[!--quoteo--][div class=\'quotetop\']QUOTE[/div][div class=\'quotemain\'][!--quotec--]The gratitude of every home in our Island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the World War by their prowess and by their devotion. Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few. All hearts go out to the fighter pilots, whose brilliant actions we see with our own eyes day after day...[/quote] -Sir Winston Spencer Churchill, Prime Minister of Great Britain, August 20th, 1940. When Winston Churchill gave this speech, the Battle of Britain was swiftly approaching its climax. Only a few days before this speech, the RAF had handed the German air force, the Luftwaffe, a powerful defeat over English and Scottish skies. Of course, the Battle of Britain did not begin with the full might of the Royal Air Force engaging Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering's Luftwaffe. One can argue that it began over Dunkirk, where the British Expeditionary Force was attempting to swiftly evacuate. German Operation Sickle-Stroke had succeeded and had cut off the British and the French First Army from the remainder of the French forces. Every craft in Britain able to cross the Channel headed to Dunkirk to rescue the soldiers. The Panzer advance on Dunkirk was halted by orders from the Führer. Some believe it is because of Goering's proud boast that he would bomb the Dunkirk pocket into oblivion. Others attribute it to the German High Command's nervousness that the Panzers required infantry support, which was several days' march back of the tanks. Either way, the advance halted. This allowed the British to escape. However, Goering attempted to make good on his boast. German bombers, the Heinkel He-111, the Dornier Do-17, and the Junkers Ju-87 Stuka and Ju-88 bombed Dunkirk. The French fighters were outclassed by the German Bf-109s, as were the British fighters the Germans had encountered so far, the Hawker Hurricanes. Over Dunkirk, however, the first Supermarine Spitfires saw action. The Spitfire was derived from a series of designs of seaplanes from Supermarine's back catalogue. The designer of the airplane was a sickly young man, who created the Spitfire after being informed that Germany had developed a superfighter that outclassed not only everything in the RAF, but even the then-experimental Bf-109. The designer, who's name escapes me, ignored even his health to give Britain a fighter that would rule the skies. Legend tells us he succeeded. The Supermarine Spitfire was one of the three most-produced Allied fighters, along with the Hawker Hurricane and the Yakolev Yak-3. However, it was also easily the best Commonwealth fighter, and definately one of the most adaptable. The airframe was powered by the famous Merlin engine, the same powerplant that allowed the North American P-51 Mustang to become reknowned as the "Cadillac of the Skies". The Spitfire was manouverable, that is able to turn quickly, and could accellerate swiftly. Armswise, the Mark 1 held 8 wing-mounted 0.303 machine guns. The frame was lightweight metal, the skin stressed metal over that, making for a very stable but light combination. However, the majority of the Battle of Britain would be fought by the Hawker Hurricane. The Hurricane was made of metal and wood with canvas stretched over the frame, allowing for the machine to take amounts of fire that would drop a Spitfire or a 109 two times over. It wasn't as fast or as nimble as its comrade-in-arms but provided a stable gun-platform. The Hurricane had the same armament as the Spitfire. Their chief opponent was the single-engined Messerschmitt Bf-109. The 109 was Germany's main fighter from 1938, when it debuted in the Spanish Civil War, until 1943, when it was supplanted by the Fw-190. However, the 109 was the most widely produced fighter in German history, with tens of thousands being produced and being used around the world after the war. The 109 was made of a stressed-steel skin similar to the Spitfire, mounted a large engine, and armed with two 12mm machine guns and one nosecone mounted 20mm cannon, which would later become the weapon of choice for airplanes (The P-51 would mount six). Unfortunately for the Germans, the 109 had two disadvantages: one was its lack of manouverability, compared to the Spitfire. Two was its low range. 109s could barely reach England and have time for combat before fleeing back to bases in France. Because of this, the Germans had developed a second airplane, what they called a "destroyer" type. The Bf-110 was another Messerschmitt airplane, twin-engined, with a two-man cockpit. It was heavily armed with four cannons forward and a machine gun backwards and possessed a much longer range than the 109. However, it's manouverablity was so low as to be nil. Later in the war the 110 would find its niche as a night-fighter; during the Battle of Britain it would be naught but an easy target. In Dunkirk the British and the Germans fought to something akin to a draw. Although the Luftwaffe inflicted some casualties upon the British forces, most of the BEF lived to fight again. The same could be said for the RAF forces committed. Although badly chewed up, they too would return to battle the Germans again. However, the poor perfomance of the Luftwaffe did not stop Goering, who was determined to try again. The Luftwaffe in late June began flying raids on the coastal convoys that moved much of Britain's goods. The main offensive weapon was to be the Ju-87 Stuka divebomber, with the Bf-109 in support. During this initial phase of combat the RAF were often lured out over the English channel to defend the convoys. This was often fatal to the British and other pilots who would be in damaged aircraft and unable to bail out over British lands. Of course, the same could be said for the Germans, who had to cross over the entire Channel to touch down safely. This first phase of conflict was sporadic and really accomplished nothing, except for forcing the Royal Navy to withdraw their destroyers from Dover after losing one to a bombing raid. The next stage was to be more serious, with the German objective to be destroying the Royal