THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN

"Battle of Britain - The Movie", by Robert J. Rudhall, book excerpt #2
All text by the late Robert J. Rudhall, circa 2000

 

 

Opening Shots

The last year of the 1960s was a momentous year. It was the year that man first set foot on the Moon. The Apollo 11 mission with Neil Annstrong, 'Buzz' Aldrin and Michael Collins has gone into the history books and will be engraved in the annals of man's finest achievements forever more. It was also the year that the west's first, and so far, only, supersonic airliner, Concorde, first took to the air. These two 'firsts' captured the imagination of millions of people throughout the world. However, for many aviation enthusiasts, the year 1969 was significant for another reason. It was the year which saw the release of the much-awaited film, Battle of Britain.

Many films have been made which have dealt with aerial warfare, several of which have focussed on aspects and areas of the Battle of Britain in 1940, First of the Few, The Way to the Stars, Angels One Five and Reach For The Sky being just four British productions which immediately spring to mind. Up until United Artist's Battle of Britain no one film had covered the 'Battle' in its entirety. This was the aim ofHarry Saltzman and Benjamin S Fisz, but the struggle to put the 'Battle' onto the silver screen would prove to be a huge one!

The original idea for the film came from Ben S. Fisz, a former RAF fighter pilot, and it was he who kick started the project in the mid 1960s. Fisz had just finished making the film Heroes of Telemark, which starred Kirk Douglas, Richard Harris and Michael Redgrave, and was in the process of getting his next production up and running. It was a film about the life of General Orde Wingate, of Chindit fame. The film was almost 'ready to roll', when the Wingate family insisted that they have control over the finished product. If they did not like it then they could legally refuse the film's release. As Fisz remembered at the time You cannot spend four million pounds on a possibility, so the whole project fell through.

This was September 1966 and as Fisz walked through Hyde Park in an attempt to console himself after the Wingate setback, his thoughts turned to the time when a lone Hurricane and Spitfire used to lead the annual Battle of Britain flypast over the City of London each September.

These two vintage fighters were operated by the Royal Air Force's Historic Aircraft Flight, later to become known as the Battle of Britain Flight (now Battle of Britain Memorial Flight). However, due to an engine failure, which caused Spitfire XVI SL574 to force land on Bromley cricket pitch on September 20, 1959, this practise of flying single-engined aircraft over the capital city was brought to a halt.

The idea therefore, as has been published in many previous accounts of the making of Battle of Britain, that Fisz was inspired by watching the Hurricane and Spitfire practising for the London flypast, is a figment of 'journalistic licence', and never actually happened.

These memories of the two vintage fighters set Fisz mulling over the idea of a film about the events of 1940, made along the same lines as the very successful movie The Longest Day. This 1962 film portrayed both sides of D-Day, June 6, 1944, with the English speaking English and the Germans speaking German, while being subtitled on screen. The idea was a flash of brilliance, but Fisz's task of putting the Battle of Britain onto film would prove to be fraught with many problems, not least of which was raising the studio backing and finance to realise his dream!

The Telemark film had been distributed by the Rank Organisation, and was reasonably successful, so Fisz contacted Freddie Thomas at Pinewood and put his new proposal to him. Showing interest, Thomas stipulated that Fisz should use the book The Narrow Margin, of which Rank's owned the screen rights, as the basis for the film's storyline, and that while the Rank Organisation would put up some of the finance required for the production, Fisz would have to raise the rest. The 'blue touch paper' had been lit and Fisz was galvanised into action. He soon gathered together the money needed to set things in motion and Battle of Britain was underway.

From the outset, it was decided that the film would be shot in widescreen and in colour, so there would be no opportunity to re-use any wartime newsreel footage in the aerial scenes. This of course meant that a suitable number of vintage aircraft had to be sought in order to make the whole film credible. The problem was, where in the 1960s could enough airworthy World War Two aircraft be found to the recreate the Royal Air Force and Luftwaffe of 1940?

"For the benefit of the uneducated among us, I'll translate" - Edward Fox

Previous aviation films had used just three or four aircraft, and with the aid of clever camera angles and special effects, tried to give the impression that a large number of aircraft were taking part. This was not good enough for Ben Fisz. He had to have large numbers of real aircraft, otherwise the effect he was looking for just would not work. During the 1960s there was one man the film industry turned to when it needed old aircraft, Group Captain T G Hamish Mahaddie.

