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Essential historical resources

If you are a mission maker, Battle of Britain enthusiastic wanting to do research online, or just looking to waste some time in the virtual 1940s, this is the place for you!

UK royal ordnance survey maps of the 40s

Bundesarchive photos 1933 to 1945

WWII video collection including Adlerangriff and JG77

Documentary on aircraft nose art

Archive aerial photos of Britain

Speeches of Winston Churchill

Colour Luftwaffe photographs

Cliffs of Dover map of SE England with airfields, cities, rail lines and roads.!download|805p5|2608387218|COD_Map_with_Rail.jpg|5359|4964|4220

RAF official history page: These pages catalogue the official reports of the most important event in Royal Air Force history, the Battle fought over Britain between the 10th July and 31st October 1940. For the first time, the complete Fighter Command Operational Diaries for the period have been published in full, day by day over the whole period the Battle.
Supporting this official text are a series of pages detailing such facets of the Battle as the Commanders, the Aircraft and the changes in Tactics on both sides as the situation developed. Although some of the Fighter Command claims of the time (i.e. numbers of German aircraft shot down etc.) have since been proved to be greatly exaggerated on some days, it nevertheless does give a unique insight into the RAF's perspective of the Battle of Britain

Battle of Britain Historical Society: Education and research resource oriented to students and historians. Contains copies of many period by Nigel Jackson and Andy Harrison: Enthusiast website perhaps most notable for its library of samples of engine sounds for period aircraft. Also includes an independent daily diary gathered from several sources which is useful to mission builders and a great supplement to the offiicial RAF daily diary. The site also contains a very thorough list of links to mainly UK resources.

BOB Wikipedia Entry:

The German Perspective on the Battle of Britain: an analysis done by Lt Col Earl Lund of the USAAF. His insight into the German strategic imperatives avoids the trap of concentrating too heavily on personalities (like Goering) and focuses on the causes and effects of the crucial decisions made during the Battle.

ITALY in the Battle of Britain: extensive information on the involvement of The Regia Aeronautica in the conflict.POLAND in the Battle of Britain: a very authoritative sight with references and other sources on the involvement of Polish pilots in the Battle.

JEWISH pilots in the Battle of Britain: a website dedicated to this topic, with names and identities of those who flew.Czech pilots in the Battle of Britain: limited information in English about Czech pilot involvement in the conflict. May be more in Czech.

American pilots in the Battle of Britain: Small summary of the several US pilots who flew in the conflict. Information on USAAF Aces: a little OT, but great for Mission Building and creating scenarios or gathering info for videos:

Pilot names, by country: The website is notable primarily for the comprehensive list it contains of the non-British pilots who served with the RAF during the Battle.

Authentic 1940s pilot manuals

Hurricane II
Spitfire II
Spitfire V

Spit, Hurri and 109 in a 4MB ZIP file

Recommended Books/Movies

Battle of Britain - a Day by Day Chronicle
by Patrick Bishop, Quercus Publishing
2010 edition updated for 70th anniversary of BoB

This is without doubt the richest exploration of the BoB in print. Colour photographs and graphics adorn a day by day account of the Battle drawn from both RAF records and interviews with combatants. Bishop covers the Battle from 10 July to 31 October in gritty detail. Ideal for mission builders who are looking for historical detail on what clashes occured where and which units or pilots were involved.

The Most Dangerous Enemy
Stephen Bungay

Regarded by many as the definitive modern guide to the Battle of Britain The Most Dangerous Enemy is in many ways a traditional exploration of the subject, that differs in its conclusions rather than its analysis.
Bungay examines the political environment leading up to the Battle, the forces arrayed on both sides and then examines the different phases of the battle before looking last at the aftermath for both the countries and the individuals involved. 
In contrast to other historians he concludes not so much that the Luftwaffe lost the conflict, but that in fact they had no chance of winning it. At no point was the RAF in actuality 'on its knees' and superior command and control, use of RDF, and better rates of aircraft and pilot production meant the Luftwaffe was doomed to fail. Hitler's much discussed decision to move the focus of his attacks from RAF airfields to London, was a welcome relief for 11 Group under Park, but the bulk of the RAF's fields and forces were concentrated in 10, 12 and 13  Groups and these airfields were all operating at strength.

