The Biggs' Boys

By Ken Stofer

Copyright 2001 Ken Stofer, All Rights Reserved


   The Battle for Britain provided an excellent example of the work done by fighter pilots; proving beyond any doubt that good quality aircraft, manned by well-trained and disciplined men, could defeat in combat many times their own number of poorly trained aircrews.

   In 1941 the Air Ministry published an account of the Battle of Britain, which covered a period from August 8 until October 31, 1940. The following are edited excerpts from that account.

    The avowed object of Hitler was to obtain a quick decision and to end the war by the Autumn or early winter of 1940. To achieve this an invasion of Britain was evidently thought to be essential. Preparations to launch it were pushed forward with great energy and determination throughout the last days of June, the month of July and the first week of August. By the 8th of August the enemy felt ready to begin the opening phase, on the success of which his plan depended. Before the German Army could land it was necessary to destroy British coastal convoys, sink or immobilize such units of the Royal Navy as would dispute its passage, and above all to drive the Royal Air Force from the sky. The Luftwaffe (under Herman Goring) therefore, launched a series of air attacks, first on shipping and ports and then on aerodromes.

    The Luftwaffe sent over five main types of bombers - the Ju. 87, a dive-bomber, the Ju. 88, various types of the Heinkel 111, the Dornier 215 and the Dornier 17. The Ju. 87 type B was a two-seater dive-bomber, an all-metal, low-wing cantilever monoplane, armed with two fixed machine-guns, one in each wing, and a movable machine-gun in the aft cockpit. When looked at from straight ahead the wings had the shape of a very flat W. Its maximum speed in level flight was a trifle over 240 miles an hour.

    The Ju. 88, also a dive-bomber had a maximum speed of 317 m.p.h. Its crew and armament were similar to those of the Heinkel 111. The Heinkel 111k Mark V. was a low-wing all-metal cantilever monoplane with two engines. It carried a crew of four and was armed with three movable machine-guns, one in the nose, one on top of the fuselage and one in the streamlined "blister" underneath. Its maximum speed was nearly 275 m.p.h. The Dornier was a high-wing cantilever monoplane of all-metal construction with three movable machine-guns similarly placed to those of the Heinkel 111k. Its maximum speed was about 312 m.p.h. It was a development of the Dornier 17, familiarly known as "the flying pencil." This aircraft was a mid-wing cantilever monoplane. It was armed with two fixed forward-firing machine-guns in the fuselage, one movable gun in the floor and one on a shielded mounting above the wings. Its maximum speed was about 310 m.p.h.

    These bombers were protected by fighter planes, the Me. 109 and the Me. 110. The Me. 109 in the form then used was a single-seater fighter. It was a low-wing all-metal cantilever monoplane armed with a cannon firing through the airscrew hub, four machine-guns and two more in troughs on the top of the engine cowling. Its maximum speed was a little more than 350 m.p.h. Its pilot was later protected by back and front armour of which the size and shape became standardized during the course of the battle.

    The Me. 110 was a two-seater fighter powered with two engines. It was an all-metal low-wing cantilever monoplane with two fixed cannons and four fixed machine-guns to fire forward from the nose. It was much larger than the Me. 109 but didn't have the same capacity of manoeuvre. Its maximum speed did not exceed 365 m.p.h. In this aircraft the crew were protected by back armour only. The Germans also used a few Heinkel 113's. This was a low-wing all-metal cantilever monoplane with a single engine. A cannon fired through the airscrew hub and there were two large-bore machine-guns in the wings. The maximum speed was about 380 m.p.h. Goring boasted his aircraft were "definitely superior" to any British aircraft.

    On August 8 when the battle began the Royal Air Force faced Germany's Luftwaffe with the Spitfire, the Hurricane and occasionally the Boulton-Paul Defiant.

    The Spitfire Mark 1 was a low-wing all-metal cantilever monoplane armed with eight Browning machine-guns, four in each wing set to fire forward outside the airscrew disc. Powered by a Rolls-Royce Merlin engine the Spitfire's maximum speed was 366 m.p.h.

    The Hawker Hurricane Mark 1. was also a single-seater fighter similarly engined and armed. Its maximum speed was 335 m.p.h. In both these aircraft the pilot was protected by front and back armour.

    The Boulton-Paul Defiant was a two-seater fighter with a Rolls-Royce engine. It was an all-metal low-wing cantilever monoplane, and was armed with four Browning machine-guns mounted in a power-operated turret.

    On August 18, during an evening attack on the Thames Estuary, one squadron alone of thirteen Hurricanes shot down without loss an equal number of the enemy in fifty minutes.

    The enemy soon realized the R.A.F. fighters were considerably stronger than he had imagined. It was time for drastic action. The fighters must be put out of commission (on the ground). So while still maintaining his attacks on coastal towns, he sent large forces to deal with fighter aerodromes in south and southeast England. Dover, Deal, Hawkinge, Martlesham, Lympne, Middle Wallop, Kenley and Biggin Hill were heavily attacked many times. Sometimes as many as five and six hundred aircraft took part in a raid.

    Ten days after the opening of the attack on August 8, the Germans had lost six hundred and ninety-seven aircraft. During the same period the R.A.F. lost one hundred and fifty-three, with sixty pilots safe.

    On September 7, Goring changed tactics again and began attacking London with raids coming in two or three distinct waves at intervals of about twenty minutes. There were twenty to forty bombers with an equal number of fighter escort in each wave.

    Somewhere between the coast and London and sometimes nearer the sea the German squadrons were met by Royal Air Force fighters.

    The Luftwaffe delivered thirty-eight major attacks by day between September 6 and October 5. There were dog-fights all over Kent. The air was for some minutes - never for very long - vibrant with machine-gun fire with a background roar of hundreds of engines, which on occasion, swelled to a fierce note as some crippled enemy fighter or bomber fell to the ground or made for its base, dropping lower and lower with Spitfires or Hurricanes diving upon it. Sometimes watchers on the ground would see the blossoming of white parachutes against the blue of the sky. So numerous were the crash-landed enemy aircraft over one two-week period, that it required more than two battalions of British infantry to guard them.

    On September 15 (now known as Battle of Britain Day), came the climax; five hundred German aircraft, two hundred and fifty in the morning and two hundred and fifty in the afternoon, fought a running fight with the R.A.F. fighters. It cost the enemy one hundred and eighty-five aircraft destroyed.

    During the battle for Britain 2,375 German aircraft were destroyed. The Royal Air Force lost 375 pilots killed and 358 wounded. Prime Minister Winston Churchill said, "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 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."

    One of those well-trained Battle of Britain fighter pilots was a Biggs' boy, John Latta, of Victoria, B.C.

Copyright 2001 Ken Stofer, All Rights Reserved


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