Hamish was a former RAF Bomber Command pilot, and founder member of the famous Pathfinder Force. He had joined the RAF in 1928, under the Lord Trenchard apprentice scheme. After three years training at RAF Halton he passed out as AC 1 -Metal Rigger. Going on to train as a pilot in Egypt, he was eventually posted to 35 Squadron at Abu Sueir. Returning to the UK in 1938, war clouds were looming and on the outbreak of World War Two he flew a Whitley bomber on the first leaflet-dropping raid of the war. He and his crew were the only ones from the squadron to return from that raid!

Having survived his first tour in Bomber Command, Hamish spent some 20 months training prospective bomber pilots at RAF Kinloss. After this he was selected for the newly formed Pathfinders, in August 1942, joining 7 Squadron as Flight Commander. It was during this period that Hamish had a narrow escape, when Short Stirling R9273, C for Charlie, which he was piloting, was attacked by a Junkers Ju 88 nightfighter. Raking the Stirling's fuselage with cannon fire, the enemy aircraft pressed home its devastating attack. With his aileron controls severed by the enemy aircraft's canon fire, Hamish fought to regain control of the stricken bomber. With judicious use of the engine throttles Mahaddie regained control of the Stirling, bringing it back to the UK, despite another nightfighter attack en route. On inspection of the bomber the following morning, a remarkable 174 cannon shell holes were counted in the Stirling's airframe. From then on the aircraft was nicknamed C for Colander!

Completing a tour Hamish was then 'hijacked', as he used to put it, to Don Bennett's headquarters, where he was put to work travelling around the various bomber bases selecting crews for the Pathfinder Force. Promoted to the rank of Group Captain, Mahaddie took over command of RAF Warboys, the Pathfinder Force training unit, where he remained until the end of the war. Staying in the RAF Hamish introduced the English Electric Canberra into RAF Bomber Command with his wing at Binbrook. In the mid 1950s he was tasked with 'sourcing' the Avro Lancasters which were to be used in the The Dambusters feature film. This was his first foray into the world of films, and he took to it like a duck to water.

He retired from the military in 1959, and almost immediately set up an aviation consultancy for the movie business. By the time Battle of Britain came along he had already been involved in a number of productions, 633 Squadron, Operation Crossbow, The Liquidator, plus a number of the James Bond films. In a 1988 interview with the author, Hamish recalled his time on Battle of Britain: I was asked by the producers how many Spitfires were in airworthy condition and could be made available for the film. At that time I knew of only one, the aircraft that used to fly up the Mall on Battle of Britain Day in September. I was hired and given the task of ascertaining how many real aircraft could be used in the production. Within ten days I had found out that there were over 100 Spitfires still left in the world. They were not all airworthy, but they had possibilities. This was the start of a three-year stint for me. It took 18 months to two years to acquire all of the aircraft, and then a year during which the film was in production.

Mahaddie entered into negotiations with the Ministry of Defence for the loan of a number of Spitfires and Hurricanes, plus some German aircraft, which were preserved with the Air Historical Branch. At that time it was thought that the RAF would be able to provide all the aircraft needed for the film. While Hamish was scurrying around trying to sort the aircraft out, problems were arising at the Rank Organisation. Costs for the film, which after all was still some way off shooting, were rising rapidly, and rumblings were coming out of the Rank studios that they wanted to have more control over what was being done. Ben Fisz was obviously not happy about this situation, after all it was his idea in the first place. Other problems were looming on the horizon. Sir Terrance Rattigan, who had been chosen to provide the script, pulled out because of the effect that delays were having on his other work commitments. Lewis Gilbert (Reach for the Sky, Albert RN and Sink the Bismarck) had been earmarked as director, but he too had to move on to other projects due to the frustrating delays in Battle's schedule.

"Get that bowser out of here, we'll go on what we've got" - Robert Shaw

The problems that Fisz was suffering had, in the meantime, come to the attention of Harry Saltzman, master showman (along with Albert R Cubby Broccoli) of the James Bond film series. Harry contacted Ben Fisz and offered to part finance Battle. With the worldwide success of the 007 films, Saltzman had money available, which was a godsend for Fisz, whose problems were starting to be insurmountable. With this newly formed partnership, one of the first things to do was to set up a holding company for the film 's production. The aptly named Spitfire Productions Ltd swiftly came into being, and the film was up on its feet and ready to roll.

