nazi regime. He was a convinced, corrupt as "der dicker", He was known in the Luftwaffe which simply means "old fatso". a sort of grotesque figure. He was rather comic opera uniforms, He dressed up in these extravagant he wore togas, he carried a spear, he had corsets. he had jewelled belts,

Someone described him as of powdered flab". "a manicured mountain (Speaks German) at Goering's office. TRANSLATION: We reported in back from Paris. He wasn't there, he was on his way in civilian clothes, And then he arrived with puffed sleeves, wearing a raw silk shirt a great big emerald on it, here, a raw silk cravat with and riding britches with red boots. it was a pretty daring getup. Even by today's standards I think when Goering said could take Britain out of the war, that his Luftwaffe in Poland and in France, given what he'd achieved if he could do that. Hitler was prepared to let him see It suited everybody. were not, at that stage, The German army and the German navy ready to invade.

And here was Goering saying, with my Luftwaffe." "I can do the whole thing for you not to let him get on Hitler would have been stupid and see if he could do it. was air supremacy. What Goering needed to achieve

ability to oppose his aircraft, This meant destroying the RAF's France to its knees earlier in 1940. precisely the tactic that had brought The plan was to knock the RAF out. Once you have air superiority, the invasion. then they could initiate What Goering thought he could do

of England defenceless from the air was to render the southeast

on the RAF, by building up the pressure and threatening to bomb London. to apply the force, Goering wanted to be able and told Hitler that the Luftwaffe fairly quickly. could deal with the RAF was about a week of good weather. And all he needed But despite his promise to Hitler, of how to achieve this. Goering had no real plan He hadn't thought he had needed one. Send his fighters over that came up to challenge them. and they would destroy any plane Essentially the idea was that the 109 is such a fantastic machine, "Our fighter boys are so good, and the British fighters into the air, "that as long as we can get will shoot them down in droves "our chaps "and that will be the end of it." And, of course, it wasn't like that. for two decisive facts. Goering had failed to allow the RAF would throw against them, Not just the calibre of fighters and professional but just how well organised British air defence really was. OK, speed's 140.

Thank you. he's flying into the heart As Dave heads down towards Kent, of what was once the best defended airspace in the world. OK, so, oil pressure's good. The right temp's good. Oil temperature, please? 80 will be fine. OK, thank you. Just veer a little bit to the right, just a fraction. To the right. OK. And level out there. The man responsible for the system that would shatter the myth of Luftwaffe invincibility could not have been more different from Goering. The head of Fighter Command in 1940

was a dour Scot by the name of Hugh Dowding. Dowding was a career airman. He had come into the air force right at the start of the First World War. He had continued to serve throughout the inter-war period. He was a consummate professional who was nearing the end of his career.

He was highly respected. But his nickname was 'Stuffy', which I think says it all. Hugh Caswell Tremenheere Dowding. Magnificent name. He was a very meticulous fellow. Enormous attention to detail, immense patience. He was a calm, rather imperturbable individual, not liked a lot by people. But I think for once this was a British commander in the right place at the right time. Dowding didn't really lead his men into battle. He played a role much more like the chairman of the board and left operational control to his group commanders. He had a very clear view of his role, which was simply to provide the air defence of Britain at all costs. Dowding created what was by far the most formidable air defence system in the world. And the great thing was

that most people didn't realise that he'd done that, least of all Goering.

During the 1930s, Dowding quietly went about building an air defence system

around southern England. Whilst most people were transfixed

by the development of the new generation of fighters, it was Dowding's genius to realise that the most important task was to find the best way in which to use them. What emerges, in fact, is that in our finest hour, the British behaved in the way in which they usually imagined the Germans to behave. And the Germans were actually rather British. The Germans were led by a romantic amateur.

