Canada’s Battle of Britain

“What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin.” – Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill, 18 June 1940

The Battle of Britain Silver Coin minted for the Royal Canadian Mint for the 75th Anniversary of the battle.

The Battle of Britain Silver Coin minted by the Royal Canadian Mint for the 75th anniversary of the battle.

Summer and fall 2015 mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. One of the most important battles of the Second World War, the German Luftwaffe, fresh from victories in France, Belgium, and The Netherlands, attempted to soften up the British Isles for Operation Sea Lion, the planned invasion of southeast England. At the time, Great Britain was the last bastion of democracy in Europe. For Churchill, failure was unthinkable: “…if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.”

Britain, its Empire, the Commonwealth, and the remnants of armed forces from German subjugated countries – such as Poland and Czechoslovakia – did not fail. After months of heavy air fighting starting on 10 July 1940 the resiliency of the Royal Air Force’s Fighter Command and the presence of the Royal Navy forced Nazi Germany to look elsewhere for future conquests. The purpose of this post is to introduce followers of @BoB_CdnAirForce to the topic and provide some explanation for the tweeting format. A more detailed story of the battle is told elsewhere. There are numerous websites, books, and articles that one can learn more from. I’ve included a couple of suggestions below.

For Canadians interested in the role of their countrymen:

For a great quick read I highly recommend Richard Overy’s The Battle of Britain: Myth and Reality.

Although most historians peg 10 July 1940 as the beginning of the Battle of Britain, I have chosen to start the tweets on 1 July 2015. Early tweets focus on No. 242 (Canadian) Squadron RAF, a unit that was stood up early in the war to include Canadian pilots serving in the RAF. By summer 1940 the squadron had suffered significant casualties and reinforcements were not always Canadian. An excellent book on which some of the @BoB_CdnAirForce tweets are based is Hugh Halliday’s 242 Squadron, The Canadian Years: the Story of the RAF’s “All-Canadian” Fighter Squadron. When tweeting about pilots in this unit I’ve generally provided the names of Canadians in capital letters to differentiate them from their non-Canadian comrades.

Hurricane pilots 'scramble' rushing to their aircraft to make the next intercept.

Hurricane pilots ‘scramble’, rushing to their aircraft to make the next intercept.

The Royal Canadian Air Force fielded its own squadron in the Battle of Britain. This was No. 1 Squadron RCAF which became operational in mid-August. While I’ve primarily used No. 242 Squadron’s war diary and Hugh Halliday’s book for that unit’s tweets, the No. 1 Squadron diary is less complete and so I’ve supplemented it with information from the Royal Canadian Air Force Association’s website. I also relied on this website for information about Canadian flyers elsewhere in the RAF. I occasionally made use of the Battle of Britain Monument in London’s website when information on the RCAFA site was lacking. It seems that the RCAFA site only includes information about a pilot’s exploits when he destroyed an enemy aircraft. As such, there are few @BoB_CdnAirForce tweets regarding damaged or probably destroyed claims. I’ve done this because tracking down the other claims and creating tweets about them would take up time beyond what I allocated to this project. It should also be noted that a destroyed claim does not necessarily mean that a German aircraft was destroyed. Fighter Command claimed far more aircraft than German records indicate were lost. Exaggerated enemy loss claims were not uncommon throughout the Second World War on all sides.

A typical tweet includes the squadron number, the rank of the pilot (usually in short hand due to character limits on twitter), the pilot’s name, the pilot’s hometown, and details pertinent to that day. Common rank shorthand includes Pilot Officer (P/O), Flying Officer (F/O), Flight Lieutenant (F/L), and Squadron Leader (S/L).

I hope you follow @BoB_CdnAirForce and enjoy the feed. I’d like to think of this project as a fitting way to honour Canada’s contribution to the Battle of Britain, in particular the 23 Canadians who died defending Great Britain, the last bastion of democracy in Europe, during that frantic summer.

"High Summer High Battle" by Nicolas Trudgian

“High Summer High Battle” by Nicolas Trudgian

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