back to article Battle of Britain pilots actually crap shots

A historian has claimed Fighter Command's finest - "The Few" who legendarily administered Goering's Luftwaffe a bloody nose during the Battle of Britain - were actually often woefully undertrained and incapable of hitting a barn door with a banjo. That's the opinion of Dr Andrew Cumming, who analysed National Archive documents …

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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    News ?

    I thought this was already pretty well documented. The sights on machine guns where set at a poor focal point. They were set far to distant when the best option was to come in close behind and let rip. Some pilots modified their own planes.

  2. Joe Stalin

    The Narrowest Margin

    That's the book that the movie "The Battle of Britian" was based on. Anyway every man and his dog knows that the RAF could replace aircraft just as fast a Gerry could shoot them down. The real problem was pilots or lack there of. In the movie Dowding talks about cutting hours of flight time during training and in another scene two new pilots arrive at the squadron with less than 14 hours flying Spitfire each.

    Also even during WW1 new pilots were nicknamed 20 minuters, cause that's how long they were expected to last on average. The more combat expirence a pilot got with out being killed his chance of survival went up dramaticaly. So the BoB pilots were crap says the study, how would taking out the firures for pilots killed in their first or second combat skew the figures then?

  3. Chris Walker
    Thumb Down

    Hackademic Turd

    Dr Andrew Cummings can piss off frankly.

    Poor training time and therefore poor accuracy may have something to do with the fact we were at war. I'm not entirely convinced that a proper syllabus followed by extensive flying time and target practice fits smoothly alongside the needs of a nation defending itself from potential invasion.

    Nobody I've ever met thinks the RAF won the lot either. Everyone knows exactly how large a part way played by both the Royal Navy and the Merchant Marine - from the evacuation of Dunkirk to hunting U-Boats and protecting convoys... our esteemed Dr Cummings seems to think we've forgotten we live on an island.

    But back to the RAF and the Battle of Britain. Whilst he may sit there and pore over dry archive documents, and draw down his research grant accordingly, he seems to have stopped short of the most salient point. No, they weren't properly trained and no, they may not have been terribly good shots, and yes they picked off the stragglers (a kills a kill eh?)...

    ... yet they won.

    Interesting how he should publish his findings so close to Remberance Day too eh?

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    For you, Englander, the war is over

    I'm sure that overclaiming has been acknowledged for donkey's years; if both sides overclaimed by a similar rate, then at least the shoot-down figures would give a relative performance indicator. Does this study cover German aircraft that returned to their bases, riddled with .303 bullets, with dead and injured crewmembers bleeding amongst the shattered glass etc? Does it cover the deterrent effect of the RAF's fighters, the fact that a squadron of Spitfires at high altitude could dominate the airspace, and limit the enemy's actions, even without shooting anyone down? Surely aerial warfare is more complicated than a simple tally of kill/loss statistics.

    I choose Paris Hilton as my avatar, because she is an expert on stiff upper lips, and stiffness in general.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Old News

    This historian is merely repeating what is well known historical fact. It is hardly news that both the RAF and Luftwaffe exaggerated their claims for kills during the Battle of Britain (the Germans more so). It is a bit rich to criticise pilots for being bad shots without having any experience of the difficulty of trying to hit a small aircraft travelling at a closing speed of 600mph with a machine gun.

    It is also well known that the Royal Navy posed at least a great a threat to any German invasion force.

    Anyone interested in the experiences of RAF pilots in the battle of britain should read the excellent novel 'Piece of Cake' by Derek Robinson.

  6. Lee Brimmicombe-Wood

    Unhelpful Revisionism

    Kill-loss ratios say nothing about the quality of shooting. What they may indicate is that the British were not as well-armed as the Germans comparing eight-gun rifle-calibre weapons against cannon) or that the RAF used poor tactics (tight vic formations against the German finger four) or that the Luftwaffe often held the height advantage in a fight.

    The truth is that the average pilot of *every* nation throughout the war would have had trouble hitting a barn if they were inside it. Aerial shooting, and particularly deflection shooting, was a difficult art to master. As a consequence most of the air combat killing in WW2 was done by a small handful of pilots.

    Though there may be criticism of the quality of RAF training, no-one in any air force really had an effective means of training good shooters.

    - Lee Brimmicombe-Wood

    Designer, 'The Burning Blue: The Battle of Britain 1940'

  7. David Harper

    Another bloody armchair Biggles

    I suggest that we strap Dr Andrew Cumming into a Spitfire and let him try his luck against half a dozen trained Luftwaffe pilots in Me-109s.

    Of course many RAF pilots couldn't shoot straight. Most of them were barely 20 years old, and they had very little training because the RAF needed rapid replacements for the pilots whom the vastly better-trained and better-prepared Luftwaffe had already killed.

    It's not as if Churchill could telephone Goebbels to ask whether the Luftwaffe wouldn't mind awfully *not* bombing the shit out of Britain for a few weeks whilst the RAF trained its pilots properly.

  8. H'arj Imladd
    Paris Hilton

    Chocks away chaps

    Shooting down 1294 against losing 788 isn't actually too bad, and most importantly (as you mentioned) they didn't try to invade....

    I take issue with some of your terminology though, as I believe you've mixed your metaphors: It's "Couldn't hit a cow's arse with a banjo" or "Couldn't hit a barn door at 10 paces with a shotgun".

    BTW Lester, whatever happened to the Rockall times?

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Who gives a toss?

    They went up there and did the job.

  10. Frank Pearson

    Factors not considered ?