Fighter Boys
Saving Britain 1940
Patrick Bishop

Tall tales of derring do drawing portraits of the pilots of the BoB from interviews, diaries and other primary source materials. Jingoistic and single minded, it focused almost entirely on the British pilots in the Battle, ignoring in any detail the contributions of non British RAF pilots who in fact outscored the British aces of the day. Not mentioned by Bishop in this record, is the fact that of the top 10 aces of the Battle of Britain, the top two were Polish and the majority were not British. Myopically British, but nonetheless absorbing.

Spitfire on my tail
Ulrich Steinhilper

A view from the other side of the Channel, Bf109 pilot Steinhilper served with Galland, whom he didn't much like, and was shot down and captured over Britain in August 1940. He documents well the formative years of his entry into the Luftwaffe and the type of pilots he served with as they went to war with Britain. He also documents the stress and near collapse of the Luftwaffe as the BoB wore on with no sign of victory, and as his fellow pilots fell, either to British guns, or to fatigue and 'Kanal Sickness.' Valuable context for someone looking for an alternative to Gallands self aggrandising memoirs.

To Play the Fox
Frank BarnardThis is the third installment in Barnard's excellent series about two chalk and cheese protagonists in WWII, RAF pilots Curtis and Ossie.

If you are old enough to remember and have enjoyed the Biggles series of books, then Barnard's novels can best be described as 'Biggles for Big Boys.' In fact, this episode bears a striking plot resemblance to the iconic 'Biggles Sweeps the Desert' which was released in 1942 and had Biggles operating out of a secret desert airstrip, plagued by the nefarious Hauptman von Zoyton.

Barnard actually left a comment in our guest book however to say this was certainly not the case!

PLOT: To Play the Fox is described on Amazon and other websites as an adventure about events surrounding the famous Desert Fox, Fieldmarshal Rommel. This, and the title, is completely misleading as Rommel is conspicous by his absence in this book. The story actually revolves around Curtis, who after a flying accident has been relegated to reconnaisance duties, and Ossie, who after a petty insurrection has been relegated to ferry pilot.Curtis gets shot down, and Ossie gets drafted into a special operations group operating (you guessed it) out of a secret desert base. Von Zoyton in this modern version is the little known General Stumme, a real Afrika Korps general who temporarily commanded the Afrika Korp during Rommel's absence in Germany during 1942 because of serious illness. Most of the book centers on Ossie and friend's attempts to locate and assassinate Sturm.

HISTORICAL ACCURACY: Stumme did die during the Alamein offensive by Montgomery, which together with the collapse of German forces necessited Rommel's early return from Germany. History records Stumme's cause of death as heart attack, but Barnard proposes an alternative (implausible but entertaining) scenario.

YOU'LL ENJOY: the dichotomy of the two heroes of the tale, Ossie and Curtis, who spend this episode in separate spheres until fate flings them together.

YOU MIGHT NOT ENJOY: that this is as much about the land war in the desert and the role of the

specialist operations groups that fought there, as it is about pilots and air combat.

RATING: 3/5. Not up to the standard of his previous works, but a consistently good read

The Rise of the Fourth Reich: Jim Marrs

Harper Collins 2008

The publisher's blurb says "Throw out everything you think you know about history. Close the approved textbooks, turn off the corporate mass media, and whatever you do, don't believe anything you hear from the government—The Rise of the Fourth Reich reveals the truth about American power."

I suggest you suspend all disbelief and throw your brain into a tub of formaldehyde too if you are going to tackle Marrs book, because that is the only way to get past the labyrinth of conspiracy theories built on myths and wild speculations that passes for 'analysis' in his book.

