A series of 4 evenings of talks held to raise money for the Battle of Britain bunker at RAF Uxbridge ended with a flourish, as Dr Stephen Bungay spoke about his seminal book on the Battle – The Most Dangerous Enemy. The book – regarded as definitive on the subject – has been out since 2000, and it’s clear that in this time Dr Bungay has honed his talk to perfection. Though there are endless facts and figures he researched and could quote, he sticks to the main message, which he delivers with a winning mix of authority and humour.
Two slides he presented stood out for me.
In the first, Dr Bungay compared the received view of the Battle with his view. The received view, amongst other things, was that the RAF was running out of pilots and planes, and that Hitler made a fatal mistake in switching bombing from our airfields to our cities. Not so, says Dr Bungay! At the time of the Battle, pilot numbers were increasing; at its best, plane production was more than double that of Nazi Germany; and the bombing of our airfields was not particularly effectual: they were repaired quickly, and in any case often the targets were airfields of little strategic importance. The RAF could have gone on sustaining airfield hits for some time. In answer to a question of mine, Dr Bungay said these myths had arisen because not all the data had been known – it’s clear he did a tremendous amount of research for his book – and perhaps there was a desire to romanticise the Battle as even more of a victory against the odds than it already was.
The second aspect that intrigued me was Dr Bungay’s final slide, in which he compared the national traits of the two sides which explained how the Battle had been fought. On the one side were tough, ruthless, orderly men and women, who remained self-aware through humour; on the other a rather romantic crew, amateurs, sometimes faffing about to no great end, often living in fear. And if you hadn’t already guessed it, the Brits were the former, the Germans the latter. It really does confound our stereotypes of German efficiency and British chivalry or gentlemanliness. But that’s how it was during the Battle: the Brits had an integrated air defence system that they did everything to maintain; the Germans were haphazard, from the Luftwaffe’s rejection of radar offered to them by the German Navy to poor parts distribution to a fear of communicating unwelcome (but true) information to their superiors.
Oh, and keeping up the theme of this blog, there was an honourable mention for the Polish pilots, who Dr Bungay described (more categorically than I would have expected, having read up a bit on this subject) as having the best kill to loss ratio of the Battle, followed, interestingly, by a couple of German squadrons, and then some British ones.
Before the talk, I chatted with Dr Bungay, and it became clear how much the Battle means to him. He explained to me that, in pure numbers lost, it doesn’t appear to have been significant: the allies lost the same number of men in the Battle as the Red Army lost every day on the Eastern Front. But winning the Battle kept Britain in the War, eventually allowing others (the US etc) to join her and defeat Nazism (Britain couldn’t have win it alone). In this way, posets Dr Bungay, the RAF prevented either a heinous Nazi or Soviet regime from taking root, and really saved the world – making the Battle the most important of the War.
We estimate the talk series may have raised some £2000 towards refurbishment of the Battle of Britain bunker – but I will confirm! It’s a good contribution to a fantastic cause. The bunker commanded the vast majority of allied fighters in the Battle, and is therefore a vital part of our national heritage. It’s also in need of much refurbishment.
But more than the money, the talks raised awareness of the fundraising, and the bunker itself, which really should be visited by as many people as possible. In which regard, please don’t hesitate to share this blog to raise awareness even further…