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Sunday, September 18, 2005

The Few

Today a memorial for some fighter pilots was unveiled on London's embankment. The pilots in question were not just British but included airmen from 15 countries such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, Poland and Czechoslovakia. They flew during World War Two and have long been known as 'the few'.

In 1940 the German Luftwafe attempted to destroy the Royal Air Force and to wipe out the aircraft industry. They tried to establish air superiority over the south of Britain and the Channel. This was basically the essential first step in mounting an invasion of Britain following the successful capture of Belgium, France and Holland. The struggle between the Luftwaffe and RAF became known as the Battle of Britain.

This was a year before Russia (June 1941) and the US (December 1941) joined the war. 2936 pilots and crew were an essential line of defense between the UK and a possible invasion that could have doomed Europe to Nazi rule. They were vastly outnumbered by four to one but had the advantage of the new radar system and the superior Spitfire and Hurricane aircraft. In total 515 allied pilots were killed with many injured, plenty of the pilots much younger than me.

On 15 September 1940, the RAF claimed victory as the Germans switched to the Blitzkreig following heavy bombing losses. It was not long after this that the plan to invade Britain was cancelled; before Hitler turned his attention to invading Russia, an act that arguably precipitated the end of the Nazi dream.

'Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few.'

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