The blurb goes on, "In this explosive new book, the legendary Jim Marrs, author of the underground bestseller Rule by Secrecy, reveals the frighteningly real possibility that today the United States is becoming the Fourth Reich, the continuation of an ideology thought to have been vanquished more than a half century ago.
This concept may seem absurd (Ed: yup) to those who cannot see past the rose-colored spin, hype, and disinformation poured out daily by the media conglomerates—most of which are owned by the very same families and corporations who supported the Nazis before World War II. (Ed: Yup, Murdoch, Ted Turner, Conrad Black, Maxwell, all known Nazi supporters.) But as Marrs precisely explains, National Socialism never died, but rather its hideous philosophy is alive and active in modern America. Unfortunately, most people cannot understand the shadowy links between fascism and corporate power, the military, and our elected leaders (Ed: Um, could be because there aren't any?).
While the United States helped defeat the Germans in World War II, we failed to defeat the Nazis. At the end of the war, ranking Nazis, along with their young and fanatical protégés, used the loot of Europe to create corporate front companies in many countries, including the United States of America (Ed: unfortunately, he fails to name one). Utilizing their stolen wealth, men with Nazi backgrounds and mentalities wormed their way into corporate America, slowly buying up and consolidating companies into giant multinational conglomerates (Ed: again, no examples). Many thousands of other Nazis came to the United States under classified programs such as Project Paperclip. They brought with them miraculous weapon technology that helped win the space race but they also brought their insidious Nazi philosophy within our borders. This ideology based on the authoritarian premise that the end justifies the means—including unprovoked wars of aggression and curtailment of individual liberties—has gained an iron hold in the "land of the free and the home of the brave."
For the first time Jim Marrs has gathered compelling evidence that an effort has been underway for the past sixty years to bring a form of National Socialism to modern America, creating in essence a modern empire—or "Fourth Reich"!
You can browse the tome online here (but I suggest beforehand that you stick a screwdriver through your eye socket and twist it around. You'll enjoy it more if you have a frontal lobotomy first): 


Battle of Britain, 1969:  A movie commonly praised while in the air but damned once the scenes move to the ground. Eminently watchable and quite inspiring. One of the last films to feature actual BOB aircraft types, rather than CGI. The battle scenes are still the best aerial combat sequences on celluloid.
The large number of aircraft collected for this production made it the 35th largest air force in the world.

27 Spitfires in various degrees of repair were found for the film, 12 of which could be made airworthy. Only six Hurricanes where found, three of which were made flyable. The Messerschmitt 109 where all retired from the Spanish Air Force. The production company bought them all, about 50 of them, and put 17 of them back in flying condition. They are in the movie flown by Spanish Air Force pilots, and members of the Confederate Air Force. The 32 Heinkels, with crews, were on loan for free from the Spanish Air Force, where they still were used for transport and target towing. Two of them were eventually bought by the production company and flown together with the 17 Messerschmitts to England for further shooting. The two Junkers 52 were also on loan from the Spanish Air Force.

Towards the end of the film, a British Spitfire flyer shoots down a German bomber, which then falls over central London before crashing into a railway station. This actually happened, (although the fighter used in the real incident was a Hurricane, not a Spitfire and the bomber was a Dornier Do17 rather than a Heinkel 111). The RAF pilot didn't shoot the bomber down, though; he had run out of ammo when he spotted the bomber apparently trying to attack Buckingham Palace. In desperation, he rammed the bomber, taking off the tailplane. The fuselage then crashed into Victoria Station. Incredibly, he managed to parachute to safety. His own plane rammed into the ground at 350 mph. It was buried so deep that the authorities just left it there. In May 2004 the former RAF pilot was on hand as the remains of his aircraft were unearthed to make way for a new water main. Remarkably, part of the incident was captured on film, the tailplane fluttering down and the fuselage section (minus the wings outboard of the engines, which were torn off by aerodynamic forces) plummeting towards the ground.
Music: the soaring operatic score used for the film is available on CD as the Battle of Britain Soundtrack by Ron Goodwin and William Walton..

Dark Blue World: The story of Czech pilots who fought in the Battle of Britain and for the RAF, only to be imprisoned by Communist Authorities when they returned to Czechoslovakia. Based loosely on the true story of Frantisjek Fajtl, who was born Aug. 20, 1912, fled Czechoslovakia, which was occupied by Nazi troops, in 1939.

He joined France's air force, and after the country capitulated, he fled to Britain to join the Royal Air Force. His plane was shot down over northern France in May, 1942. Fajtl escaped to Spain, where he was captured and arrested. He was released after London intervened and returned to Britain.
He left the RAF in 1944 to help build the Czechoslovakian fighter squadron in the Soviet Union. But back at home, he was arrested as an enemy of state by the Communist regime in 1950, and spent 17 months in prison. After he was released, he was given only menial jobs. His reputation was fully rehabilitated after the 1989 collapse of the communist regime, and in 2004 he was awarded the highest Czech order — the White Lion order. He died in 2006.
Interestingly the film uses footage of a couple of Spit MkIXs, heavy CGI'd to give the impression of a greater number of Spits, and mixes in footage from the 1969 "Battle of Britain" film, plus "Memphis Belle."

Spitfire: portrait of a Legend
Leo McKistry
What was the greatest Spitfire of all time?