They failed to recognise the potential of the latest technology or exploit it. They had a very odd, old-fashioned 'warrior hero' ethos. Whereas the British were led by seasoned, ruthless professionals. They believed in teamwork, they played down the role of individuals. They had a very detailed plan that they stuck to. They were Teutonic and thorough. And so, of course, they won. Dave's trip to the south coast continues. Out right, look at the Thames. Beautiful. Over the wing of a Spitfire. In 1940, the British knew they were about to suffer an air assault of unprecedented ferocity. The fighting over the Channel had merely been an overture. The only question was when the hammer blow would fall. But ever since he took control of Fighter Command, Hugh Dowding had been building up the world's most effective air defence system. Its greatest innovation was that for the first time ever, air warfare could be controlled from the ground. What made this possible was his secret weapon. Dowding had put his faith in a highly experimental system. At his insistence, a chain of 53 radar stations

was built along the coast of Britain, covering hundreds of miles. It was huge but utterly untested. What had he built? A war-winning weapon, or just a white elephant? We, as pilots, knew practically nothing about this. We knew that these towers were being built, and we were told they were something electronic. But we didn't really know what effect they were having on our activities until the battle started in 1940. There couldn't have been a better Commander-in-Chief to fight the Battle of Britain, in my opinion, than Dowding. He understood the role of radar. There might have been other Commanders-in-Chief who might have been dismissive of it, Dowding was 100% for it. And he recognised that here was the weapon

with which he could defeat the Luftwaffe. Without radar, he would have been so outnumbered that he would have had no chance whatsoever. The radar was very important to the RAF because they didn't need to fly standard patrols. They could conserve fuel, aircraft time and flying time.

Because at any given time they knew exactly where the attacking forces were, which strengths, which direction they were flying. So, at the last moment they could send up their interceptors. The Germans knew all about radar, but for them it was a naval technology to be used mainly at sea. They were bemused that the British would think it had any role against aircraft. TRANSLATION: Once, during bad weather conditions, we were flying in the clouds and suddenly a Spitfire formation came right up behind us. And we wondered how this was possible, having no visibility whatsoever. That was the first time we heard about radar. RAF fighters had VHF radios in the cockpit. That meant pilots would remain in constant contact with the controllers, who would update them on enemy movements, allowing them to get into the best attacking position.

Most German fighters had to wait months to be given radios, and even then didn't like using them. Radar stations gave advanced warning, but only out to sea. Once over the coast, planes were invisible to it. But Dowding had a fail-safe backup - 30,000 men armed with binoculars, altitude calculators and telephones made up the Observer Corps. Information flowed down their thousands of phone lines into the filter stations, and from there to Dowding's HQ at Bentley Priory. Numbers, altitudes, aircraft types, bearings, everything Dowding needed to form a complete picture of the day's engagements. Having put all this together, you then needed a means of actually connecting the fighters with the enemy bombers. And this is where Dowding's foresight really comes in. He created a network which is probably best described as the world's first intranet. It's in fact an analogue intranet system.

A command and control system which is a network in which each bit of it can connect with every other bit of it.

And information is passed all the way through it - up, down, filtered and out - to whoever needs to take which decision at which particular time. Dowding had split the country into four groups. Each had a central control room, responsible for its fighter airfields, and for deciding which squadrons to scramble. Till early August, the Germans had mostly attacked Channel shipping.

But that was about to change. The RAF braced itself against the tidal wave coming its way. STUKA ENGINES SCREAM The opening salvo of Goering's attack on Britain was scheduled for August 13, given a suitably Wagnerian codename, 'Adlertag' or 'Eagle Day'. He reckoned the RAF wouldn't survive a week. Now had come the biggest test for all Dowding's meticulously laid plans, his technological daring and his strategic doggedness. Bearing the brunt of the attack would be the squadrons based in the southeast, belonging to 11 Group, co-ordinated from its base at Uxbridge. This operations room bore the brunt of the enemy air offensive in 1940, mainly by its proximity to the continent. You bear in mind the German air force was barely 20 miles away across the Channel.

