Here’s the place to find out the answers to many of the things that you may not be sure about. Click on the question to see the answer. Alternatively, if you are planning to visit the site at Capel-le-Ferne, our friendly volunteers are always happy to tell you everything they know!
When did the Battle of Britain take place?
10 July – 31 October 1940. These were the dates favoured by Air Chief Marshal Dowding who had led Fighter Command in the Battle, though he accepted that they were arbitrary.
Why was it such an important part of the war?
In the early summer of 1940 Germany had conquered France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Denmark and Norway. Hitler contemplated invading Britain and might have done so if there had been a reasonable prospect of an invasion force crossing the Channel without heavy losses. Because the German Luftwaffe failed to eliminate the threat to the invasion posed by the RAF, the invasion never materialised.
The Christopher Foxley-Norris Memorial Wall at Capel-le-Ferne contains the names of the men who took part in the Battle. How were these names arrived at?
In 1945 the Air Ministry announced that participants in the Battle would be entitled to the “immediate” award of the 1939-1945 Star with Battle of Britain Clasp. This award was to go to Aircrew who had made at least one operational sortie with an “accredited” unit under the control of RAF Fighter Command between the specified dates. The list of accredited units was amended in a series of further Air Ministry Orders until 1961. There are 71 such units. The award was only available to fighter aircrew.
How many Allied airmen took part in the Battle of Britain?
No one is certain. There are 2,941 names on the Christopher Foxley-Norris Memorial Wall, but the actual number is probably slightly higher.
My grandfather flew in the Battle – why is his name is not on the Wall?
This may be because your relative did not fly operationally between the specified dates or because his service was in Bomber or Coastal Command, Army Co-operation aircraft, etc.
If you feel that your relative has been overlooked, then the normal method of making the case is to produce a relevant reference to him in his squadron’s operations record book (likely to be held at The National Archives, Kew) or a clearly operational flight in his logbook, with the page signed by the CO or Flight Commander. If you wish to pursue a claim contact the Memorial Trust or the Air Historical Branch (via the RAF website).
Why did some Coastal Command and Fleet Air Arm personnel received the Clasp?
Some Coastal Command and FAA squadrons were attached to Fighter Command during the Battle, enabling some of their aircrew to qualify for the Clasp. In addition some FAA pilots were attached to Fighter Command squadrons.
Why does the Trust refer to aircrew, not pilots?
Some units in the Battle were equipped with Blenheim, Beaufighter or Defiant aircraft, which were multi-crewed and included air gunners.
How many Allied airmen were killed in the Battle?
The answer depends on definition. For example, one man was killed while on leave and another was standing on the ground when a landing aircraft struck him. A booklet published by the Battle of Britain Memorial Trust lists 534 aircrew who died during the Battle or were mortally injured and died later.
Were all those who took part from this country?
Far from it. Overseas participants included men from, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Newfoundland, South Africa, Rhodesia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, France, Belgium the United States and Ireland. One Air Gunner had been born in Austria and was officially stateless.
Who was the highest scorer in the Battle of Britain?
For a variety of reasons, none of the “league tables” of scores by Allied airmen can be relied on. Some people over claimed and others under claimed. Some intelligence officers were tougher than others in questioning claims. Many historians now accept that the highest scoring Allied pilot in the Battle was Sergeant Josef Frantisek, DFM, a Czechoslovakian flying with the Polish No 303 Squadron. He is often credited with 17 enemy aircraft destroyed. He was killed in a flying accident on 8 October 1940.
Geoffrey Page was a 20-year-old Pilot Officer flying Hurricanes with No 56 Squadron in the Battle. On 12 August 1940 he was shot down and baled out into the sea with grievous burns. He was rescued and underwent many operations at the Queen Victoria Hospital, East Grinstead, where he became a founder member of The Guinea Pig Club. Later in the war Geoffrey returned to action and earned the DSO, DFC and bar, before being injured again. In the 1980s he founded the Battle of Britain Memorial Trust and was the driving force in creating the National Memorial. He died in 2000.
Who was Christopher Foxley-Norris?
The future Air Chief Marshal Sir Christopher Foxley-Norris was one of the Army Co-operation pilots who converted to fighters in 1940 at a time of desperate need. He flew Hurricanes in the Battle with No 3 Squadron. Later in the war he became one of the leading pilots in the RAF specialising in low level attacks on ships bringing industrial supplies to Germany and was awarded the DSO. Sir Christopher held senior commands in the post-war RAF. He was President and a great benefactor of the Battle of Britain Memorial Trust and a long serving Chairman of the Battle of Britain Fighter Association, of which only “the Few” may be full members. He died in 2003.
What does "Scramble" mean?
Scramble is an RAF expression meaning “take off immediately”.
Did the RAF win the Battle of Britain?
In the sense that no invasion was attempted, then “yes”. Historians continue to argue over the finer points of what took place.
Was Fighter Command outnumbered?
It depends on your definition, which aircraft are included, etc. In absolute terms the answer is “yes”.
Were the pilots really all very young?
Many were teenagers and in their early 20s. Plenty were in their later 20s. Some were in their 30s and a few were over 40. We think the oldest man to qualify for the Battle of Britain Clasp was 51-year-old Defiant air gunner, Pilot Officer Sydney Carlin.
Which was the best fighter - Spitfire, Hurricane, Messerschmitt Bf 109 or Messerschmitt Bf 110?
Many pilots felt that there was little to choose between the Spitfire and the 109. Each had advantages over the other. The Hurricane was an older design than the Spitfire, was slower and could only operate effectively at a lower altitude but it could turn more tightly than both the Spitfire and the 109 and pilots often felt that it could take more punishment than the Spitfire. On the other hand, the design of the Hurricane meant that men flying it were in more danger of serious burns if the aircraft was hit. The Bf 110 normally carried a crew of two and was slower and heavier than the other types.
The seated airman at the heart of the Memorial is wearing an Irvin jacket. Were these worn during the Battle?
Yes; there are many photographs and accounts of veterans to demonstrate the point. Apart from authenticity, a reason for the “seated airman” to wear a jacket is that it means we do not know his rank, nationality or aircrew trade.