In his book, Spitfire, Portrait of a Legend, Leo McKinstry compares and contrasts the different marques of Spitfire, throwing in the words of the various aces and test pilots who flew them.
Could anything outdo the sheer impact on the conflict which the Mk 1 Spitfire had in the Battle of Britain?
The Spit IX, according to 92 Squadron’s Neville Dukes was a joy. “I just love flying around doing nothing in particular. One minute nipping along the deck at nought feet and then, with just a gentle pull on the stick and a little more motor, soaring up for hundreds of feet, feeling the immense power that you have got at your fingertips. Feeling that you are part of a fine machine, made by a genius.”
On the other hand, other pilots loved the raw power of the Griffon engined Mark XIIs and XIVs. As in this quote from test pilot Jeffrey Quill, who flew the Mk XII in a raw speed race against a Typhoon and a captured FW 190 in July 1942. “All went according to plan until, when we were about halfway between Odiham and Farnborough and going flat out, I was beginning to overhaul the FW190 and Typhoon. Suddenly I saw sparks and black smoke coming from the FW190s exhaust and…I shot past him, and never saw him again. I was also easily leaving the Typhoon behind, and the eventual finishing order was first the Spitfire, second the Typhoon, and third the 190. This was precisely the opposite result to that expected, or indeed intended. It certainly put the cat among the pigeons.”

Or how about the only time Spitfires saw combat against Spitfires. In 1948 Mk IX Spitfires of Egypt dueled in the skies against Czech supplied Spitfires of Israel,  and reconnaissance versions of the Mk XVIII fielded by the RAF. In this brief and spiteful conflict a Canadian pilot, Jack Doyle, with Israel’s 101 Squadron, became the first Spitfire pilot to officially shoot down an enemy Spitfire in combat. 

BOOK: Women with fire in their hearts, "The Spitfire Women"

With the outbreak of the Second World War, it became apparent that most of the male population were either working in strategically important reserve occupations or being called up to fight for their country. At this early time in the war there was great public show of patriotism. Unfortunately, as time passed it was clear that there were several problems within the RAF caused the shortage of pilots.
From this need emerged the Air Transport Auxilliary, or ATA. They cleared the factories and took the aircraft to maintenance units and other squadrons of the RAF and Fleet Air Arm.
It is interesting that history tends to focus more on its founder, Gerald d'Erlanger, than the pilots who flew the aircraft, of which 164 were women – The Spitfire Women.

Giles Whittel has redressed this imbalance in his exciting new book, which take an up close and personal look at these amazing heroines, among them Amy Johnson (the first woman to fly solo to Australia) who clocked up more than 260 hours with the ATA before she died ferrying an aircraft in 1941.

While flying an Airspeed Oxford from Blackpool to RAF Kidlington near Oxford, she went off course in poor weather. She drowned after bailing out into the Thames estuary. Although she was seen alive in the water, a rescue attempt failed and her body was never recovered. The incident also led to the death of her would-be rescuer, Lt Cmdr Walter Fletcher of HMS Hazlemere. She was the first member of the Air Transport Auxiliary to die in service, but not the last.

Amy Johnson, round the world record breaker, died in service ferrying an aircraft for the ATA in 1941.

The beauty of Whittel’s book is that through interviews with surviving ATA pilots, he focuses on their personal stories, not the history of the ATA as such.

To quote blogger and reviewer Natalie Bennett, “Who could not be grabbed by a character such as Mary de Bunsen, who had only limited use of her right leg as a result of childhood polio, had been born with a then-unfixable hole in the heart that frequently left her breathless after minimal exertion, who wore bottle-thickness glasses.

Who in the early stages of the war had worked for a Tiger Moth dealer in Devon as a test pilot before ending up flying a military Spitfire.

Or Margot Duhalde, the 19-year-old from Chile, the first woman to get a commercial pilot’s licence there, who left her home in April 1941 speaking no English, with no English relatives, to get to England to fight the Germans.”

Diana Barnato, the first woman to fly a Spitfire from the UK to Europe, and the first woman, in 1963 to break the sound barrier in an RAF T4.

These pilots burned with both a passion to service their cause, and a passion to fly. And it cost them dearly.

By the war’s end, the ATA eventually moved 309011 aircraft of 140 different types. Of the pilots, 169 men and 14 women, died in service.

For more information on this amazing chapter in aviation history visit:

BOOK REVIEW: Europe at War 1939-1945, No Simple Victory: Norman Davies.

