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Great Battles of WW2: War in the Air

Great Battles of WW2: War in the Air

Great Battles of WW2: War in the Air

This final volume of a new three-part series examines the dizzying aerial exploits that shaped the war in the air. Discover: - Why the Spitfire nearly missed the Battle of Britain - The inside story behind the famous Dambusters raid - How kamikaze pilots prepared for their fateful missions

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United Kingdom
Immediate Media Company London Limited
$18.10(Incl. tax)

in this issue

2 min.

For many Britons, nothing quite sums up the nation’s Second World War triumphs than stories of Spitfires taking to the skies, fending off the Luftwaffe against seemingly insurmountable odds. Indeed, as we remember the Battle of Britain eight decades on, Winston Churchill’s words still pack a powerful punch: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” Yet Churchill’s famous ode to ‘the Few’ only offers part of the picture. While the pilots of Fighter Command are rightly lauded, the battle was also won by the likes of aircraft engineers, radar operators and bomber crews, each doing their utmost to dash Hitler’s hopes of invasion. In this special edition of BBC History Magazine, we explore these pivotal moments during the war in the air and…

5 min.
dangerous new heights

Six weeks after Adolf Hitler had been sworn in as Germany’s chancellor, Winston Churchill issued a stark warning to parliament. For a year, Churchill had been a lone voice against the cross-party support for disarmament, and in a speech to the House of Commons on 14 March 1933, he lamented the details of the recently published British Air Estimates. The report had revealed that Britain was only the world’s fifth-biggest air power, a ranking that would not improve now that the nation’s 10-year aircraft manufacturing programme had been suspended for another year. Churchill was incredulous that not one aircraft had been built during the first three months of 1933, and he felt compelled to warn his colleagues: “We should be well advised to concentrate upon our air defences with greater vigour.” Churchill’s…

10 min.
how the spitfire nearly missed its finest hour

At the height of the battle of Dunkirk in May 1940, the brilliant New Zealander Al Deere was on patrol in his RAF Spitfire over the French coast. Suddenly, through the haze of smoke drifting upwards from the raging combat on the ground, he spotted a German Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighter below him. He instantly gave chase. Soon, both planes were descending earthwards at high speed. “Down we went, throttles fully open, engines roaring and each determined to get the last ounce out of his straining aircraft. From 17,000 feet down to ground level I hung to his tail,” recalled Deere. Desperate to shake off the Spitfire, the Bf 109 dramatically changed course, levelling out from his dive and then going into a steep climb. But Deere could not be beaten.…

2 min.
timeline the making of an icon

October 1931 The Air Ministry issues specification F7/30, calling for a new day and night fighter to replace the ageing Bristol Bulldog. Supermarine’s chief designer, RJ Mitchell, comes up with an all-metal monoplane, the Type 224. Though not a success, the lessons learned lead to the creation of the Spitfire. 5 March 1936 The maiden flight of the only Spitfire prototype, K5054, takes place at Eastleigh near Southampton. “The handling qualities of this machine are remarkably good,” writes Supermarine test pilot Joseph ‘Mutt’ Summers. The Air Ministry is so impressed that 310 are immediately ordered. October 1938 After severe production difficulties and political crises, the Spitfire finally goes into service with the RAF. No 19 squadron, based at Duxford, is the first unit to receive the plane, and pilots are reportedly delighted with the new…

11 min.
the formidable few

At 4.30pm on 14 August 1940, 87 Squadron scrambled to their Hurricanes, quickly got airborne and started speeding towards Weymouth on the Dorset coast. “One hundred and twenty plus approaching Warmwell from the south,” came the calm voice of the ground controller in the pilots’ ears. “Good luck, chaps.” Pilot Officer Roland ‘Bee’ Beamont swallowed hard and began to desperately scan the sky. They were over Lyme Regis and flying at around 12,000ft when Beamont saw them, still out to sea – what looked to him like a gigantic swarm of bees all revolving around each other in a fantastical spiral from around 8,000 to 14,000ft. As the Hurricanes drew closer, Beamont could see that the swarm contained about 50 Stuka dive bombers and two-engine Messerschmitt Bf 110s, along with single-engine…

3 min.
where the germans went wrong

POOR TACTICS Although Luftwaffe commander-in-chief Hermann Göring had been a fighter pilot in the last war, he was a far better businessman than air commander. After 12 August, he halted further attacks on British radar stations, repeatedly made his subordinates come to him in Berlin, and disastrously began insisting his fighters escort the bombers closely, which meant losing their advantage of speed. Then he turned on London, which made no tactical sense. INSUFFICIENT RADIO The Germans had far more sophisticated radar than the British but failed to use it. Radio communications once in the air were non-existent between fighters and bombers, leading to repeated confusion. There were no ground controllers as such, so that once on their way to England, the Luftwaffe were left with the pre-flight orders and nothing more. Otherwise, they…