Battle of Britain

Battle of Britain

Every year, the New Zealand Warbirds Association takes part in Battle of Britain commemorations and stages a flypast over the Auckland War Memorial Museum, Cenotaph and surrounding areas. 

More than seventy years ago one of the most important air battles in history erupted over southern England - a battle in which "the few" of Britain kept Adolf Hitler's Luftwaffe at bay.

The battle started in mid-August 1940, when the Luftwaffe sent fighter and dive-bomber planes against ports in southern England. The British claimed they shot down 700 aircraft in the first 10 days, for the loss of 160 Spitfire and Hurricane fighters. The Germans then started bombing airfields and factories, a tactic which nearly won the battle despite the loss of another 560 planes. But British bombing raids on German cities enraged Hitler, who ordered his planes to attack cities instead. That was a mistake because it let the British rebuild their air forces. The battle peaked on September 15, 1940 - when 200 dogfights took place in 30 minutes.

One New Zealander who made a big impact was the commander of 11 Group, Sir Keith Park. At the 2000 memorial service Waikanae veteran Squadron Leader Stewart Lusk recalled flying lumbering two-engined Blenheim bombers that had been converted to night-fighters and equipped with virtually useless radar. They were often shot at by British fighter pilots and seamen, who mistook them for enemy craft. Mr Lusk flew through the entire war without shooting down any Germans, but during one flight he was attacked by a gaggle of Stuka bombers that were, in turn, mauled by British Hurricane fighters. "It was pretty dangerous work," he said. "Anything with two engines was fair game for some of the Spitfire and Hurricane pilots."

In 1940, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill dubbed his pilots "the few," and predicted that even if the Empire and Commonwealth lasted 1000 years the air battle would still be their "finest hour." 

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