One of the first major moves that Saltzman made was to suggest Guy Hamilton as producer of the film. Hamilton had just completed Funeral in Berlin for Saltzman and at that time was available. In the realms of film directing Hamilton's pedigree was impeccable. A former assistant to that great British director Sir Carol Reed, with whom he worked on Fallen Idol and The Third Man, Hamilton also worked with that doyen of producers, John Houston, on the Humphrey Bogart film The African Queen.

Guy's first directorial success was The Colditz Story, after which he had put his mark on The Devil's Disciple, A Touch of Larceny and the Bond film Goldfinger. Following Battle of Britain he went on to direct three more 007 films, Diamonds Are Forever, Live and Let Die and The Man With The Golden Gun, plus Force Ten From Navarone and Evil Under The Sun .

Having served on Motor Torpedo Boats during World War Two, Hamilton at first was unsure about directing an aircraft dominated film such as Battle of Britain, but, after carrying out extensive research on the subject, he became totally absorbed. Like the two producers, he wanted to get across both sides of the conflict, telling the story almost in documentary fashion.

I spent two years of my life on that film, Guy Hamilton recalled in a 1989 interview. The one thing that I remember distinctly is that wherever we went to get some information or help, the response was fantastic. Everyone had a sort of wartime spirit, and they all wanted to help Battle of Britain in one way or another. People came out of retirement and helped us at weekends, their enthusiasm was tremendous. This in turn gave one a great sense of responsibility, in that one felt that the film had to be right. Looking back, I'm proud of the film in the sense that it is honest, or was as honest as we could make it at the time.

In collaboration with writers James Kennaway, and later Wilfred Greatorex, Hamilton set to work on the script, looking at original records, archive film and speaking to a whole host of leading figures on both sides of the 1940 battle. Then disaster struck. On September 23, 1966, the Rank Organisation wrote to Fisz saying that they were pulling out of the production, thus leaving the producers without a distribution company for the film. Negotiations were rapidly entered into with Paramount Pictures in the USA, who expressed an interest in taking the project on. Sadly differences between Saltzman, Fisz and the powers that be at Paramount saw the studio pull out ofany arrangements to finance the film. Nobody seemed to be interested in an all-British war epic in the mid 1960s. Unless a backer could be found the whole project was washed up and going nowhere.

"Don't threaten or dictate to us until you're marching up Whitehall, and even then we won't listen" - Sir Ralph Richardson

Harry Saltzman knew United Artists (UA) well; after all it was UA which distributed the James Bond films, a series which had made a considerable amount ofmoney for the producers and the distributors alike. After a series of meetings with UA, Harry Saltzman announced that the distribution of Battle had been secured, UA would oversee its worldwide release and put a substantial amount of money up front so that production could begin. During this hiatus, when the film lost its major backer when Rank pulled out, virtually all of the staff engaged on Battle were made redundant, with the exception of Hamish Mahaddie, who was continuing to scour the world for aircraft.

In a series of meetings, which took place at the highest level within the Ministry of Defence and the Treasury, Mahaddie had, in the meantime, somehow managed to pull off an incredible deal, which saw 19 Spitfires and three Hurricanes being made available to the film company. This arrangement came along with facilities at RAF Henlow, for aircraft conversion purposes, plus the co-operation of the aircraft from the RAF's Battle of Britain Flight, which would take part in the filming schedule between their usual airshow commitments. A number of RAF tradesmen and fitters would also be attached to the film company, for the purposes of maintaining the aircraft, while in the company's care. This level of co-operation from the RAF set a precedent, for no film, before or since Battle of Britain, has enjoyed such a high input from the military services. It was no doubt due in a large part to Hamish's influence and good standing with the RAF.

The condition of the Spitfires and Hurricanes, that Mahaddie had managed to secure, was giving cause for concern. Most of them came from RAF stations throughout the UK, where they had been put to use as gate guards. The majority were late war variants, which would be visually out of character with the early 1940-look that the film makers were trying to convey. This meant that a large amount of work had to take place before the fighters would even be ready for the cameras. At Henlow a 'production line' was set up for converting the aircraft.