    Some of the points I think that have been missed....

    - aircraft that were damaged (the Luftwaffe repair organisation was not complete in time for the BoB, the RAF had 100% reserves of aircraft by mid-BoB)

    - aircraft replacements (the Luftwaffe production was not equal to the loss/repair rates, RAF aircraft were being built faster than they were being lost)

    - aircrew replacements (both sides had problems - not solved ever by the Luftwaffe while the Empire Air Training Scheme would see too many aircrew for operations by 1944)

    - aircrew who parachuted from damaged and shot down aircraft were generally lost to the Luftwaffe - they were prisoners.....

  11. Richard

    Surely it's more impressive?

    "In total the RAF claimed to have shot down 2,698 German planes. The actual figure was more like 1,294. The RAF lost 788 planes - far fewer than the 3,058 the Luftwaffe claimed."

    So based on the claims of the respective air forces against "actual" figures, the RAF go from losing by 360 planes to winning by 506. More of this kind of revisionism please!

  12. Jon Green

    Hardly a surprise

    It shouldn't be a shock that the BoB pilots weren't all that effective. They had a very short training programme that emphasised flying skills rather than marksmanship, then took to the air to learn their skills in the field of battle instead.

    Without modern technology like simulators and lead computing sights to assist, techniques like leading the target (shooting at where the target _will_ be, rather than where it is now: not easy when you're turning too) are almost impossible to pick up in ground school or practice dogfighting. You might understand the theory, but when you're full of adrenaline, being buffeted by G-forces as you turn, climb and dive, and trying to avoid other enemies practising on you, accurate shooting suddenly becomes a lot more tricky!

    And, of course, the ones who didn't learn in time were replaced by more novices. Not likely to make the statistics look great, that.

  13. Karl Lattimer
    IT Angle

    Not impressive my a*se

    In these days of BF1942 etc... Kids have the ability to fly these planes, back then they did it for real.

    So a few points this doctor might like to consider:

    1, The reported kills were high because multiple pilots were taking credit for the same planes, not their fault but if multiple people were involved the reporting done is going to be inaccurate. Later these reports were filtered and made more accurate. But propaganda also played a role.

    2, The RAF had around 600 fit airmen vs. a massive Luftwaffe, and still sent them home crying back to fatherland.

    3, 17/18 year old kids going 400mph, flying fingertip control spitfires and hurricanes, shooting guns at chosen targets, hitting them and bringing them down IN REAL LIFE. Be serious, that in itself is impressive.

    4, The Germans were sore losers and lied about their defeats regularly.

    5, The German losses were almost twice ours, which is impressive in any evenly matched battle.

    --

    Compare this with modern warfare, example, the video footage of the start of the iraq war, bombs going off left and right, surgical warfare... and mostly civilians killed.

    I know which one impresses me most.

    PS. IT angle?

  14. mad clarinet
    Thumb Down

    and......

    Everyone knows (and have been commenting) the differences.

    8 .303 machine guns weren't powerful enough to easily bring down and aircraft - thats why the later marks had cannons - still, it made a mess of the aircraft and crew.

    Numbers and statistics are only a part - the result speak for themselves.

    Oh and in the later parts of the battle the enemy pilots said 'here they come again, the last 50 fighters' - intelligence failures too, use of the first integrated command and control system (radar, sector stations etc).

    I could carry on but remember 'There are lies, damn lies and statistics'

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Coat

    What About My Nan?

    The Luftwaffe once strafed the factory my Nan was working in in Birmingham and she's still annoyed about it.

    Chocks away, I'll get my coat old bean. Toodle-pip.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Unimpressive ?? !!

    How dare this weasel of a bookworm sit in judgement?

    Yes a 19 year old Flight Sargeant with 12 hours total time was undertrained and of limited effectiveness. However that's all that was left to the RAF. Aircraft were made more quickly than pilots.

    Perhaps he thinks he could have done better?

    Yes all claims were exaggerated, such is war. In war it is the results that matter not the efficiency with which they were achieved. The BB was a sucess and a turning point for a country that was losing until then.

    This idiot can't see the big picture. What sort of historian is he?

    Air superiority stopped the U-Boats for his "underrated" navy to then suceed.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Oh, grow up!

    "It is a bit rich to criticise pilots for being bad shots without having any experience of the difficulty of trying to hit a small aircraft travelling at a closing speed of 600mph with a machine gun."

    Not just you, but this is a good example. He's not saying it was easy. He's saying that a lot of them were inexperienced and were attempting something that was very difficult.

    You lot are just proving his point that saying anything that does match the popular image of the RAF's ace pilots holding of the German horde just gets met with this kind of response. Seriously, it's like I just walked in to The Sun's editorial office.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Someone with too much time on his hands

    JABS - Just Another Bloody Sprog

    Every now and then another semi-academic rears its bearded head to seek out recognition. Oh for a Tardis to send these twits back to their inspiration.

  19. Michael Compton

    Why's everyone getting so worked up

    The battle of Britain failed/ended due to ego's and a little thing called the Eastern Front, the Russians won the war after all :)

    If Goering had of stuck to military targets and the planes didn't have to all rebase to Poland then maybe things would have been different.

    Though as a number of wargames showed after the war Germany could never successfully invade Britain even if they had Air superority, the RN and Germanys lack of heavy transport craft makes it near impossible.

  20. T. O'Hara
    Mars

    Inspiring...

    Ooh dear, the "few" weren't great at achieving 1 kill for every round fired. I guess we should hold them up as examples of incompetence now instead of an inspiration to all.

