Friday, 10 September 2010

Battle of Britain Day...September 15th..70 years on..

I have always been interested in WW2 and esp the Battle of Britain and Spitfires and what happened here in East Lothian at the time.
As i grew up my dad would often mention that he used to go fishing with men who once flew Spitfires.
Then as an apprentice greenkeeeper at Gullane Golf Club i would chat daily to elderly members who were Battle of Britain Veteran's, though they wouldn't talk about it unless you asked them. During the war some of them were based here at RAF Drem.
They would be very modest when you asked them about the war and would say they were just normal people who "did what they had to do" and  "did there bit".
What there friends would then often tell you was of there bravery and medals won.
If you do the sums, the eight 303 calibre machine guns were set to cross at 250 yards to provide the maximum damage. If a Spitfire was diving at approx 400 mph on a bomber at 200 mph then that 250 yards disappears very quickly, that's how close fighting it was.

Oh and the 8 guns had 3 belts of 100 rounds per gun, that only lasted 14.3 seconds, so those young men had to learn fast to shoot carefully to conserve ammunition.

Today, RAF Drem Hanger 1...

Dispersal pen with shelters and defences...

Ammunition stores...

Nightfighter training building...

1941; South from the control bunker looking to Drem Village and behind Kilduff woods,
New Spitfires and Hurricanes were blessed in a service along with new ships in wartime...

In the winter of 1987 we would find Spitfire 20mm Hispano cartridges whilst lifting turf down on what is now the Nature reserve from when planes practised firing at the XT class mini submarines that were anchored out in the bay...i had lots of these 1/2 cartridges which came into use around 1945 but only have one now.
Above the 1/2 inch cartridge are regular WW2 303 rounds i found raking about war sites...

I was a similar age then in 1987 to what the Battle of Britain pilots would have been in 1940 but i cannot imagine now at nearly 40 years old myself doing at the age of 19 what those brave men, then just boys really did .

What they did was quite an extraordinary feat of bravery, as they actually faced a near impossible task given the odds stacked against them.
They often trained flying Tiger Moths or Gladiator bi- planes, and during the summer months of 1940 with a quickening shortage of pilots often it was only 8 hours flying time then they would be posted to a fighter squadron and go on to fly Spitfires and Hurricanes. 8 hours to learn and then fly cutting edge fighter planes capable of over 400 mph, this was in 1940 when those speeds were hard to believe possible.

They would fly these fighters into battle against armed German bomber crews and escort fighter pilots who were already battle hardened by there war against Spain.
Outnumbered at odds of 6-1 which is by the way Russian roulette odd,. they bravely didn't fold under the German Luftwaffe onslaught over the summer of 1940 as expected by the axis forces.

In June 1940 only 1000 RAF pilots were ready and faced the impossible and by September 15th approx 3000 pilots from Commonwealth countries all around the world would have helped stop the fall of the RAF and Germany withdrew its planned land invasion of Britain.

446 RAF fighter pilots would pay the ultimate price in the summer of 1940 and many more would be horrifically burned and crippled.

20 RAF would lose there lives whilst stationed at RAF Drem and are buried at Dirleton Cemetery...

Germany fared a lot worse with 2090 pilots and crew killed and 1445 missing.
While RAF Drem in East Lothian wasn't involved in the BoB it was a key coastal defence airbase which was involved in numerous defence attacks from Norwegian occupied German bombers on the Firth of Forth dockyards at Rosyth and on west coast raids of the Clyde...later it would then become a night fighter station...

P51 mustangs in 1945, behind is Gullane Hill and Aberlady Bay...

Photographers, Hurricanes and behind the Garleton Hills and Monument...

65% of enemy planes shot down were by Hurricanes but it was the Supermarine Spitfire which caught the public`s imagination with its speed and manoeuvrability.
It was love at first sight for many young pilots which would go on to score numerous victory's against enemy aircraft...

I have wanted to make a film on Spitfires for a long time and also RAF Drem here in East Lothian as it is a place near where i grew up and often pass through nowadays when out cycling.
There are lots of Spitfire films on Youtube already but none on RAF Drem and i also wanted to make a point of the age of the pilots as well as recognition for the ground crew which did so much.
It took a few weeks from collecting the original RAF Drem pictures to the real WW2 fighter film and to add genuine audio Spitfire pilots accounts mostly from Squadrons who had served at RAF Drem during the war, and also historians commentary from the excellent mini series `Spitfire Ace` which you can watch on my youtube link here:

 Spitfire Ace...

The flying footage is genuine and gives some insight into what they lived through and then have lived with so people could live a free life.
As you will see at the end it wasn't just British air crew but young men from around the world often far from home.
I have a Flicker photo shoot of Drem Airfield today here; RAF Drem...

Here is my tribute to "the few" who did there bit during dark days...

Massive respect...


  1. Bruce,

    Wonderful tribute. Thanks for taking the time to do that.

    While Britain certainly didn't win the war, arguably the Russians and Americans did, the British and Commonwealth Airmen of the RAF certainly made sure we wouldn't lose. If it wasn't for them there was a very real possiblity that the War in Europe would have been lost. And who knows what the result of Operation Barbarossa would have been if the Germans only had one front to worry about?

    I don't think the importance of the Battle of Britain can be underestimated not only from a personal and heroic point of view but also from an historical one.

  2. Sorry for the double comment, thought you might be interested in this:

    Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
    And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
    Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
    Of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
    You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
    High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
    I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
    My eager craft through footless halls of air. . . .

    Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
    I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
    Where never lark, or ever eagle flew —
    And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
    The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
    Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

    It's a poem by John Gillespie Magee, Jr, a American pilot who served with the RAF in WW2.

    I always felt it kind of captured their spirit from those days.

    Google the feller, he has a remarkable tale, although I guess pretty ordinary for those dark days...

  3. This is definitely another one of Coast Kid's GWF's {great wee films} Some remarkable footage and a great post.

    Nice too to see that poem again. {which I used in the 153sqdn history} It evoke strong images always. Thanks Clive.

  4. Clive; thanks and the poem does capture the spirit from those days, i feel very Honoured that i had met some of the hero`s who did so much for everyone...

    alistair; took a bit of editing this one!, thanks

  5. Hey Bruce.

    When we start to look for more Spitfire canon shells??

    like my new "Spitfire"?

  6. tommy im buying a metal detector sometime soon...
    just hope we dont find any unexploded mortors -:)

  7. Hope you saw this mate: brilliant program, the book is worth a look too.

  8. i did watch it Clive,was brilliant, alot on over this weekend which im recording...