And any 109 could be across within four minutes. So, not much time to get squadrons airborne to intercept enemy aircraft. What took place in this building technically decided the fate of this country in 1940. That is why was it visited by Winston Churchill on several occasions. And indeed the words, "Never in the field of human conflict "was so much owed by so many to so few" was actually said by Churchill on leaving this building on 16 August 1940. He realised that this building held the fate of the country in its hands. The man in the hot seat was 11 Group commander Keith Park. He was a very different character from Dowding, but shared his strategic vision. If there is a forgotten hero of the Battle of Britain, then that man has to be Keith Park, a New Zealander who spent almost all of his career on fighters. Keith Park... ..was right out of the top drawer. He used to visit us quite often. He came in very informally in his Hurricane and found out how we were getting on. He was an approachable man and a... ..a fighting man's man. He led from the front, did Keith Park. And he was a very fine Air Officer Commanding. Park was a remarkable commander. He had a very clear view of the battlefields. He displayed, I think, throughout the battle, a remarkable flexibility in his response to what the Germans were doing. Profound tactical understanding. Park faced a gargantuan challenge. One single wrong decision - landing a squadron too early so they could be destroyed on the ground, or taking off too late to intercept - could've crippled Fighter Command and given Goering his easy victory. It required brinksmanship of the highest order. If one looks at his performance during the Battle of Britain... ..it is remarkable in that... ..even with hours to ponder decisions that he took within minutes, about which fighters to deploy, in which numbers, where, it's very hard to improve on the decisions he made. In preparation for 'Eagle Day', the Germans tried to disrupt the British fighter control system, radar towers. especially its vulnerable given the job of destroying them. Squadrons of dive-bombing Stukas were STUKA ENGINES SCREAM But once the smoke had cleared, had been done. it was plain little lasting damage Luftwaffe who had no fear of radar, In any case, there were many in the into the air, ready to be shot down. especially if it got the RAF up Before 'Eagle Day', should have been obliterated, our radar defences and I mean obliterated. station two or three times over, They should have bombed every put it right out of action. have won the Battle of Britain. And if they'd done that, they'd on the morning of 13 August, As dawn broke were in full working order. Britain's air defences all through the day. And they were to remain so of the end for the RAF, Instead of being the beginning as Goering had hoped, inflicted losses of three-to-one. Dowding's Fighter Command

this would be over in a few days. Not even the Germans now thought for a long hard slog. Both sides readied themselves into the bunker Every morning, Park would go down

which constituted his command headquarters at Uxbridge. In this, there was a large map of southern and central England, which was in fact a plotting table

on which raids that were coming in would be marked out by the Waafs down below. It was like a theatre, there was a raised dais, and Park would sit or stand with his senior controllers above this, so that he had a complete view of what was going on, and he had the so-called 'tote board' in front of him showing what his own forces were doing. He would take the decisions about which raids to intercept with which forces.

They would have a list of how many squadrons were at readiness at various aerodromes. We were on duty half an hour before dawn. The engines used to be warmed up, and we used to stick around, sometimes in our pyjamas.

We'd have to be there at 0245, so that if there was a likelihood of us coming onto a readiness state by about 3 o'clock, we could, we were in business. All Fighter Command could do now was wait for the first raids to appear on the plotting table. You would be told at, say, at about 7 o'clock in the morning,

"The enemy is building up." Because they could see them. Breakfast time. And halfway through breakfast the tannoy would go off and say, "92 Squadron to readiness", you know, and that was that. Always breakfast time.

You were lifting the first bit of egg and bacon to your lips

and the scramble order would come. We were perhaps at readiness, and suddenly the bells would ring and somebody would shout to the squadron, "Take off immediately, Angel so-and-so." When the bell goes, it's exhilarating. Because you've got to hurtle off into your machine. You raced out to your aircraft, climbed aboard, your parachute was in position. So, you buckled that up as fast as you could. You pulled the straps over and pushed in the pin. Start up and taxi out. And then you get 12 Spitfires all sort of warming up, and you think, "Well, it's a bit ominous, someone's gonna bite this day." As we were forming up we'd get, over the tannoy system, "603 Squadron, please get into the air as soon as possible." VOICEOVER: Now the takeoff. Throttle right forward. Stick central. Ease her off the ground. Back with the throttle to normal boost. And now up with the wheels. Not every Spitfire on every airfield was at readiness all the time. They had to use them properly, like you'd use a tool. They couldn't just throw the lot in. The controllers and that had to be able to move these about like chess. They would decide which squadrons were to take off first,

which to keep in reserve, or to have any reserve, or to decide whether it was a German feint with fighters only. On the ground, the controller would have known where we were and where we were going, where he thought we ought to go. I mean, these skilled chaps could tell us what to do. And with any luck, we were up there fast enough to get the height and perhaps the sun as well. We were getting the instructions to fly in a certain direction, to a certain height, to intercept the German formations.