    To remember those who with little training, with little hope of surviving and with their whole life ahead got into an airplane and tried to hold off the undefeated Luftwaffe; this inspires me.

    What doesn't inspire me are academics who spend years on producing this type of "sort-of-controversial" drivel that adds no value and is carried out in the hope that knowing they are deriding a few brave souls will get them news time.

    Who would want to go to college for a pathetic life like that?

  21. Ché

    and my Dad...

    He met an old german geezer in Munich in the '60's, in a beer garden, of all places.

    "Oh, you're from Glasgow? I know it well." says Herr Oldguy.

    "Yes, indeed. So when were you in Glasgow then ?"

    says my Da, who is about 25 at this point.

    " Oh, I've never actually been there, but i know it from the air"

    True story.

    They both got well pissed that night.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Rubbish

    "Dr Andrew Cummings can piss off frankly".

    I second (or third, or whatever) that suggestion. Also that he try flying a Spitfire or Hurricane while shooting at fast-moving, jinking enemy planes flown by far more experienced pilots. Moreover, on about three weeks' training.

    Normally I eschew personal abuse, but I am tempted to invoke various body parts after reading this article.

    Similarly, statistics have been published that show most soldiers never hit any of the enemy - from memory, only about 2 percent did any damage. But that may have referred to our friends the Yanks.

    As to the cretinous theory that it was the Navy, not the RAF, that stopped a German invasion, I have one word for its advocates: "Crete". No one familiar with the story of our evacuation from Greece and Crete (where we should never have gone in the first place, but that's another story) would think that the Navy could have blocked the Channel without air superiority. The Luftwaffe and U-boats would have sunk the lot of them within 48 hours. In the Med, a U-boat sank the battleship Barham in about 5 minutes, and a single Luftwaffe bomb came within a hair's breadth of sinking the carrier Illustrious (which had heavier deck armour than any other carrier in the world at the time). Smaller ships were going down left, right and centre.

    True, the Navy would have stopped an invasion - but only if the RAF was around to protect the Navy.

    There is a plentiful supply of under-educated jackasses trying to make a name by revising history, and proposing ideas that any schoolboy of the 40s, 50s or 60s would have laughed to scorn. Unfortunately, the media is full of under-educated jackasses who take these ideas seriously.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    String the bastard up by his Goebbels!

    This is old news that has been regurgitated suitably close to remembrance day so that Dr Andrew Cummings can make a bit of a name for himself by being controversial about a cherished subject. He offers no new information at all and seems to deliberately court controversy by failing to balance his "research". Perhaps the grant's are drying up and he needs a brief fillet.

    Twat. I've changed my mind, hanging is too good for him. Send him to the Gulag.

  24. Marvin the Martian
    Thumb Up

    Oh we're so much cleverer in our armchairs.

    > This idiot can't see the big picture. What sort of historian is he?

    What a sad lot of commentors, thinking they come up with points not clear beforehand.

    So let's get it straight: a historian writes a paper, the populist press picks it up (Beeb and Telegraph), you filter that through ElReg's sarcastic bootnotes section, and then you think you get a fair idea of what the paper is about? You think the doctor used the words "crap shots" to describe the pilots? You're a bunch of mental midgets --- I can conclude this by reading your commentaries FIRST HAND.

    Of course the main lines of it (undertrained pilots didn't achieve the olympic killratios claimed) are known, to anyone with a passing interest. If historians were in the business of inverting old ideas they'd have to be wrong 90% of the time, otherwise there's be not enough to overturn obviously. Historians are in the business of setting the records straight, that's mostly dotting i's and correcting, not concluding the opposite of earlier statements. And newspapers are in the business of adding flames to fire.

    Shouting someone is "a weasel" or "bookworm" (with strong "you're too young, chappie, I've read the daily mail then so I know" undertones) shows a refusal to read and/or think. Even in the populist version it shines through it's not so much about the pilots (he stresses are heroes) but about (mis)management, and optimism about killrates that threatens the UK more than anything else.

    Realism about this things is "unpatriotic" in the now-popular american sense: you're a commie-nazi if you don't play to the tune. But if you think you shot down 180+ planes on one day for a loss of some 100, you say "well done, at this rate we'll make it, no need for changes"; and you can wreck it all because you refused to stop and check and find it's more like 50...

    I'd love to see further analyses, as suggested, but they'll be hard to get meaningful. Like the relative killrates of experienced versus novice pilots --- but you have only their own reports, and many novices didn't come back to tell... I'm not sure you can meaningfully compare killrates of <survived 3 flights> with <survived 10 or more flights>, or the evolution for single pilots over sorties. It's a heck of a survival analysis problem, with enormous numbers of missing data so very wide margins of error; the mathematical machinery exists so it would be worth a look.

  25. Mark
    Stop

    Shortcomings

    He's hardly creating a splash with his news. The difference between the two sides was not simple, and unlike the legend, in fact Spitfire did not have a massive advantage over the ME109 fighter; one on one, it was a prettty even battle. The ME109 had advantages to be taken use of, as did the Spitfire.

    ME109 had lower visibility and poorer turn capability, but all it had to do to get out of the sights of a Spitfire or Hurricane at the time was dive. The British plane would die of fuel starvation unless the pilot did a half roll and converted it into a positive-g dive. Ditto upside down flight; keeping positive g was essential. The ME109 had better guns and could survive a fair pummelling from the .303 machine guns of the Spitfire, or Hurricane. The ME109 is (arguably) a better aircraft than the much more common Hurricane.

