Today marks the 75th anniversary of one of the greatest aerial battles in history. On 15 September 1940 the Luftwaffe launched its largest and most concentrated attack, believing that RAF Fighter Command was on its last legs. Albert Kesselring had amassed all that Luftflotte 2 had to offer, but claims that the British were down to their last 50 Spitfires had been grossly exaggerated. The RAF met the German aircraft in force, their victory denying the Luftwaffe the air superiority they sought and leading to Hitler abandoning Operation Sealion; the planned invasion of Britain.
As part of Osprey's commemoration of Battle of Britain Day, here is a look at some of the types of aircraft that fought in the Battle of Britain.
Spitfire I R6631/PR-Q of Flg Off Tadeusz Nowierski, No 609 Sqn, Middle Wallop, August-September 1940
Plane profile from Aircraft of the Aces 127: Polish Spitfire Aces
Flg Off Tadeusz Nowierski flew this Spitfire on two occasions. On 24 August he was at its controls during a mission described in the No 609 Sqn diary as follows; ‘Squadron was ordered to intercept raiders over Ryde, and found themselves 5000 ft below a large formation of bombers and fighters, right in the middle of our own AA fire, and down-sun. The squadron was attacked and fortunate to sustain no further casualties other than two aircraft damaged.’ Nowierski’s R6631 was one of those two. On other occasions Plt Off Michael Appleby and Flg Off John Curchin both claimed victories in this Spitfire. It was lost along with Plt Off Paul A Baillon on 28 November 1940 during the epic combat in which two famous aces, Flt Lt John Dundas and Major Helmut Wick, were killed.
Bf 109F-1 of JG 51
Plane profiile from Air Vanguard 23: Messerschmitt Bf 109 E-F Series
This was flown by Major Werner Mölders in the final phase of the Battle of Britain. The aircraft still bears the RLM Stammkennzeichen (Identification Code) SG+GW. The Bf 109F was evaluated during this period by Hauptmann Hermann-Friedrich Joppien, Gruppenkommandeur of I/JG 51.
Defiant I L7021/PS-H of Plt Off D Whitley, No 264 Sqn, Hornchurch, 24 August 1940
Plane profile from Aircraft of the Aces 105: Defiant, Blenheim and Havoc Aces
‘Bull’ Whitley joined No 264 Sqn soon after it had formed, and he was credited with five victories during the unit’s successful engagements over Dunkirk. He remained with the squadron into the summer, flying L7021 for the first time in early August. Later in the month he moved with L7021 to Hornchurch, from where on the 24th he scrambled in the fighter with Sgt R C Turner (his gunner throughout his time with No 264 Sqn) against an incoming raid. Over Ramsgate they attacked and shot down a Ju 88, which became Whitley’s final victory. Four days later, in No 264 Sqn’s last daylight engagement, he and Turner were shot down and killed in N1574 over Thanet by a Bf 109 of JG 26. In the same action L7021, flown by Sqn Ldr G D Garvin, was also shot down. Both Garvin and his gunner, Flt Lt R C V Ash, bailed out, but the latter perished.
Bf 110C ‘M8+AC’ of Major Erich Groth, Gruppenkommandeur II./ZG 76, Abbeville-Yvrench, September 1940
Plane profile from Aircraft of the Aces 25: Messerschmitt Bf 110 Zerstörer Aces of World War 2
Arguably the most famous, and certainly the best known, Bf 110 unit marking of all was II./ZG 76’s distinctive ‘Sharksmouth’. Here, it brightens up an otherwise textbook drab machine of the Battle of Britain period. Although assigned to, and normally flown by, the Gruppenkommandeur (the five kill bars on the tailfin are believed to be his), ‘Anton-Cäsar’ was being piloted by Gruppenadjutant Oberleutnant Hermann Weeber when it made an unscheduled belly-landing in a farm garden south of Tunbridge Wells on 4 September
Hurricane Mk I P3039 of No 229 Sqn, flown by Plt Off V M M Ortmans, Northolt, September/October 1940
Plane profile from Aircraft of the Aces 18: Hurricane Aces 1939-40
On 12 July 1940 four brand new Gloster-built Hurricane Is were delivered to No 229 Sqn at Wittering, three of which had consecutive serials - P3037, P3038, P3039. Of this latter trio, only P3039 would survive the Battle of Britain, enjoying some success with Belgian pilot 'Vicky' Ortmans at the controls. Like several other Belgian aces, London-born Ortmans had escaped to Britain, via Gibralter, following the withdrawal of his unit (Fairey Fox-equipped 7/III/3) from Belgium into France on 18 May 1940. Commissioned as a pilot officer in the RAF within weeks of his arrival, Ortmans was sent firstly to No 7 OTU at Hawarden in July and then to No 229 Sqn at the completion of his conversion on to the Hurricane in early August. Initially flying from the No 12 Group fighter station at Wittering, Ortmans started his career as a fighter pilot rather inauspiciously when his Hurricane was hit by return fire from a Do 17 on 30 August, forcing him to hastily crash-land. However, he soon exacted his revenge, and by the end of October had claimed 2 and 1 shared destroyed, 1 probable and 1 and 1 shared damaged. Of these successes, one victory (a He 111 on 27/9) and one and one shared damaged (a Ju 88 on 18/10 and a He 111 on 27/9 respectively) were scored whilst flying his personally-marked P3039. Ortmans finished the war with a score of 5 and 2 shared destroyed, 1 probable, 5 and 2 shared damaged (plus 2 destroyed and 1 probable unconfirmed), whilst his aircraft was eventually passed on to No 312 'Czech' Sqn in November 1940. It remained on strength until the unit re-equipped with Mk IIs in the spring of 1941, after which it was relegated to training duties firstly with No 56 OTU, and then No 55. P3039 was finally written off whilst flying with the latter unit when it spun into the ground near Edderside, in Cumberland, on 27 May 1943.
For a more general overview of the Battle of Britain as a whole be sure to take a look at The Battle of Britain by Kate Moore, currently available at a 20% discount!