The controller would have told him - they were very good at this - at what height to aim for and what direction to aim for, and how the enemy was approaching. They became very skilled at this. And, I mean, it was very much a team job, wonderful. However, once they had led the fighters to the German formations, there was nothing more that the controllers could do

for pilots like Dave. It was now up to the Squadron Leaders to decide how to tackle the daunting odds they faced. The first time I went into serious action was against 150-plus.

That's a lot of aeroplanes. And they were coming in over Dungeness, and I saw them in the distance like a lot of gnats going around on a summer evening, you know, with 109s above. You know, when you saw that lot, you thought,

"Well, where do we start on this lot?" It was quite overwhelming, in that you weren't quite sure of the best way to attack them. Throughout August, all along the south coast, squadrons of Hurricanes and Spitfires threw themselves repeatedly against hundreds of German planes. Amazingly, they were holding their own.

Dowding's system was doing all that was expected of it. Trainee pilot Dave Mallon is in his fourth hour of Spitfire training. OK, right 78 and centralised 060, 140 knots. His cross-country sortie has brought him to an area of Kent known during the Battle of Britain as 'Hell's Corner', because of the ferocity of its air combat.

If this was 1940, Dave would now be only five hours of training away from having to join the dogfights himself. The RAF was well supplied with planes during the battle. The real shortage was trained pilots.

To help plug the gaps, Fighter Command took men from other branches of the services, including the Navy's flying section, the Fleet Air Arm.

John Sykes was one such pilot. Well, you'd get this scramble and you'd belt off into the sky, and we knew where we were going and we'd get into a rough formation and head for Dover. It dawned on me at some time or another that on the way down there, we were going over Dover and that's where I went to school. And that was a good thing. Because in the back of a schoolboy's mind you didn't know whether to drop a bomb on it or carry on and do your duty, but there you are. Anyway, there was a box barrage on, and some bloody gunner hit me with a shell. Well, he didn't hit me, actually. The thing went 'bang' underneath and caused me to crash-land. The thing that really irked me was being a sailor in an Air Force aeroplane being shot down by a soldier, that's bad. The pattern of attacks was now set. Over the next few days and weeks, the Luftwaffe would try different combinations of planes and targets to help bring a decisive result against Fighter Command. The bombers came in, sometimes they'd go direct to their target and sometimes they'd go offset and then turn to the target. So, the ground control couldn't guarantee that the bomber stream would go in the direction it started. The Germans had two major tactics at this stage of the battle.

Bombers flew over in large formations, luring RAF fighters into the attack. German 109s would then swoop down from above. And if the RAF didn't attack, then the bombers would bomb their airfields unhindered. Either way, the Germans thought that Fighter Command would be on the ropes. The first bombing we took was at Middle Wallop, just as the airfield bombing started. And the siren went. They were dropping everywhere. Lumps of masonry were flying about. Tables were erupting, we were right in the middle of it.

So, we shot outside as quick as we could. Mug of tea in one hand, bread and jam in the other! We were only kids, mind you. 17, 18. But they'd knocked hell out of the place. They'd flattened the hangars.

A string of bombs came through the top of the hangar, hit the hangar door and lifted it and dropped it on a crowd of people running past. And we ran down to see what we could do, but we couldn't, but there was a Waaf's arm sticking out with a wristwatch on. Still going. We realised that something quite serious was happening, put it that way. We were losing a lot of aeroplanes, that the Germans were doing a certain amount of damage to the infrastructure of Fighter Command. That we were losing pilots and just, more or less, just keeping up. We were getting short of fuel.

And the Flight Sergeant, the bloke in charge of the ground crew, said, "We need some fuel. Go and get some." (Laughs) To me! I'd have done anything to drive the tractor, which was towing a fuel bowser, so I jumped on and off I went across the airfield.

All hell going on! And I looked up, and there's a Heinkel 111. And as I looked up, I could see the bombs leave it, and it went like that. And the bombs came out. And the tractor wasn't going fast enough for me, I got off it and ran! I ran and ran until I couldn't run another inch. I was totally out of breath, I dropped down on the thing. And as I dropped, I heard these bombs drop in the main camp. Then I had to catch the tractor up and drive it back to dispersal. These attacks inflicted grievous damage. But airfields were up and running again within hours. And just as with the radar stations, Goering failed to press home his attacks. On 15 August, he expressly forbade his aircraft from attacking the same airfield two days running. In a stroke, he had virtually assured the survival of Fighter Command.