    Moving onto pilots, a lot of German pilots had been putting in a lot of combat experience in Spain, ... Poland, France and were perfectly capable of getting the best out of their machine. Many Allied pilots were inexperienced as they'd lost a number in France. Dogfighting is either learned by experience, or good training, as the US training system has shown. Head to head combats are rare, so the closing speed is not 600mph, but certainly could be 100mph+. Leading with primitive sights is damn difficult and tracer is not perfect as assistance.

    What probably helped immeasurably is that the British normally knew where and at what altitude they'd encounter opposition, so could start from a superior tactical position.

    The real advantage the British had was the limited loiter time of the German fighters. The ME-109 barely crossed the White Cliffs of Dover before it was time to turn round again. I've heard loiter time over London was about 10-15 mins. If they encountered opposition on the way, they had to head home straight after the fight. Once they were out of the picture, the Hurricanes could partay with the bombers with no serious problems.

    And finally, if a pilot survived being shot down, a British pilot would get a trip back to his base, and a replacement aircraft. A German pilot would get a trip to a POW camp.

  26. Jonathan Lane
    Stop

    @Michael Compton

    Why's everyone getting so worked up? It's called cognitive dissonance. Scott Adams talks about it a lot in his trolling blog. Essentially, the vast majority of posters here seem to have projected an opinion on the article writer (original rather than the Reg reporter) and proceeded to demonstrate why that opinion's wrong. I didn't notice in the article where it said that the RAF was crap because everyone was under trained and yet loads of people here seem to take issue with that by providing lots of excuses.

    Guys, read it through again carefully and then consider what you want to comment on. No-one's saying that the Germans were better trained or that it's a big problem that the RAF were under trained. Those are just the facts being reported which everyone seems to agree with.

  27. GT

    A Piece of Cake

    This is best documented in "A Piece of Cake" by Derek Robinson, which has the added advantage of being a thoroughly enjoyable read.

  28. Bob Wheeler

    Time to train a pilot

    A few years ago, I got myself a Private Pilots Licence.

    My PPL took around 65 flying hours in total to complete. This covers the basics of actual flying, navigating by map, compass and stopwatch - no electronics or GPS used. Radio communication, flight/route planing and meteorology. In effect the very basics. A PPL allows me to fly a 'single engine aircraft, in good weather, during daylight and in sight of the ground (not above or in the clouds). For myself, I had done about 11 or 12 hours before I was able to fly circuit solo - that is to take off, fly around in a circle and land all on my lonesome. The kind of aircraft I leant on, a PA-28, is similar in size to a Spitfire or a Hurricane, just the engine is about a quarter or a fifth of it's power of a fighter aircraft circa 1940.

    The Spitfire had such a powerful engine that if not careful on preparing for take off if too much power was used to quickly the whole aircraft would flip over on to it's back. If someone with too much time on their hands and wants to research how many 'flying' accidents destroyed aircraft or killed crew I'm sure it would make dull reading!

    As many people have pointed out, the Battle of Britain was not won or lost due to one single element, but a vast range of different things on both sides. It was the end result that mattered.

    For me, I am, and have always been in awe of the guys that flew during the war.

    Bob

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Stop

    Who is he anyway?

    Who is Dr Andrew Cumming? He's described as a historian but there is no-one of that name at the history.ac.uk listing of university history teachers, nor is he listed as faculty by any UK university history department, and there are no relevant historical publications under that name. The only academic of that name is at the School of Computing at Napier University, Edinburgh. Perhaps someone with access to the original article in the BBC's history magazine could tell us what it says there about his entitlements. (From Anonymous Coward, but also Genuine Academic Historian.)

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    RE: Marvin the Martian

    Oh dear, you and others seem to have read and understood less than the "how dare they" brigade you are criticising.

    I don't dispute any of this guy's FACTS. However he has crossed the line by inserting his own OPINIONS into his work. This must not be allowed to happen with the truth. Clearly there are many who cannot tell the difference. How sad is that ?

    My position is that his OPINIONS are a distraction from the truth and his background does not grant him the moral or technical right to sit in judgement. It's unprofessional too for a man in his position.

    Since you value his opinions so highly why don't you value mine? I actually happen to be trained as a flying instructor so perhaps I may be allowed to refute his opinions, please sir?

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    RAF

    Not withstanding what was achieved, which was amazing, I don't think anyone has mentioned that very many of the best RAF pilots were Polish or Czech. I cannot remember the stats, but on average they shot down many more planes than the Brits, because they had already had combat experience and had nothing to loose. The British pilots thought they had a death wish......

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Provenance

    Apparently the guy's work isn't published yet

    http://www.history.ac.uk/historical/forthcoming.html

    Did the navy win the Battle of Britain? The warship as the ultimate guarantor of Britain’s freedom in 1940.

    Anthony J. Cumming

    Nice open-minded empirical discussion there then ?

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Academia is about...

    putting arguments forward with evidence in papers, then debating them with counter arguments in new papers. Since I'm going to marry an academic next year I know how much work goes into writing papers, and that, in general, the conclusions are based on the evidence and not personal opinion.

    I find it a bit hypocritical to say "stick him in a fighter and see how he shoots" when (probably) no-one posting this has flown a spitfire.

  34. Charles Calthrop

    Johnny foreighner, kiss my arse

    Edward Fox >>> Curd Jurgens. And no two bit Cary Cooper lite attention seeking "Historian" is going to make ME change MY mind.

    That's freedom that is. That's why my Grandad went to Dresden.

