Introduction: RAF Fighter Command (00:49)
The British would be wide open to Nazi invasion if they had lost the Battle of Britain, which raged in English skies in 1940; but they prevailed, largely thanks to the fighters of Royal Air Force Fighter Command.
Fighter Command Origins (01:56)
Fighter Command had its roots in the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Navy Air Service, which fought the Germans during World War I. They were merged on Apr. 1, 1918 to form the Royal Air Force, which was divided into four commands: fighter, bomber, coastal and training.
Fighter Command Early Years (03:53)
The RAF Fighter Command had only 16 squadrons, each of 12 aircraft, and just over 200 pilots when Hugh Dowding assumed command. Most British fighters at the start of World War 2 were Hawker Hurricanes and Supermarine Spitfires.
War Breaks Out (01:52)
Dowding was left with 33 squadrons to defend Britain as others crossed the English Channel to support France following the outbreak of World War 2. Fighter Command’s main tasks were to protect shipping and the Royal Navy during the opening months of the war.
Fighter Command at Dunkirk (03:32)
The French pleaded for more air support as the German blitzkrieg swept across France, but Dowding was concerned that his defense forces were becoming too thin. Allied forces were surrounded at Dunkirk, and Fighter Command played a crucial role in helping them evacuate.
Air Defense Plan (05:10)
Dowding had approximately 800 fighters to oppose Germany’s invading air force, which he organized into four groups, each in charge of protecting a different region of Britain. A chain of radar stations covering the south and east coasts provided early warning of the approach of hostile aircraft.
Training Pilots (02:06)
Dowding was deeply concerned about his shallow reserve of trained pilots. The training organization was expanded in July 1940 to produce 115 fighter pilots every two weeks, but it would take time for his command to benefit. Additional pilots were brought in from overseas.
Battle of Britain Begins (03:07)
The Battle of Britain began on July 10, 1940. The Luftwaffe tried to lure the RAF into the English Channel by attacking convoys during the first month of fighting, but Dowding would not take the bait. Hermann Goring launched Adlertag, a campaign meant to wipe out the RAF once and for all.
"Never Was So Much Owed By So Many to So Few" (04:45)
RAF crews were constantly in action and always outnumbered. When pilots were on duty, they flew up to five or six sorties a day. Those on the ground could only watch and wait. On Aug. 20, 1940, Winston Churchill summed up what everyone was thinking with an iconic speech.
No. 11 Group and Bombing London (06:01)
Fighter Command’s No. 11 Group was under constant pressure until the Luftwaffe shifted its focus to bombing London on Sept. 7. Goring intensified the assault on Sept. 15, incurring heavy losses, and Hitler postponed his invasion of Britain indefinitely.
Airborne Interception Radar (01:48)
Dowding retired in the aftermath of the Battle of Britain. Many felt he didn’t receive the recognition he deserved for his leadership during one of the most decisive conflicts in history. Fighter Command developed new defensive skills that were based on the development of AI.
Douglas Goes on Offensive (03:11)
Sholto Douglas, a distinguished World War I scout pilot, succeeded Dowding as leader of Fighter Command. He went on the offensive with a series of aerial sweeps, called rhubarbs and circuses. The Germans introduced a formidable new fighter: the Focke-Wulf Fw 190.
Air Defence of Great Britain (02:19)
Plans for the invasion of France got underway in 1943, and Fighter Command underwent a fundamental reorganization. Some fighters were reassigned to the 2nd Tactical Air Force, and the remainder became the Air Defence of Britain.
Hitler's Flying Bombs (03:18)
Hitler’s launched his “miracle weapons” in the summer of 1944. One was the V-1 flying bomb, which carried an 1800-pound warhead and flew at 400 mph. The British introduced the Gloster Meteor, the first jet to enter RAF service, on July 12.
V-2 Rocket (02:34)
Hitler’s other miracle weapon was the V-2 rocket, which had a three-ton warhead and could reach speeds of 3,500 mph. They flew too fast and too high to be intercepted. The Allied air offensive brought these attacks to an end.
Credits: Gladiators of World War II: RAF Fighter Command (00:57)
Credits: Gladiators of World War II: RAF Fighter Command
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