Hurricanes did not need any cosmetic change work, as the basic outline of the famous Hawker design, more or less, remained unchanged throughout the war. But the Spitfires were another matter entirely. The Spitfires loaned by the MoD were indeed a mixed bunch of many different marks, and after inspection a compromise was agreed upon, in that all of the non-airworthy aircraft would resemble a cross between a Spitfire V and IX. On the film set this mythical mark was known as the Mark Addie, after Hamish's influence in the decision. The engineering team set to work on the Spitfires. The Spitfire XVI's required the most work, cannons had to be removed from the wings, teardrop canopies were taken off, the low-back rear fuselages built up to early high-back configuration by means of a wood and fabric decking which sat on top of the Spitfire's rear fuselage, pointed rudders were replaced by the standard more rounded design, and clipped wings were restored to their full elliptical status. Where possible four bladed propellers were replaced with three blade units. Rear view mirrors proved to be a problem, but as Hamish once recalled: We noticed that the current MG open-top sports car was fitted with a rectangular rear view mirror, which looked very similar to what we needed for the Spitfires. Mysteriously all of the MG's parked in the car park at Elstree Film Studios somehow lost their mirrors on one occasion. I'm not quite sure how this happened, but it certainly solved our problem with the Spitfires!

"As work was carried out on the Spitfires, one example, IIa P7350, was found to be in very good condition, so much so that it was deemed possible to put it back into flyable condition for the film. This historic airframe, had been on static display at the RAF Colerne Museum for many years, after being saved from the scrapman. Actually serving with the RAF during the Battle of Britain in 1940, it had flown with 266 and 603 Squadrons, picking up some bullet holes during a dogfight with Messerschmitt Bf 109s in October of that year. This clash with the enemy resulted in a crash landing for P7350, ending its involvement in the Battle of Britain. At the end of the war it was sold for scrap, but was donated back to the RAF when the scrap merchant realised the historical significance of the airframe. On display at Colerne for many years, Hamish and his team came across the Spitfire in 1967. With the three blade propeller, short nose, and early radiator and oil cooler configuration, it was just the sort of Spitfire they had been looking for. Despite previous incorrect accounts of the Spitfire being 'ready to fly after a change of spark plugs and oil', the fighter was given a major overhaul before any attempt was made to fly it again. Although Hurricanes outnumbered Spitfires during the 1940 Battle, they were much harder to find for the film. However, they could not be ignored, as they were needed for the Battle of France sequences at the start of the film, as Spitfires were never sent to France in 1940.  The RAF were only able to provide three Hurricanes, one of which (LF363) was airworthy with the Battle of Britain Flight. The other pair were static gate guards.

Hurricane PZ865 (G-AMAU) was maintained in airworthy condition by Hawker Siddeley, as part of the company's historic flight, along with Hawker Hart 'J9941' (G-AMBR) and Cygnet G-EBMB, and was made available to the film makers. A surprise addition to the ranks of Hurricanes came from Canada, in the form of airworthy Mk.XlI, CF-SMI. This airframe was originally built by the Canadian Car and Foundry Company at Fort William (now known as Thunder Bay), and served with the Royal Canadian Air Force as RCAF 5377. It was one of a handful of Hurricanes used by British Commonwealth Air Training Plan bases for chasing high altitude Japanese fire balloons. It is also believed that the aircraft served for short periods with l33 and 135 Squadrons, RCAF.

Struck off charge at the end of the war, the Hurricane was discovered many years later in an almost derelict condition by Canadian warbird restorer Robert Diemert, who proceeded to restore it to flying condition. At the completion of the rebuild, Diemart flew the fighter on a regular basis, until it was sold to Hamish Mahaddie on behalf of Spitfire Productions. The Hurricane was flown across the Atlantic inside the hold of a RCAF C-130 Hercules transport aircraft, and re-assembled at Henlow on arrival. Allocated the British civil registration of G-AWLW, the fighter was flown extensively throughout the filming by Diemert himself.

The film's sixth Hurricane (Z70 15) came from the Shuttleworth Collection at Old Warden Aerodrome in Bedfordshire. It was hoped to get this rare Sea Hurricane Ib variant into airworthy condition, but persistent problems with an overheating radiator put paid to the film-makers aims.It was suitable for taxying duties however.

During the long negotiations with the MoD regarding the loan of the Hurricanes and Spitfires, Hamish was also in the process of acquiring civilian-owned flying examples for the extensive aerial sequences. At that stage it became obvious that a team of civilian aircraft engineers would be required to maintain the company's aircraft, as well as lending a hand with the RAF-owned machines. Probably the best company qualified to fulfil the requirement at that time was Simpson's Aero Services, based at ElstreeAirfield. Led by John Tubby Simpson, this small organisation had an enviable reputation for being able to keep any Merlin-engined aircraft in the air.