  35. Karl Lattimer
    IT Angle

    @Micheal Compton

    from wikipedia (which co-insides with my recollection of history class)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eastern_Front_(World_War_II)

    "Eastern Front of the European Theatre of World War II encompassed the conflict in central and eastern Europe from June 22, 1941 to May 8, 1945."

    and

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_britain

    "British historians date the battle from 10 July to 31 October 1940"

    So enlighten me? What the fuck do the russians have to do with the battle of britain? Germany didn't invade the russian part of poland until mid 1941, by which time the battle of britain was long over.

    In fact as many historians have noted, the germans turned to russia after failing to invade britain, and only maintained the blitz in order to try and keep our ability to fight down.

    Please a little fact checking before you give the ruskys all the credit, although not without their charm, fighting prowess and general hard nature, the russians (nor the americans re: film, pearl harbor and the now defunct film the few) had very much at all to do with the battle of britain.

    Seriously no IT angle?

  36. stalker
    Paris Hilton

    Ok, so if its a fair point....

    We'll revise the history books to show that our pilots, although technically inept, were insanely brave and threw temselves to the wolves, bringing home a victory by the skin of their teeth.

    We all know we won WWII by blind luck and german incompetence and egotistical errors, but.....

    Whats the Paris Hilton angle??

    I'll get me coat

  37. teacake

    So...

    ...I guess we're all waiting on tenterhooks for his book to be published before we can rip it apart, then?

    It's well-known that the RAF were under-trained, that their combat doctrine was inadequate at the start of the battle, that their equipment (particularly the effectiveness of their guns) was below-par, that tens of thousands of rounds were expended for every plane shot down. It's also well-known that both sides inflated their kill figures. So far so uncontroversial.

    However, Dr. Cumming is quoted as saying that the RAF's kill/loss ratio was "unimpressive", and that the RAF was "ineffectual". Both of these points are his opinions. I have yet to see any new data that supports his views, and I do not believe they are borne out by the figures currently available. Given the equipment shortcomings, given the difficulty even experienced pilots had in shooting down planes, making any kills at all was a miracle.

    As regards the importance of the Navy in preventing an invasion, this is a flight (pardon the pun) of fancy. As has been mentioned elsewhere, air power was the deciding factor, and I am saying this as some-one from a naval background. Germany would not have been able to invade without air superiority, and the Battle of Britain denied them that at the critical time.

  38. laird cummings

    Not lose

    That's all the RAF needed to do: Not lose.

    A 1.64:1 ratio isn't all that grand, but more than sufficient to the need. So long as there was even *dispute* about air superiority, the invasion could not come off. All the RAF needed to do was grimly stay in the fight, and they win; kill-loss ratios be damned. That they did more than simply 'not lose' is all the more creditworthy. Historians try to clarify and illuminate the details around the fight, and all you lot can do is rubbish their work - that's dumb, and counter productive; It even limits your own legends. Knowing that the BoB RAF pilots were, by-and-large, raw n00bs does nothing to detract from their heroism... In fact, it enhances that heroism.

    Instead of acting like a bunch of brainless yahoos and shouting the man down, you should be holding up his information and trumpeting it: "Yeah, even our untrained n00bs can kick ass!"

  39. Mark
    Paris Hilton

    Paris Hilton angle

    I don't think there was a Hilton hotel when Paris was occupied by the Germans in 1940. Paris, on the other hand, has been occupied by just about everyone since then..... (allegedly)

  40. Michael Compton

    @ Karl

    I said the Russians won the war not the battle of Britain, and i'm afraid you are sorely mistaken if you think u can move an entire airforce and its support staff from one side of europe to the other in much less than around 6 months as well as at the same time moving a lot of other military hardware; tanks, ammo, food, fuel etc. Remember the vast majority of an airforce doesn't fly so it has to go the slow way on railways and roads that where already jammed full of hardware. Sure the Germans even delayed the invasion by around a month to allow more hardware to brought to the impending front.

    The fact of the matter is the Battle of Britain was really quite trivial in the grand scheme of things because like I said all evidence points to the fact Germany did not have either the material or doctrine to carry out a large scale ampihous assault on the UK mainland.

    Germany did indeed fail in the BoB and like someone else said it was more a collection of causes not one overriding heroic act or something. Propoganda is a powerful tool and by the looks of it something started 60 odd years ago to boost flagging moral is still having an affect.

    The best Germany would have got out of the endeavour would have been a phyrric victory.

    Thanks for the reply though :)

  41. Michael Compton

    @ Karl again

    Just checked your wiki source and actually if you had of read 2 lines down it says

    " German historians usually place the beginning of the battle in mid-August 1940 and end it in May 1941, on the withdrawal of the bomber units in preparation for the attack on the USSR."

    and so if we take say mid way between then my comment still holds water.

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Alert

    Don't forget the eyeties!

    Let's not forget that the hapless Italians played a small part In the BoB.

    http://surfcity.kund.dalnet.se/falco_bob.htm

    Seems that when they weren't being shot down, they spent most of the time crashing or breaking down...

  43. Mike Richards

    @Michael Compton

    'The fact of the matter is the Battle of Britain was really quite trivial in the grand scheme of things because like I said all evidence points to the fact Germany did not have either the material or doctrine to carry out a large scale ampihous assault on the UK mainland.'

    Actually, Germany didn't need to occupy Britain to achieve its aims.