Air Force and paving the way for the invasion of Britain. Today that invasion, known as Operation Sea Lion, is widely considered to be no more than a ruse to cover Hitler's true objective - Russia. Even the name of the Operation fails to disguise its intention. The plan itself was somewhat sloppy and unrealistic, calling for river barges to ford the English Channel and land soldiers to take Britain. The barges were to be escorted by the Kriegsmarine's elite force of battleships (of which none were yet complete) and the battle-cruisers of the Deutschemark class. The Luftwaffe was to keep the skies clear and bomb the Royal Navy before it could engage the Kriegsmarine. Whether or not Hitler ever intended to invade Britain is really unimportant. What is important is that the British believed he would. Territorial Army units were organized across the entire country. There were people ready to fight with hunting rifles, handheld pistols, and in one case, a small regiment of mounted sabremen was created. No doubt about it, the British were ready to fight whereever the Germans appeared. But before the Germans could contemplate landing, the Battle of Britain would have to end with the destruction of the RAF. Operation Eagle was launched August 15th, 1940, to bring about that end. All over Britain on Aldertag (as the first day of Operation Eagle was known as) the radar screens showed incoming German formations. From the Cotenin Peninsula and from Calais came waves of fighters and bombers. Even the long-range Bf-110s and Ju-88s from Norway launched raids on Scotland and northern England. The theory was that the RAF was already depleted from fighting in France, over Dunkirk, and in the English Channel. The Germans believed that most of the good British fighters were concentrated around London and therefore incursions all across the board would result in many getting through. They were sadly disappointed. On this first true test of The Few the Germans were defeated, although not decisively. Over seventy Germans were shot down for less than thirty-five RAF aircraft. Many of the kills came on the slow Bf-110s attacking from Norway that were attacked by veteran squadrons resting in the north after getting combat experience over Dunkirk and the Channel. It was this victory that prompted Churchill's speech in the House of Commons, five days later. The Germans continued Operation Eagle, aimed at annihalating the airfields and airplane factories that the RAF relied on. Many times the overconfidence of the pilots cost the Germans opportunities. Often airfields that were only damaged would be reported as destroyed. Factories were unfortunately much harder to hit, and although there were a few stoppages, supplies of the Hurricanes and Spitfires never really slowed. The real success in stopping lost fighters from being replaced was in the damaging and destruction of repair areas. One or two German bombers could destroy dozens of damaged or half-repaired British airplanes, and stop repairs from happening for crucial days. Combined with the RAF reaching its limit of new pilots and rested squadrons near the end of August, this led to the crucial point of the battle coming at the beginning of September. Many of the airfields were too damaged for the RAF to operate from, and replacement aircraft were only trickling in. On September 7th, the Germans changed targets. Perhaps due to the overconfidence of the Luftwaffe, which believed all the forward airbases of the RAF were destroyed and that the British were down to their last fifty fighters, or perhaps due to the fact that Bomber Command had just delivered payloads to Berlin, the German target suddenly switched: London, and other major cities. The radar screens showed hundreds of German airplanes heading for London, as well as other southern centres. The British scrambled many fighters to intercept. This pattern continued until September 15th, the high point of the Battle of Britain. By this point the squadrons from Dunkirk and the Channel battles had been fully rested, re-equipped, and remanned. Many were moved south in time for September 15th, a day which opened with a 300+ German raid on London. The Prime Minister happened to be visiting Air Vice-Marshal Keith Park on this day. Upon reciept of the radar report Park scrambled every fighter from Dover to Coventry to intercept. Churchill, worried that the Germans might attack another city, asked Park where the reserves were. He recieved an answer that had gaulled French command in May: "There are none." Luckilly for Churchill and the Marshal, there were none needed. The September 15th attempt to bomb London by day succeeded only slightly, with over fifty Germans downed and most formations scattered across the sky after encountering two hundred plus fighters. Both raids that day were turned back. The German attempt to destroy the RAF had failed. The Battle of Britain did not have a decisive end date. It petered out sometime in October as the Luftwaffe switched over to night-bombing. But after September 15th the Germans never mounted a serious challenge to British air superiority over their own island. The Few never amounted to more than 750 men. Their numbers fluxuated as men died or returned from well-deserved leave. Volunteers were not just British, either. Pilots from France, Belgium, Australia, South Africa, America, Ireland, Poland, New Zealand, and Canada fought. One of the battle's most famous aces, "Sailor" Malan was South African. The Canadians had two units in the battle, 242 Squadron, which was led by the legless pilot Douglas Bader, and 1st Squadron RCAF, the only non-British squadron to see battle in the Battle of Britain. The Polish pilots were mostly refugees from that nation. They made 5% of "The Few" but were accredited with 15% of the kills - fighting with vengeance. Aces High is an amazing song that gives us a little view into the cockpit of one of "The Few". It's a great way to pay tribute to those 750 men who stood, as far as they knew, between the free world, and between the fascist one. But we shouldn't stop at a song - it's important we learn our history, lest we repeat it.