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The men who stopped Hitler
on 25 November 2005
When did Hitler lose the war?
You could point to the failure of Operation Typhoon - the doomed attempt to take Moscow in the autumn of 1941, Stalingrad, Kursk, Operation Bagration, or D-Day.
You could make a good case for any of these, with Typhoon and Stalingrad on the shortest of short lists.
But you would have forgotten one battle more important than any of these: the Battle of Britain. Failure at this point would have left Hitler supreme.
David E Fisher introduces us to the people who we should thank for the fact that Operation ‘Sea Lion’ never took place.
He takes us through the history of the development of the RAF in the pre-war years, and considers the strands which led to victory over the Luftwaffe in the autumn of 1940.
To Air Marshall Dowding must go the ultimate credit for making victory possible.
First, when everyone else believed with Stanley Baldwin that “the bomber will always get through”, Dowding knew the RAF had to have fighters.
He was in the right place to influence events. In 1930, he was promoted to Air Marshall, and appointed to the post of Supply and Research on the Air Council, and in 1937 he appointed head of Fighter Command.
Dowding needed to get a chain of radar receivers built, and was only given permission to go ahead, provided they did not interfere with the grouse shooting.
Every step of the way he battled Harris for funds. To Harris, Dowding was “out of touch.” Bombers were what was wanted. Eventually, of course, Harris got is way, but only after an ungrateful Prime Minister had sacked Dowding, and the Battle of Britain had been won.
There were several occasions - several What If? moments - when Britain could have taken the road to defeat in the Battle of Britain.
1. What if the Air Ministry had ordered a new generation of biplane fighters, as they had wanted to? Planes that lacked the speed, the armament and the height to take on Hitler’s Luftwaffe.
If the Air Ministry had had its way, the Luftwaffe would have been met by planes like the Tiger Moth.
Instead they ordered the Spitfire developed by Reginald Mitchell of Vickers Supermarine, and based on his Schneider Trophy-winning monoplane.
Sydney Camm, designer at Hawkers, also got the message, and designed the Hurricane along similar lines.
It was Squadron Leader Ralph Sorley who determined that the Spitfire needed eight guns not four. Eight guns were needed to take maximum advantage of that split second which was all the pilot might get.
2. What if Churchill’s friend Professor Lindeman had had his way, and that work on an infrared detection system had replaced the development of radar?
No such detection system could have picked out the bomber’s infrared from all the other infrared signals in the background. Operation Sealion could have taken place.
In this book you will meet Arnold ‘Skip’ Wilkins, who learned that Post Office engineers had noted the effect of aircraft on VHF reception, and that this might be followed up as a means of detecting enemy aircraft. Radar was conceived.
(His boss, Robert Watson Watt took all the credit!)
3. What if Arthur Harris - appointed to Bomber Command at the same time Dowding was appointed to Fighter Command - had got his way, and Britain had concentrated on building bombers in 1938? Operation Sealion could have taken place.
4. What if Dowding had caved in to Churchill’s demand for an extra ten squadrons of fighters for France in May 1940?
Dowding refused, and gave the War Cabinet his reasons.
The author tells us that no one spoke. No one supported him. They were all terrified of Churchill.
Left to fight his own corner, Dowding showed them a graph of his “wastage rates” and told them that there would be no Hurricanes left “ … in France or in this country” if such losses were sustained for another fortnight. The cabinet agreed with Dowding.
Had they not done so, Operation Sealion could have taken place.
Thanks to this splendid piece of history by David E Fisher, Lord Dowding, and the people around him, are restored to their rightful place: war winners.