    The Nazis always hoped that they could emasculate Britain, first by the defeat of the Expeditionary Forces at Dunkirk, later the Battle of Britain and finally the wholesale bombing of British cities. They thought a demoralised public would turn on the government and demand peace - Schirer's 'Rise and Fall of the Third Reich' contains a number of speeches from Hitler alternately cajoling the British towards peace, then threatening them with utter destruction.

    A neutral Britain, or better still a compliant Britain would have freed up the German fleet, allowed troops to move East and prevented any supplies from reaching Russia. Later on, it wouldn't have provided a staging post for the Americans and Canadians to invade continental Europe.

    So whilst it wasn't a huge battle like those on the Eastern Front or in the Pacific, the consequences of the Battle of Britain were enormous.

  44. Luther Blissett

    A historical perspective

    In WWII Poles, operating as RAF fighter squadrons, ably aided the national plight by consistently achieving kill rates and life expectancy above the average.

    In 2007 Poles appear to be doing much the same for the UK.

    Another reason for thinking we are in the middle of WWIII (except that Big Media have yet to announce it)?

  45. oldfartuk

    old news...........

    It was worked out years ago that most soldiers were crap shots. Some time in the late 1920's they worked out it took 300,000 rounds of smalls arm ammunition to kill every soldier that died in World War One. In World War Two between 1940 and 1942, less than 5% of bombs dropped by the RAF fell within 5 miles of the intended target. 1% of bombs didnt even fall in the same country as the target.

  46. Cosmin Roman
    IT Angle

    Poles in RAF

    The sky over England was defended by two Polish squadrons, one of them the Kosciusko squadron. Aces: F/Lt Witold Urbanowicz with 15 shots; F/O Zdzisław Henneberg, P/O Jan Zumbach and Sgt. Eugeniusz Szaposznikow, each with 8 kills; P/O Mirosław Ferić with 7 shots. The "Ace of aces" of all the RAF squadrons was Czech – Sgt Józef František, who achieved 17 kills.

    Out of the 1700 or so german planes shot down, 203 were shot by the Polish pilots. In September, during the highest intensity of German attacks, 13% of pilots in frontline squadrons were Poles, and in October, because of the RAF loses, the proportion went up to 20%.

    And as far as I know, while being the only foreigners invited to the victory parade in London after the war, they refused to participate - since the UK (as well as the rest of the Western powers) did nothing to keep Poland from being under Soviet influence ...

    I agree that the foreign pilots (and I read Piece of cake, very nice book! - thus I know there were also Americans, not just Eastern Europeans) had the advantage of more experience, and that's why they outclassed most of their British airmates ... on the other hand it's nice to give the dues to all involved.

    And yeah, IT angle?

  47. Rick Brasche
    Thumb Down

    even as a yank this p*sses me off!

    bloody revisionists, always looking, digging, searching for the next way to knock Western history down a peg. If even a tenth of that effort went into verifying accuracy of the Saudis, or the Chinese, or any other culture but Western, then I could maybe understand the need to undermine everyone's culture equally.

    Take these putz's and put 'em somewhere they can hear the scream of a firewall throttled Merlin for 24 hours straight, swinging 'em around in darkness at 2 or 3 Gs the whole time.

    Idiots forget that, unlike video games, there was no radar, and the fight wasn't "game balanced". The only thing you saw of the Jerry's was the glow of his exhaust or his silhouette against the stars. Unless you were lucky and a spotlight found him. No highlighted outlines to make targetting easier, and even though most of these guys had not flown combat, there were no easy warm up levels and no aimbots. And it f**king *hurts* when a round goes thru the cockpit and your body but the aircraft is still functional so you keep going. It's bloody *cold* too so your fingers are numb in the thick gloves. Noisy and stinky and scary. oh yeah, if you don't bring that bomber down, you don't lose points-you lose family and friends.

    Under these conditions, that they brought *any* aircraft down is practically amazing. That they turned away so many, that they were victorious, is why they are legend.

    I must be getting old. I remember when history was written by the winners. Now it's all re-written by the *whiners*. Ivory tower crackademics-go write some big paper on the inaccuracies of Mohammed's tales or the inconsistencies with China's official history in regards to treating it's peoples or neighboring nations.

  48. Michael Compton

    Valid points and well documented

    Indeed Hitler seemed to have had a bit of a soft spot for the British.

    Though I'd still debate its relevance in the overall defeat of Germany, the Wehrmacht and Waffen SS were beat in Russia and even a combined US British force would have bother gaining a foothold in Europe if they weren't tied down and depleted there. By the time of Overlord the Allies were facing admittedly veteran units but ones that where severly depleted and the replacements by that stage where pretty much the dregs Germany could dig up.

    Even if the Kriegsmarine was freed up it was not much of a force, and to get to the Pacific, u'd need to be there to atempt to cut off russia completely, would be a long trip for a Sub even if they managed to some how get passage through the Suez.

    It was a long war though so the 'cause and effects' are quite wide ranging for anything.

  49. peachydave
    Dead Vulture

    ANGRY NERDS

    Dont get me wrong...I spend a fair bit of time on my PC and I'm fond of the occasional Pot-noodle, its just interesting how someone who knows what he is talking about (because he has actually done his research) can publish a paper (which by the way doesnt consist of just the random quotes in the article) and then two dozen angry nerds whom have seen the opportunity for some flaming and spent two minutes feverishly clicking around wikipedia try and pull his work to pieces.

    This is why maybe IT-related websites should stick to IT, unfortunately you can sit a gawky, furry toothed nerd in front of a glowy screen with access to innumerable pieces of third hand information and they are no match for a degree and a decade of research.