Even so, the skies of Kent were becoming a very dangerous place for both sides. By 27 August, the two weeks fighting since 'Eagle Day' had claimed 208 RAF and 413 Luftwaffe aircraft. Everybody in the squadron was either shot down or bailed out

or crashed or did something, all around Maidstone. In fact, we knew Leeds Castle like the back of our hand because we'd all landed there at one time or another. With losses escalating on both sides, Goering was the first to lose his nerve. Unhappy he was losing so many bombers, he issued orders that his fighter escorts should fly close to them and not high above as they had before. This made the bomber crews feel safer but it stripped the fighters of their natural advantages - speed and height. (Speaks German)

TRANSLATION: The whole point of a fighter's advantage is the fact that it's fast.

And now we were ordered to give up our speed and fly alongside the bombers. In doing so, we were totally inferior. In this situation, with the British flying towards us at a great speed from high altitude, we didn't stand a chance. This meant we incurred heavy losses. Dave has returned to Duxford after the long sortie to the south coast. In 1940, he would now have faced a barrage of questions from intelligence officers trying to piece together a picture of the day's air fighting.

Any claims, Johnny? Uh, a 109 destroyed Freddie, yes. Oh, good show. These combat reports were notoriously inaccurate, as confusion and enthusiasm took their toll on the true picture of the day's events. There used to be various people flying around who would always get back a bit late, when the rest of the squadron had already landed, and say, "Oh, I went a bit north towards the North Sea, "came across half a dozen chaps and shot two down." You see? These great fellows with their moustaches. Now, look at it from our point of view. We would shoot at aircraft at 18,000ft. We would record what we thought we'd done. The aeroplane would then go down - don't forget there would be 35 squadrons in the air

at the same time - so, it could well be that the aeroplane would be attacked three or four times before it hit the ground. For the Germans, the situation was made even worse by a system that not only encouraged wild over-claiming but actually reduced the combat efficiency of their fighter squadrons. The Luftwaffe actually had an incentive system of getting awards - the Knight's Cross, the swords and the oak leaves and so on -

that was based on how many kills you got. Unfortunately, however, it produced a system in which these people became prima donnas,

in which getting the highest score was the only thing that mattered to them. Which demoralised the rest of them. And you get a ridiculous situation where you'll get the whole of a Geschwader

trying to protect their star ace as he goes out to shoot down one more Spitfire. And actually ignoring the real tasks, which are to protect bombers. This was a tension the Luftwaffe suffered from right the way through the war. There was another disadvantage.

As well as creating aces, the German system rewarded dishonest pilots prepared to fabricate their successes. So, whilst both sides were over-claiming,

for the Germans it was creating a yawning reality gap, letting them believe they were inflicting far higher losses on the RAF than they actually were. German intelligence was convinced Fighter Command was close to collapse. Yet every day, German pilots discovered the RAF seemed as strong as ever. The dream of air supremacy was still a long way off. However, the Germans weren't the only ones making some serious mistakes.

One of our great problems, at the beginning of the war, is we were not trained as well as the Germans.

Our tactics were out of date, we used to fly tight formations, which was absolutely asking for murder, and we got the chop left, right and centre. Pilots were taught to fly in close formations of three, called vics. This required great skill but was useless in a dogfight.

It forced pilots to spend all their time avoiding collisions, rather than looking out for the enemy. But it's a skill Dave will still have to learn. We've brought in one of the current world experts in piloting Second World War planes to teach him this and aerobatics. My name's Peter Kynsey, I'm the Chief Pilot of the fighter collection here at Duxford. I was the British aerobatics champion for three years, and represented the UK in the World Aerobatic Championships and the Europeans. And since I've stopped that sport, I've been training aerobatic pilots and also doing display flying instruction, I'm an examiner for the Civil Aviation Authority for display pilots. OK. So, Dave, what are we going to do today? Today's exercise is, we're going to start off with formation flying. And the position we'll be flying is a formation called 'echelon', which is, there's the leader, and you'll be back here about 45 degrees back, just slightly behind the leader. While Dave pilots the dual-seater Spitfire with Carolyn, Pete will be leading the sortie in a single-seater Mk V Spitfire. Dave will be trying to fly as close in behind Pete's wing as possible. The original idea in the training was that you would be involved against bombers, not fighters. It was archaic and a throwback of before the war, peacetime,

when they assumed that there would be big bomber formations.

