Last of the Few
The Battle of Britain in the words of the pilots who won it.
- By The Editors
- AirSpaceMag.com, August 01, 2011
Hurricane Mk1 at the Royal International Air Tattoo, Fairford, Gloucestershire, England, 2008. Photograph by Adrian Pingstone.
When Hitler’s forces invaded Czechoslovakia and Poland in 1939, Britain prepared to send its Advanced Air Striking Force across the Channel to help defend the Belgian and French borders. But no Spitfire squadrons were sent out of the country—the new aircraft was too important to Britain’s defense to use them to defend other nations.
From bases in France and forward airfields in England, RAF pilots battled the Luftwaffe and their Me 109 fighters in their slower (and heavier) Hawker Hurricanes. Before the RAF was forced to withdraw from France on June 18, 1940, 80 pilots had been killed, and 25 percent of RAF aircraft were lost.
The pilots and aircraft that remained returned to Britain to join the Spitfire squadrons, determined to protect the island from a German invasion. But before German troops could land, Hitler ordered Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering to gain air supremacy over Britain by destroying RAF bases and aircraft. These attacks, which came to be known as the Battle of Britain, lasted from July 10 until October 31, 1940. It was the Luftwaffe's longest aerial bombing campaign to that date.
For his new book, Last of the Few: The Battle of Britain in the Words of the Pilots Who Won It (Skyhorse Publishing, 2011), author and oral historian Max Arthur interviewed surviving members of the Battle of Britain. Click on the thumbnail images above to read excerpts from the book.
Reprinted with permission from the publisher.