Before Germany could mount Operation Sea Lion, a cross-channel invasion of the British Isles, it needed to have complete air superiority over the invasion fleet. Because of the Luftwaffe‘s greater numbers and modern aircraft, German military leadership believed this could best be accomplished by defeating the Royal Air Force in air-to-air combat.
The Royal Air Force had been conserving their limited numbers of pilots and aircraft up to this point in the war. Germany’s plan was to send its bombers against targets that the R.A.F. would be forced to defend. The escorting Messerschmitt Bf 109s (also referred to as the Me 109) would then shoot down the Boulton Paul Defiants and Bristol Blenheims. But the Hawker Hurricanes and Supermarine Spitfires were up to the task. While the Hurricanes went after the Luftwaffe’s Dornier 17 and Heinkel He 111 bombers, the Spitfires engaged their Bf 109 fighter escorts.
Britain used a system of radar-directed ground control of its fighter squadrons. The result was that, although both sides lost about the same number of aircraft, the Battle of Britain was a decisive victory for Great Britain. Germany was forced to give up on its plans for an invasion of England.
During a speech the House of Commons, 20 August 1940, Prime Minister Winston Churchill referred to the pilots of Fighter Command when he 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 the 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.”
Ever since, the Royal Air Force has been known as “The Few.”
Royal Air Force aircraft:
Highly recommended:Duel of Eagles, by Group Captain Peter Townsend, CVO, DSO, DFC and Bar, Royal Air Force. Cassell Publishers Limited, 1970 and Castle Books, 2003.
“On 14 December 1931, Douglas Bader flew to Woodley airfield near Reading. After lunch someone said, ‘I bet you won’t roll at nought feet.’ Bader did, and the graceful little Bulldog ended up in a shapeless ball of twisted metal. After hovering at death’s door Bader lost both legs. At Cranwell he remembered the Commandant had admonished him, ‘The RAF needs men, not schoolboys.’ Now he was neither, and the RAF would not need him anymore.”
—Duel of Eagles by Group Captain Peter Wooldridge Townsend, CVO, DSO, DFC and Bar, RAF, Castle Books, Edison, New Jersey, 2003. Chapter 6 at Page 82.
Pilot Officer Douglas R.S. Bader, Royal Air Force, caught the wingtip of his Bristol Bulldog Mk.IIA, K-1676, and crashed at Woodley Aerodrome, approximately four miles east of Reading, Berkshire, England. The airplane was damaged beyond repair. Bader suffered major injuries requiring amputation of his right leg, followed by amputation of his left leg several days later. He was fitted with prosthetic legs with which he was soon able to walk without assistance. Pilot Officer Bader was medically retired and received a 100% disability pension.
In 1939, feeling that war with Germany was imminent, Bader applied to the Air Ministry for reinstatement. He was turned down, but was told that if there was a war his request might be reconsidered.
The Air Ministry did reconsider Douglas Bader’s request for reinstatement and after a medical evaluation and other tests, he was sent to refresher flight training where he was evaluated as “Exceptional,” a very rare qualification.
Group Captain Sir Douglas R. S. Bader, Royal Air Force, CBE, DSO and Bar, DFC and Bar, FRAeS, DL, a legendary fighter pilot of the Royal Air Force in World War II, was born at St. John’s Wood, London, England. He joined the Royal Air Force in 1928 as a cadet at the Royal Air Force College Cranwell and was commissioned as a Pilot Officer in 1930.
Credited with more than 20 aerial victories while flying Hawker Hurricane and Supermarine Spitfire fighters, Bader was himself shot down while flying his Supermarine Spitfire Mk Va, serial W3185, marked “D B”. His prosthetic legs caught in the cockpit and made it difficult for him to escape, but he finally broke free and parachuted to safety.
Bader was captured and held as a prisoner of war. He was initially held at a hospital in occupied France and it was there that he met and became a life long friend of Adolf Galland, also a legendary fighter pilot—but for the other side! After arrangements were made for replacement legs, Bader escaped. He was recaptured and taken to the notorious Offizierslager IV-C at Colditz Castle where he was held for three years.
Douglas Bader is the subject of Reach For The Sky, a biography by Paul Brickhill, and a movie based on that book which starred Kenneth More.
Sir Douglas was invested Knight Bachelor, 12 June 1976, for his service to the disabled. He died suddenly of a heart attack, 5 September 1982.
The Bristol Type 105 Bulldog was a single-place, single-engine biplane fighter which served with the Royal Air Force from 1928 to 1938. It was constructed of a riveted framework of rolled steel strips. The forward fuselage was covered with light weight sheet metal, while the wings and aft fuselage were covered with doped fabric. The Bulldog Mk.IIA was 25 feet, 2 inches (7.671 meters) long with a wingspan of 33 feet, 10 inches (10.312 meters) and height of 8 feet, 9 inches (2.667 meters). It had and empty weight of 2,222 pounds (1,008 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 3,660 pounds (1,660 kilograms).
The Bristol Bulldog Mk.IIA was powered by a 1,752.79-cubic-inch-displacement (28.72 liter) air-cooled, supercharged Bristol Jupiter VIIF nine-cylinder radial engine which was rated at 440 horsepower up to 12,000 feet (3,658 meters). This was a left-hand tractor engine which drove a wooden two-bladed fixed-pitch propeller through a 2:1 gear reduction.