So, you must get a concentration of fire against a big bomber formation. Therefore, keep all the aeroplanes together and then go in so you had a concentration. OK, you have control. OK, I have control. OK, keep your hand on the throttle at all times. So, you can begin the join-up now. OK, you keep a lookout. I am. You've got to keep in position to the left or right of your leader.

And it isn't something the aeroplane will do itself,

you're adjusting your throttle the whole time to keep in position. Keep your nose down a little bit, Dave. Add a little bit more power just to keep that position now. The trick with formation flying is lots of little bits of power. That's right. This is a complex operation that takes all the pilot's concentration, and certainly doesn't give you time to look out for the enemy. So, you're in perfect position now, I think.

OK, I've got the elevator cutting through the windscreen there. So, keep it there. You were to fly with your wing - in my case I was number three - so I had to fly with one-third of my wing inside behind the other wing and about three to four feet behind it. So, we were very close to the other aircraft. We cruised at about 220mp/h, so you had to be very much on the qui vive. Our course, all the time you were doing that, you weren't looking round. You were looking at your leader, you never took your eyes off him. And if he missed something, then as a wingman you got clobbered. CAROLYN: I'm having a bit of a lookout for you, but basically your leader is your lookout. You trust him implicitly. Which of course in the war is what it was all about. (Speaks German) TRANSLATION: The English flew close together, in chains. And so, it took them more time to realise they were being attacked. And we were often able to take them by surprise, including the Spitfire. (Speaks German) There was one occasion when Bolter and I were flying at the back...

..of the formation. And we got jumped by a 109. And there was green tracer going in between us.

And he went to the right automatically, I went to the left. And I was so close to him I could see all the oil streaks coming down the Spitfire.

Not only were the pilots told to fly in vics, they were also expected to follow standard RAF attack guidelines.

These involved forming into single file, and opening fire as you slowly overtook the enemy one by one. It isn't hard to imagine what would happen next.

There were 13 pilots and they only wanted 12. And so they drew out of the hat who was going to be the unlucky one and it was me. So, off went 19 Squadron, and they ran straight into a horde of Stukas.

And they methodically followed 'Fighter Command Attack Number One', and went in, and you went in at a very slow overtaking speed of a target - and they were very slow, Stukas - and the boys were creeping in, ready, when of course down came the Messerschmitts and shot down the first three straightaway. It was absolute rubbish, it really was. We soon realised what was going wrong. I mean, you were a sitting duck going in at 10mp/h overtaking speed. It was clear tactics had to change if RAF pilots were to have any chance of winning the Battle of Britain. Pilot Dave Mallon is being taught how to fly a Spitfire in close formation, an out of date tactic learnt by RAF pilots prior to the Battle of Britain. Keep the nose down a little bit, Dave. That's nice. We're keeping low. We're keeping in plane with him. Formation flying is difficult to get into position, but I think I dealt with it reasonably well. Just gentle trickles of the power then just concentrating all the time on the one point on the aircraft and trying to keep that in your line of sight all the time. But it's really, it is hard work. It's really hard work. Tight formations became highly unpopular with experienced pilots, and they soon started to develop their own tactic. Sergeant Harker, Budge Harker and I started flying together. And we worked out that if we flew about 300 yards apart, level with each other... ..we could protect each other by seeing if any other aircraft was trying to attack them from behind. And in fact it happened on one occasion over Dover. Budge called me up and said, "Watch out, there's a chap coming up behind you." So, I went into a hard tight turn and had he not been able to tell me that, I would have been shot down. The German pilots had adopted a loose flying formation in the years before the Battle of Britain. They developed a system called the 'Schwarm', where pilots flew in a well-spaced group of four planes, with everyone able to cover each other's back, and no danger of colliding with one another. The Germans had learnt this in the Spanish War. It's far better to fly a loose formation of two aeroplanes, the 'Rotte' system, spread out, each covering everybody else. Using everybody's eyes to look for the enemy. Experienced 11 Group squadrons started adopting these loose formations early in the battle. But it didn't become general RAF policy till 1941, a delay that was to have terrible consequences. By the first week of September, two months of heavy fighting had taken its toll. Squadrons needed to rest and rebuild, and were replaced by units from the Midlands and the North who had little combat experience and no idea how seriously flawed their tactics were. When I was at Kirton-in-Lindsey, we had one or two sorties to look for bandits coming in. We didn't really run into it until the end of August when we were sent down to relieve 264 Squadron at Hornchurch. And then we took off the next day and you were right into a war which really you hadn't been in before. Everything was peaceful up north. But down there it was quite different. They were now locked in a deadly race. Having to unlearn all their outmoded tactics before being decimated by battle-hardened Luftwaffe pilots who could not believe their luck. Their nickname for the vic formation was the 'row of idiots'. For the first time, the RAF looked in real trouble as losses mounted.

