The summer of 1940 nearly brought the mighty British Empire to its knees and would have too if it hadn’t been for the Royal Air Force. The British have never forgotten

Words Aninda Sardar

At the start of the Second World War, Great Britain had the world’s largest empire and the most powerful navy on the planet. Yet, it was the relative newcomer, the Royal Air Force (RAF) that would save the proud and mighty island nation from being ravaged by the Teutonic might of Nazi Germany. In the summer of 1940, Great Britain stood alone against the tidal wave of the German onslaught separated by a sliver of sea, the English Channel, just 22 miles wide from mostly occupied Europe. 

As the all powerful German air force, the Luftwaffe, prepped up to annihilate the RAF and lay the ground for the German army, the Wehrmacht, to invade and then beat the stubborn islanders into submission, two things stood in their way. The first was a network rudimentary radar that worked beautifully as an early warning system and the second were the men and the aeroplanes of the RAF’s Fighter Command who put up a heroic flight. We all know what happened next. The Luftwaffe could never win against the RAF, Germany never invaded Britain, the US got involved and by the summer of 1945 Germany had been soundly defeated. Now, there’s no doubt that the story would have played out somewhat differently had the RAF lost the Battle of Britain, which took place in the skies over England from July 1940 to October 1940.

It has been eight decades since the horrendous three months and three weeks through which the Luftwaffe pounded the island, but the people of Britain have never forgotten. Even though most of the people who belong to the generation who would have actually fought and lost buddies and comrades in those aerial battles have now succumbed to life, the generations that have followed have never given up on the memory what the people who Sir Winston Churchill had famously described as The Few. There is still a huge amount of pride associated with the RAF, the people who fought to keep Britain free of invasion and the wonderful machines that flew across those murderous skies, among them the Hawker Hurricane, the Supermarine Spitfire.


The RAF in fact continues to conduct an annual Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, or BBMF. This time around though their enemy is time itself and not another aircraft from an adversary being flown in equal anger. The BBMF in fact is a tribute to those fantastic men and machines that saved Britain in those dark days of its modern history. The stated mission of the RAF BBMF is “to maintain the priceless artefacts of our national heritage in airworthy condition in order to commemorate those who have fallen in the service of this country, to promote the modern Air Force and to inspire future generations.” While this may sound like glib speech designed by a clever writer, the RAF actually walks the talk with a motley squadron (I use the term loosely here) of six Spitfires, two Hurricanes, a Lancaster bomber, a C47 Dakota transport plane and two Chipmunk training aircraft. A regular RAF aircrew takes to the skies over England from May to September each year, the same as the duration of the Battle of Britain roughly, in these vintage machines, each a hero in their own right. 

This year marks the 80th anniversary of that epic battle over those bloodied English skies and while the world fights another great battle again with an enemy (although) that threatens millions of lives, it is only fitting that we are reminded of the fighting spirit of all those men and women who fought and won. Lest we forget.