  50. Sceptical Bastard

    It doesn't matter a toss because...

    ... we went on to defeat Nazism and demolish much of Germany. We WON!

    The reason our beloved German co-Europeans don't like us harking on about WWII is that they LOST. They might also be trying to forget that their parents and grandparents stood by as their then-leaders cold-bloodedly murdered six million civilian men, women, children and infants.

    British triumphalism? Too fucking right!

  51. BitTwister

    Pah

    The fact that kids of 20-odd had the courage to go up, did it - and won it - is quite enough to render this sort of prior-art nit-picking rather pointless.

  52. Anonymous Coward
    Stop

    Shut it

    My great uncle was in the Battle of Britain and shot his fair share of planes - British planes. He was a Luftwaffe pilot, and he had respect for the men he crossed swords with, so I suggest you all do as well, as well as that git that did the study. They were an impressive bunch not because they shot planes down (they actually did rather poorly at that at first), but because they had the courage to get up in the air in the first place when they knew that there were devilishly good pilots like my great uncle in his 109 that were just itching to blow them to Kingdom Come. They went up, they fought, and great fields of them died in the pursuit, but they did it for their country. My great uncle fought for his nation, and your fought for theirs, and there was a great lot of courage between them. So let's be quiet about statistics and aircraft superiority and everything else, and recognize it for what it was: iron determination and courage. Don't soil their most noble memory by insulting it with the notion that you may know what it was to be in their shoes if you weren't.

  53. Anonymous Coward
    Joke

    Barn doors...

    ...are easy to hit with a banjo. Look. Se- Hang on... Okay, Barn doors, are ea- Barn do- Dagnabbit. Banjos are stupid.

  54. pipe13

    Just another dumb yank

    But as a lad in the '60's and 70's I did have an interest in the history of this conflict. I haven't read Dr. Cummings paper, so will not comment. But I will add a bit of what I remember of my own reading. First and foremost, WWII was a battle of attrition, as was no place better exemplified than by the Battle of Britain. Here a critical name eludes me: "Lord North" sticks in my mind, but it is probably wrong and I'll gladly be corrected. Anyway, an elderly gentleman -- I use the term loosely -- who directed RAF during the early years (1939 - 1940) of the war. During the earliest days, RAF ground facitlities were heavily and effectively targeted by Luftwafte, and there was despair of being able to ever field fighter aircraft in sufficient simulateous number to avoid bloody rout. So RAF studiously avoided flying fighter aircraft, and flew bombers only at night when fighter conflict was essentially impossible (at that time) and fighter escort unnecessary. But still fighter and logistical production could not be sustained.

    Until Goering bragged on public radio that "Berlin would never be bombed."

    It was of course, the following night. Four Lancasters dropped as many tonnes of ordinance somewhere near Reichstag, effecting minimal damage and casualties. But an enraged Goering redirected Luftwafte from military targets to civilian, which was RAF's intent. Your city folk took in very hard, but bought a breather for RAF buildup. And for their pains Luftwafte took steady loss from groundfire AA and barrage balloons. As was duly noted by your lads at Blenchly, along with intercepted radio ciphers detailing the continued deleterious effects on German logistics. Still RAF kept fighter forces largely grounded, leading Germain intel to the erroneous conclusion they weren't much, and Goering to promise he could anhiliate BEF at Dunkirk by sheer airpower alone.

    (It might be noted that even a priori, this assessment did not find universal agreement within Wermacht. Von Runstadt in particular comes to mind...)

    Dunkirk was exceptional, but RAF felt the reward there worth risking their true position. In that operation actually killing enemy fighters was not as important as disrupting their attacks on boats and beach. And Channel weather once again failed to dissappoint.

    RAF director was sacked over his failure to fly fighters in civilian defence. Coventry was a particularly sore point. Churchill's parting words to him in private were different than in public; both understood why.

    Signal (and human) intelligence indicated by late summer 1941 that German air logistics were at their breaking point, and the continued nightly loss to AA was no longer sustainable. Notably, intel also revealed Goering's September 1941 offensive was indeed intended to be a devasting psychological blow to British public. Forewarned, RAF set their battle plan to induce just the opposite -- but on Luftwafte moral, not public. Knowing both that RAF could not long sustain the losses they would of necessity take, but that the Luftwafte could at this point afford even less, RAF fighters flew full force during daylight hours and inflicted devasting losses on Luftwafte bombers. 1200 some odd aircraft lost in something like three battles is considerable, and Luftwafte literally didn't know where all those Spitfires and Hurricanes came from, or how many were left.

    Also (as others have mentioned), RAF rules of engagement were to remain over Britain. Pilots who were shot down but healthy enough to bail were to be recovered by Brits, not strafed in the Channel or captured.

    Such was the Battle of Britain as I remember my early reading. It was very, very, very grim.

  55. Ben
    IT Angle

    tenuous IT angle .

    With all "help" turned off , realism at max , and enemies "ace" i have

    about a thirty percent chance of completing a mission , that is , getting

    home and landing in one piece, never mind actually seeing and/or shooting

    at the enemy , Its like being armed with a bag of acorns against

    a pack of mad squirrels ( and we know about them ).

    190's and 88's are very hard in a IX spitfire , sure sounds glamourous the way

    some people write it , from whatever the angle , fact is , ime just glad to be

    playing a game because the reality must have been f*cking awful.

    Respect. "Tally Ho " indeed .

    Recommended reading if you want " the horror, the horror "

    Goshawk Squadron by Derek Robinson.

