Excerpted from The Battle of Britain : The Greatest Air Battle of World War II Richard Hough and Denis Richards W. W. Norton & Company, 1990

This brief anecdote from Flying Officer Paul Pitcher of I Canadian Squadron is like many of the odd frightening quirks encountered in everyday life that defy belief and often bring us to the brink of disaster. Luckily, many such misadventures wind up merely as memorable NEAR-tragedies. The drama of the war Hitler was prosecuting against England makes this tale even more resonant.

In spite of the nature of this excerpt, Hough and Richard's book is not a compendium of anecdotes, but is a rigorous analysis of Britain's victory over the German Luftwaffe. The major thesis of the work is that defense initiatives undertaken decades in advance of the Battle were what enabled the British to withstand the onslaught posed by the superior German numbers.

Often, individuals who opposed the prevailing wisdom of the post-World War I era led the way to procurement and organizational strategies which emphasized radio detection (radar), observation, vectoring, and large numbers of fighter planes to preserve the nation, rather than the bomber-rich air fleets many experts thought necessary in the coming air war.

Many of these leaders never flew an airplane, and applied their reason in a heroic (in some few cases desperate) battle to ensure that England could weather the storm and keep the island free from invasion. We can only hope that free nations can preserve the example of such leadership which made the effort of "the few" so very effective.

 

In the first Wing take-off at Northolt the three squadrons stationed there-- 303 Polish, 1 RAF and 1 Canadian, were lined up for take-off at their respective dispersal areas in three different parts of the field. Due to a confusion in take-off orders, all three squadrons opened throttle simultaneously and headed towards the centre of the field where the thirty-six aircraft met!

By some miracle, no aircraft collided with another or with the ground, although the turbulence from the slipstreams was unbelievable. The station commander, who was witness to the scene, had to be helped into the officer's mess for alcoholic resuscitation.

I seem to recall that part of the confusion arose from the fact that two No. I Squadrons were involved. In any event, all Canadian squadrons overseas were renumbered thereafter and given '400' numbers, 1 becoming 401.

 

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