Exceptional for the broader perspective it provides on all the major conflicts of the war, including the Battle of Britain. Davies has attempted to look at the conflict in a non-partisan light, taking the dictum that history is written by the victors, and turning it around to imagine a history written, if not by the vanquished, then by the forgotten.

In this treatise his central argument is that while the western powers achieved one limited objective by the end of the war – the destruction of nazi Germany – they lost the broader conflict because half of Europe was in any case occupied, by the USSR. An occupation which prevailed until the late 1980s.

Davies uses a variety of techniques to lift his narrative from the impersonal (a roll call of statistics regarding the dead, the wounded, the imprisoned, materiel produced, materiel wasted) to the personal, with first person narrative accounts highlighting  that behind every statistic was a person.

His examination of the Battle of Britain provides some new insights, to those who perhaps did not realise the wider involvement of nationals like the East Europeans and Commonwealth who fought with the RAF, or the Italians who fought against it. Otherwise it is a lesser chapter in the book, which concentrates more on the political, social and human impact of the wider war.

Even the most well read will find food for thought in this study. Did you realise, for example, that there were more German/Russian POWs executed by both sides during WWII, than people of Jewish descent? That Czech pilots in the RAF, when they returned to Czechozlovakia after the war, were not celebrated as heros, by interred as political dissidents, many of them dying in captivity in Communist prisons, or surviving to be released in the 1950s and 1960s to ignominy, rather than the lauded position they deserved? Did it ever occur to you that for most of the countries in Western Europe, the ‘war’ consisted of brief and bloody periods during the invasion and liberation of their countries, between which there were several years of relative normality for normal citizens? Davies highlights these incongruities with the traditional narrative with a gentle guiding prose that illuminates without stooping to provocation for the sake of it.

The reader can drown in the detail in Davies book however. If you were wondering how many Spitfires Lord Beaverbrook was actually able to produce from the aluminium he collected from British housewives, the answer is here, down to the rivet. Davies has a love affair with obscure data from far flung archives that very few will share. Where he succeeds is in dissembling the broad brush definition of ‘victory’ that modern European (read British, French, American) history tells of the war. Where he fails is in drowning the reader in statistics intended to shock, which instead serve only to numb.

Rating: 3.5/5

BOOK: Blue Man Falling, Frank Bernard. Rating 4/5.
In September 1939, World War Two is declared and Europe holds its breath. When will the Third Reich strike west across France and the Low Countries? For RAF fighter pilots patrolling the Franco-German border it is a bizarre time: one moment they are chasing an elusive Luftwaffe, the next ordering champagne in Paris. Then, in May 1940, Hitler launches Blitzkrieg and the Hurricane squadrons find themselves engulfed in battle. From the cockpit of a Hurricane fighter plane to the louche salons of Parisian society, Blue Man Falling follows the fortunes of two RAF pilots, an Englishman, Kit Curtis, and an American, Ossie Wolf, during the Battle of France 1939-40. Capturing the startling contradictions of a time when people were at their best and their worst, it brings to life the exhilaration and fear of aerial warfare with astonishing power and narrative skill. Above all, it lays bare the meaning of war, and the selflessness of those prepared to fight until the end.
Comment: The conflict of personalities between the murderous Ossie Wolf and the debonaire Kit Curtis makes this book. Aerial sequences are gripping and period atmosphere is excellent. Some may enjoy the subplot (a fifth columnist is outed) but I just found it confusing and irrelevant to the main show, and skipped through those sections. Barnard is also the author of the brilliant "Band of Eagles" about the siege of Malta - another must read.
Scans: Scan from Dec 1940 National Geographic. I have found an online source of the entire 1940s collection of National Geographics and will feature some of these articles and scans in a future review of the material.

Caption: A duel in the sub-stratosphere. Contrails over Kent, August 28 1940.


Nine Lives, Alan Deere: The Story of and by RAF ace Alan Deere
Reach for the Sky, Paul Brickhill: The Story of RAF ace Douglas Bader
The Most Dangerous Enemy: A History of the Battle of Britain by Stephen Bungay
The Battle of Britain: The Greatest Air Battle of World War II by Richard Hough
The Battle of Britain: The Myth and the Reality by Richard Overy
Supermarine Spitfire Owner's Manual: 1936 to 2007, all marks by Alfred Price and Paul Blackah



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