The RAF in the Battle of France and the Battle of Britain

Title: The RAF in the Battle of France and the Battle of Britain 
Author: Greg Baughen

Publisher: Fonthill Media
ISBN: 978-1-78155-525-5

 

This is an interesting look at the decisions made about the role and the use of the RAF at the outbreak of WW2.  While there were elements of the story that many of us might know of the history of events during both the Battle of France and the Battle of Britain, this does look at it in a different way.  I can also say that there was some new information about events which I had not been aware of before.  It is also intriguing to see more about the differences between the various senior officers and politicians.  There were a variety of views on what was the best way to fight the war, and for some of them there appears to have been little middle ground for them.  It is also odd to see how some lived with their memories of the fighting in WW1 and didn't seem to learn the new lessons of the German Blitzkrieg.  The different ideas between Churchill, the commanders and soldiers of the BEF, the Air Ministry, RAF senior commanders, Aircraft Production, politicians and the requests from our French Allies.  The idea of the Bomber being the answer to the war, and destroying German oil production facilities was one that lived on, but considering that the RAF 'Heavy' bombers were Hampdens and Wellingtons, it was very different to the fleets of Lancasters and B-17s which would be available for the same targets, though in a couple of years time.

The RAF resisted War Office requests for battlefield tactical air support, both because of keeping fighters back in the UK for future battles and that bombing strategic targets in Germany were more important.  However, just how accurate were those early raids?   The Luftwaffe were working closely with the Wehrmacht in close air support, the RAF seemed unwilling to learn those lessons and apply them, at least until later in the war.  After Dunkirk, with the Battle of Britain in progress and the real fear of a German invasion of the UK, I found the details of Operation Banquet were new to me, the plans to use obsolete aircraft types and even training aircraft to carry out ground attack missions in the event of a German landing in the UK.

The story is split into 14 chapters, which give a good idea of how the story unfolds.  From Armies, Air Defence or Bombers?: The Army Gets the Call: The Lessons of War: The Bomber Reigns Supreme: Norwegian Warning: The Dutch Abandoned: Sedan, A Lesson in Army Air Support: The Gloves are Off, the RAF Strikes Back: Relearning Old Lessons: Desperate Measures, Wasted Resources: Preparing for Invasion: Dowding's Battle:  On the Brink?: Bomber Theory Put to the Test: and of course a Conclusion.  Appendices compare aircraft performance and Aircraft Deliveries 1938-40.  One other part of the story in the later part of the book which I had not appreciated before to be honest, is that of the US built aircraft delivered and available here in the UK, but unused when they could have been a valuable asset, as could a large number of trained aircrew from European countries who had fled to the UK but who the RAF would not allow to form into units as early as they could have done.

Overall this is an interesting account of a period in the war that is well known, but which tackles aspects of it which are far less well known.  The personal rivalries between commanders, each convinced that they were correct, however extreme their ideas in some cases and all at a time when this country really needed them to be working together while facing a crisis.  An interesting take on the whole topic.

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Robin

...a reappraisal of Army and Air Policy 1938-1940