Operation Sea Lion. Looking back

This is my letter written to a colleague from the Sorbonne…


1. The film on Lord Dowling, the Supremo of Fighter Command during what prosaically has been labeled the Battle of Britain, stimulated you to make some perceptive comments. You asked for some clarifications and amplifications and I shall take some time off to do so. To achieve this I consulted my Archives. I also happened to be a member of the Royal Air Force which I joined in the year of the Battle of Stalingrad. It was an essential part of my experience and the greatest of educations.


2. It was more than the transition from an adolescent to an adult. It was far more than a world of flying. A span of time that included not merely flying and doing what I was trained to do but also a world of books and study and thinking and reflecting and in talking to others and learning from them. If you wish to call that a University you may be free to do. In that world diplomas and degrees were of utter irrelevance. They would come later.


3. Let me say at once that there is considerable misunderstanding and swirling myths of what is meant by the Battle of Britain which began after the collapse of France in June 1940. The mass bombings of South England began in August . They were called off in November and we shall see why. There was in the first place no such thing as the Battle of France. France was defeated and capitulated in June 1940. The nostrum of The Battle of Britain was concocted by Winston Churchill. Who used it as a promotional battering ram to give colour and charisma to his leadership. In sum, he used it effectively as a public relations stunt .


4.The Nazis did not ‘lose’ the so called BoB because while they launched an attack it was called off by Hitler in November for reasons we shall now elucidate. From this was drawn the conclusion that the BoB was won by Britain under Churchill’s leadership. That is a fallacy. Having said that we do not wish to diminish the fighting spirit of the British military and steadfastness and tenacity of its peoples during those critical weeks. Nor do I intend to disparage the Royal Air Force Fighter Command that operated under an embattled leadership tarnished by personal squabbles and personal ambition.. What we are saying is let us try to see things in perspective.


5. You’ve no doubt seen the earlier film starring Sir Lawrence Olivier. It gave a romanticized version of events portraying Air Marshal Dowling as a hero and the RAF Fighter Command as a band of young all-white indomitable brothers that rescued the UK from the clutches of the Nazi invasion thus ensuring the victory of the BoB.. This is mythology of a supine order. There was an onslaught on Britain from the middle of August to be sure that lasted until the middle November.


6. I shall sketch briefly some of the factors leading up to the BoB. Certainly, the discovery of Radar in 1936 and its deployment played a role in confronting the Luftwaffe. But it was never busted. It was not the only factor in play and in the strides of history no single event or personality is of primordial importance. It is mandatory study the ensemble of inter-locking events and their causative relationships..


7. In the course of my military service I became acquainted with many of these fighter pilots many of whom had later shifted to Bomber Command. True, the Luftwaffe pilots, not least of all, such aces as Oberst Adolf Galland had brought with them enormous experience culled f

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