    Bomber by Len Deighton .

  56. Rich

    Getting emotive

    If you attack anyone who tries to study recent history on grounds of disrespect to the participants it's not exactly going to advance understanding in this area, is it?

    How long should the quarantine period be before we're able to study a conflict?

    "How dare you criticise them Romans. I'd like to see you 2,000 miles from home on the side of a Scottish mountain with only goat skins to keep you warm".

  57. Martin Usher

    Those planes were not easy to fly

    Reading the remark about how long it takes to get a basic license and how easy it was to flip over a Spitfire if you were careless with the throttle on the ground reminded me of a sad incident that happened locally last Summer. We had a P-51 buzzing around locally, and then one day it went away -- the first solo flight in this plane was the pilot's last because after landing he was a little too energetic on the throttle, flipped it over and was killed.

    So what if a lot of the pilots were inexperienced and couldn't shoot straight. The thing is that there were some who did know how to shoot and the Germans didn't know one from the other until it was too late. The fact that these newbes were able to get the things off the ground and back again was pretty remarkable.....but then that's young reflexes for you.

    BTW -- My late father-in-law was flying Lancasters at age 19. That's scary. He survived the war -- he only got shot down once.

  58. unitron

    They didn't have to be good...

    ...they just had to be better than the Luftwaffe. :-)

    "The British pilots thought they had a death wish......"

    They did. They wished for the death of the pilots flying for the country which had invaded and was occupying theirs.

  59. Stephen B Streater

    Spitfire video clip

    Just listen to those Rolls Royce Merlin engines, and you'll know the myths are all true:

    http://clesh.com/videos/view/Spitfire-1188741582.can/

  60. Anonymous Coward
    Jobs Halo

    BoB Delays

    I'm no historian, but I enjoy 'counter-factual history' arguments. i.e. 'What-If' Alexander the Great had been killed much earlier (he very nearly was), what if a surrounding army had not got plague and convinced the people in Jerusalem to go monotheastic in thanks and thus create Judasim and its future daughter religions of Christianity and Islam?

    The Battle of Britain delayed Hitler from attacking Russia for a few critical weeks. General Winter took care of the rest in the cold, wet vastness of Russia.

  61. Tawakalna
    Paris Hilton

    errata..

    "Four Lancasters dropped as many tonnes of ordinance somewhere near Reichstag"

    - actually it would have been Wellingtons or Whitleys, the Lancaster was not yet in service. But it doesn't detract from your point.

    "190's and 88's are very hard in a IX spitfire"

    - true, but if your flight-sim is to be considered accurate, then the Battle of Britain should be fought with Spitfire MkIs and IIs, and Hurrican MkIs, as the MkIX didn't come into squadron service until (late) 1942. Similarly the Focke-Wulf 190 didn't enter service until 1942, Luftwaffe jagdgeschwader were equipped at this stage with the Bf109e.

    And again, for the purpose of historical accuracy, Spitfires played little part in the early stages of the Battle, and until the advent of the MkII were limited in their service ceilings due to icing on the canopy and guns; Hurricanes bore the brunt of the Battle, and were supplemented by Boulton-Paul Defiants and other less well known aircraft.

    Where the Germans were really succeeding was in the bombing of RAF airfields and the destruction of fighter coordination command and control centres; although they were winning the war of attrition in pilots as well, this was the real opportunity for whatever victory they could have had. They weren't aware of this however, because they assumed that, like themselves, RAF fighter control centres were underground, when if fact they weren't. It was this at the time unknown assumption, combined with the original over-estimation of RAF losses, that eventually brought an end to the Battle once the Germans came to believe that far from wearing the RAF down, it seemed to have unknown reserves.

    The bombing of Berlin resulted not in the end of the Battle of Britain but in a switching of German effort from bombing airfields and the attrition of the RAF to "terror bombing" of the civilian population, thus giving the RAF the respite that it needed. German effort continued until daylight losses proved so severe that they switched to night bombing. It was the night bombing which marks the end of the Battle, although some would say it was the switch to bombing civilian targets which marked the end.

    Hitler, never warm to the overall strategic concept of Fall SeeLowe, took the increasing lack of success as an opportunity to transfer the forces gathered for the invasion of Britain to his eastern frontier, which he'd been itching to do all along. Not that the invasion ever stood any realistic prospects of success, even if the RAF had been wiped out; it would have only resulted in more Royal Navy ships being lost and damaged as they wiped out the invasion fleet's second wave, even if the first wave had managed to sneak over one misty September morning.

    One of the unfortunate consequences of a Nazi victory in WW2 would have the lack of Paris Hilton - she'd probably have been called Berlin Tiergarten and done PT videos. Thank heavens the timeline stayed intact!

  62. Charles Calthrop

    lol

    teh nazis got pwned by n00bs.

  63. BitTwister

    @Tawakalna

    > lack of Paris Hilton - she'd probably have been called Berlin Tiergarten

    Nah - just Paris Hitler.

    </coat>

  64. BitTwister

    @Spitfire video clip

    Just *love* that sound (& sight)... and I was born after WWII had ended.

  65. Roman

    RAF v Polish AF

    Polish AF Pilot v German AF Pilot = Polish Victory

    RAF Pilot v German AF Pilot = German Victory

    Polish AF Pilot flying a crap RAF plane v German AF Pilot flying top of the line Messerschmidt = Polish Victory

    The RAF sold the Poles down the river during WWII. Gave them crap planes and the Poles still figured out how to fly circles around the RAF pilots.

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