Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Fighter pilots in WW2.

Spitfire with pilot.
Hurricane Fighter
For Part Two of Barbara's War I've begun to research the life of a fighter pilot. My hero, Alex, is a Spitfire pilot and I became fascinated  and have spent far too long on this.
It is hard to credit what these very young men lived through in the early days of the war. Dowding's code meant they were taught to fly in close formation - wing tips almost touching - which proved to be a lethal method. Many 'tail-end Charlies' were shot down by the  ME109s because they just didn't see the German fighters. Sometimes these missing planes weren't noticed until the squadron actually landed.
Early in the war a group of Spitfires shot down a Blenheim -and claimed it as the first kill of the war - because of faulty information from bomber command. The Blenheim looked similar to a Dornier17. A Spitfire was shot down by a squadron of Hurricanes - it seems this sort fo thing wasn't that unusual.
The myth that German pilots were poorly trained was believed, but was soon proved erroneous and many of our brave young fighter pilots lost their lives because they thought they were better trained than the Germans. In fact it would appear they were wrongly trained - they should have flown in pairs - not a V-shaped close formation - making an easy target for the opposition.
Hurricane pilot WW2
Lessons could have been learnt from the way the Luftwaffe performed in the Spanish Civil War -but this was ignored by Dowding.  After the fall of France some squadron leaders changed their tactics and flew in pairs but others stuck to the obsolete manual.
Air-Vice-Marshal Johnnie Johnson said at the time, "These formation attacks were useless for air fighting because the tempo of air combat did not allow time for elaborate manoeuvres in tight formations and as a result the last words too many splendid fighter pilots heard were 'Number ...Attack .. Go.'
Another thing I discovered is that the Battle of Britain would have been lost if the Germans hadn't turned their attention from bombing fighter command airfields to bombing London. This gave the squadrons time to       reform and recover and they were never in serious danger again.
 Also the claims of the Air Ministry for British 'kills'  was grossly exaggerated. They stated that 2735 German planes were shot down and 375 RAF pilots lost - this just wasn't true. Fighter command said, when asked where the remains of these shot down planes were, that 80.5% of them fell in the sea! Whatever the truth behind these hugely exaggerated claims - no one can dispute the fact that the RAF pilots were a brave group of young men and we  owe them a huge debt.
Blueprint for the Hurricane.


  1. Fascinating stuff, Fenella. I agree that the pilots were so, so brave.

    1. Jan, thanks for dropping by. The trouble with research it's hard to know when to stop.

  2. Fenella I am conducting a research on WWII but from the German perspective. I interviewed a lady whose brother was part of the Hunter's Unit of the German Air Forces (Luftwaffe). I am curious to read your other side of the story.

    Here is an interesting link for you.

  3. Tannia, Thank you so much for your link. From what I've read the Luftwaffe were beter prepared and had better aricraft, and like the RAF,were brilliant pilots. One of the main characters in Hannah's War is a German pilot - war is such a waste of good men.