The airplane had a maximum speed of 174 miles per hour (280 kilometers per hour) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) and a service ceiling of 29,300 feet (8,931 meters).
The Bristol Bulldog Mk.IIA was armed with two synchronized Vickers .303-caliber machine guns with 600 rounds of ammunition per gun.
6 November 1935: The prototype Hawker Hurricane, K5083, first flew at the Brooklands airfield, Weybridge, Surrey, with test pilot Flight Lieutenant P.W.S. (“George”) Bulman (later Group Captain Paul Ward Spencer Bulman, CBE, MC, AFC and Bar).
Designed by Sydney Camm to meet a Royal Air Force Specification for a high speed monoplane interceptor, the airplane was designed around the Rolls-Royce PV-12 engine. (“PV” stood for Private Venture.)
The Hurricane was built in the traditional means of a light but strong framework covered by doped linen fabric. Rather than wood, however, the Hurricane’s framework used high strength steel tubing for the aft fuselage. A girder structure covered in sheet metal made up the forward fuselage. A primary consideration of the fighter’s designer was to provide good visibility for the pilot. The cockpit sits high in the fuselage and gives the airplane its characteristic hump back profile. The cockpit was enclosed by a sliding canopy. The landing gear was retractable.
The Rolls-Royce PV-12 was a developmental liquid-cooled 1,649-cubic-inch-displacement (27.022 liter) 60° V-12 that would become the legendary Merlin aircraft engine. The PV-12 first ran in 1933 and initially produced 700 horsepower. The engine was progressively improved and by the time the Hurricane prototype first flew, it was equipped with a supercharged Rolls-Royce Merlin C, Air Ministry serial number 111144, which had a Normal Power rating of 1,029 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m, at an altitude of 11,000 feet (3,353 meters), with +6 pounds per square inch boost. The V-12 engine turned a Watts two-bladed fixed-pitch wooden propeller through a gear reduction drive (possibly 0.420:1).
In early flight testing, K5083 reached 315 miles per hour (507 kilometers per hour) at 16,200 feet (4,938 meters), with the V-12 turning 2,960 r.p.m. and +6 pounds per square inch (0.414 Bar) of boost. The speed exceeded the RAF’s requirement by 5 miles per hour. The prototype was able to take off in as little as 795 feet (242 meters) and to climb to 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) in just 5 minutes, 42 seconds. It reached 20,000 feet (6,096 meters) in 8 minutes, 24 seconds. The prototype’s service ceiling was 34,500 feet (10,516 meters). The estimated absolute ceiling was 35,400 feet (10,790 meters)
The Hawker Hurricane Mk.I was ordered into production in the summer of 1936. The first production airplane flew on 12 October 1937. The Hurricane Mk. I retained the wooden fixed-pitch propeller and fabric-covered wings of the prototype, though this would change with subsequent models. It was 31 feet, 5 inches (9.576 meters) long with a wingspan of 40 feet, 0 inches (12.192 meters), and overall height of 10 feet, 6 inches (3.200 meters). Its empty weight was 5,234 pounds (2,374 kilograms) and maximum gross weight was 6,793 pounds (3,081 kilograms).
The Hurricane Mk.I was powered by a Rolls-Royce Merlin Mk.II or Mk.III. The Mk.III was rated at 1,030 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. at 16,250 feet (4,953 meters).
The Mk.I’s best economical cruising speed was 212 miles per hour (341 kilometers per hour) at 20,000 feet (6,096 meters), and its maximum speed was 316 miles per hour (509 kilometers per hour) at 17,750 feet (5,410 meters) and 6,440 pounds (2,921 kilograms). The airplane’s range was 585 miles (941 kilometers). The Hurricane Mk.I could climb to 20,000 feet in 9.7 minutes.
The fighter was armed with eight Browning .303 Mark II machine guns mounted in the wings, with 334 rounds of ammunition per gun.
Peter Townsend described the Hurricane in his book, Duel of Eagles:
“. . . By December  we had our full initial equipment of sixteen aircraft. The Fury had been a delightful play-thing; the Hurricane was a thoroughly war-like machine, rock solid as a platform for eight Browning machine-guns, highly manoeuvrable despite its large proportions and with an excellent view from the cockpit. The Hurricane lacked the speed and glamour of the Spitfire and was slower than the Me. 109, whose pilots were to develop contempt for it and a snobbish preference for being shot down by Spitfires. But figures were to prove that during the Battle of Britain, machine for machine, the Hurricane would acquit itself every bit as well as the Spitfire and in the aggregate (there were more than three Hurricanes to two Spitfires) do greater damage among the Luftwaffe.”
—Duel of Eagles, Group Captain Peter Wooldridge Townsend, CVO, DSO, DFC and Bar, RAF. Cassell Publishers Limited, London, Chapter 13 at Pages 153–154.
At the beginning of World War II, 497 Hurricanes had been delivered to the Royal Air Force, enough to equip 18 squadrons. During the Battle of Britain, the Hurricane accounted for 55% of all enemy aircraft destroyed. Continuously upgraded throughout the war, it remained in production until 1944. A total of 14,503 were built by Hawker Aircraft Ltd., Gloster Aircraft Company, and the Canadian Car and Foundry Company.
NOTE: While researching a question by reader Drew Mercer, I came across some additional photographs of “Taffy” Clowes and his Hawker Hurricane, so I thought I would add them. P3395 has a bee painted on its engine cowling. Each time Taffy shot down an enemy airplane, he added a stripe.