These were dark days. To make matters worse, Park and Dowding were also fighting an internal political battle in Fighter Command, against the head of 12 Group, Trafford Leigh-Mallory. 12 Group covered East Anglia and the Midlands and it looked, before war broke out, as if that might be the place that any German attack would come from. Because nobody reckoned on them capturing France.

And so afterwards, 11 Group became more important. Leigh-Mallory had devised a new strategy which he called the 'Big Wing'. And was desperate for his squadrons to be allowed to try it. Rather than scrambling individual squadrons and attacking the Germans as quickly as possible, Leigh-Mallory thought it better to spend time assembling five or six squadrons into one large formation, called a 'wing', and then attack the bombers en masse, even if this meant hitting them after they had dropped their bombs on the airfields.

This was not the way in which Dowding thought his system ought to be deployed. But Leigh-Mallory thought it sounded like a jolly good show, because it would get him into the limelight as well. Rendezvousing at 25,000 feet with anyone was extremely difficult. You've no idea how big the sky is. If you're going to form up a wing, you can't just do it like that.

It takes time. And time's not on your side. You've got to stop them getting to the target, not hit them after they've got to the target and gone back. Leigh-Mallory's plan was inadvertently jeopardising another RAF advantage. By and large it was more worrying and more confusing for the enemy to be attacked successively by 10 individual squadrons, than to be attacked all at once by 10 squadrons together. I was quite convinced - all 19 years old of me - that we were right and that Park was right. And that by going in in small batches and hitting them, going away, if you got away with it,

and then going back and doing it again,

I'm convinced that was the right way to do it.

If you had too many aeroplanes in the sky all at one time, they would be very easy to see. It would give the enemy time to think what to do about it. And when they actually did come in to attack they would all tend to get in each other's way, instead of being in what is called a 'target-rich environment', which is that most of the other aeroplanes you can see are enemies, you just get in there, fire, and get away as fast as you can. Even though Dowding and Park's defensive system was immensely effective, Leigh-Mallory's aggressive ideas appealed to powerful figures in the Air Ministry. In October 1940, Dowding and Park were called to book for not embracing Big Wings. In the months to come, they were both removed from their jobs. And in 1941, when the history of the previous summer's battle was written in an official booklet, Dowding wasn't even mentioned. However, their pilots weren't fooled by this airbrushing of history. He was a grossly underrated man. And, unfortunately, underrated by people who saw fit to be his opponents. He was enormously fond of his pilots. And he referred to them as his 'chicks' and so forth. And he wept when they were killed. The system Dowding created was an immense achievement which had ensured Britain's survival. And even if the establishment didn't realise it, the Germans certainly had. Yeah, I think they were frightened of him. Because he was absolutely imperturbable. He just realised that he had a better cause than they did.

Because he had a better cause, he was going to win. And he won. Dowding was really the builder, the creator of a weapon. He put all the bits together. He was the person who produced a system out of all the disparate elements, which in combination proved to be unbeatable.

And if nobody had been around to put it all together, then attacking Britain from the air, for the Germans, might have been rather similar to attacking France from the air, where there was no system and where the French air force was wiped out within days. He was the creator of a weapon. Churchill is the man who decided to use it, and Park is the one who actually picked up the weapon and wielded it in battle. I think those are the three names that you need to remember when thinking about the Battle of Britain. By the beginning of September 1940, Fighter Command was facing mounting losses, and something needed to change and change fast.

In our final program, Dave Mallon will complete his Spitfire training. And we'll find out how Park and Dowding's system, and Churchill's vision, saved Britain from defeat, and in doing so changed the course of history.

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