"Undercarriage lever a bit sticky, was it sir?" - Duncan Lamont

While the acquisition of the film's Royal Air Force was proceeding apace, Hamish's thoughts turned to the German Luftwaffe. The small clutch of aircraft loaned by the MoD to the film company (Junkers Ju 88, Junkers Ju 87 Stuka, Heinkel HE III Hand Messerschmitt Bf 109G-2) were in no way airworthy, but would be possibly suitable for static use. To make the film worthwhile Mahaddie had to find a suitable number of German bombers and fighters, otherwise it was doubtful if the effect the producers wanted on screen could be realised.

Thankfully, the Spanish Air Force would come up trumps. Mahaddie was told by one of his contacts that the Spaniards were still using Messerschmitts and Heinkels some 20-odd years after the war had ended. Eager to follow up this important lead Hamish contacted Group Captain R L S Coulson, the Air Attache at the British Embassy in Madrid, immediately who, after some enquiries, confirmed the existence of the German aircraft. Hamish flew out to Spain straight away to see for himself, hardly believing his own eyes when he found the Spanish Air Force's main bomber force was still comprised of Merlin-engined Heinkels. Unfortunately the Messerschmitts he had expected to see alongside the bombers had been retired about one year earlier, and only eight were still flyable. However, after asking a few questions in the right places Hamish found a great pile of dismantled Messerschmitts lying behind a couple of hangars at Tablada Airfield.

How these Heinkels and Messerschmitts happened to be in Spain in the first place needs some explaining.

During the Spanish Civil War, Germany supplied 96 Heinkel 111s, and those left at the end of the conflict were transferred to the Ejercito del Aire (Spanish Air Force). During World War Two the Spanish authorities started negotiations with Germany to purchase another 50 examples, plus a licence to build the twin-engined bomber in Spain. The Germans agreed to this and a further 70 Heinkels duly arrived in Spain from Germany. Subsequently a licence was drawn up for the local production of 130 airframes to be constructed by Construccions Aeronauticas SA (CASA) at Tablada, near Seville, with the designation CASA 2.111. Emerging in three basic variants, bomber, reconnaissance and transport, the Heinkels served up to the end of World War Two, by which time the Spaniards had put plans into motion to re-engine the aircraft, due to earlier difficulties in obtaining from Germany suitable supplies of Junkers Jumo engines. 173 Rolls-Royce Merlin 500 engines were acquired from the UK, with the intention of re-engining the best 70 aircraft of the remaining fleet. This programme was carried out on the Heinkels between 1953 and 1956. With no other suitable type available, the Spanish Heinkels soldiered on through to the 1960s, and some 32 were still in service by the time that Hamish caught up with them in mid-1966.

It was a similar story for the Messerschmitt 109s. Germany had delivered 25 dismantled airframes, minus engines, propellers, tailplanes and armament, to Spain during World War Two, originally intending to complete the consignment. Time went on and the war took a turn for the worse for Germany, so much so that the missing Messerschmitt parts never arrived. These airframes we intended to act as pattern aircraft for future Spanish production. The Spaniards then found themselves with a set of incomplete aircraft, and no manufacturing jigs or drawings.

By the end of 1944 it was obvious that the missing parts were never going to arrive, so the Spanish authorities took matters into their own hands and installed a recently tested Hispano-Suiza 12Z 89 engine into one of the Messerschmitt Bf 109E-l airframes. The end result of the German airframe and the Spanish engine did not prove to be entirely suitable, but at that time there were no other options available. This prototype conversion, designated as Hispano HA-l1 09 J1L flew for the first time in this guise on March 2, 1945. Conversion of the Bf 109G airframes then commenced, with some 25 being carried out over the following 18 months.

This combination proved to be less than satisfactory, so much so that the converted aircraft were not even issued to the Spanish Air force. Subsequent modifications saw the French-built Hispano Suiza 12Z 12 fuel injected engine being installed in the 10th Hispano HA 1109 J1L, being designated as the prototype HA 1109 K1L. This proved to be a much more satisfactory arrangement and production deliveries started in earnest during 1952, although the re-engined Messerschmitt was looked upon within the Spanish Air Force as an operational trainer, rather than a front line fighter. During 1953 it was decided to adapt the Messerschmitt airframe to take the tried and tested Rolls Royce Merlin engine, and this proved to be the ultimate variant of Willy Messerschmitt's famous fighter. It was ironic to say the least that the famed Bf 109 first flew under the power of a Rolls-Royce engine (Kestrel) and its last variant would be fitted with the breed of engine, which was fitted to its deadly wartime enemy, the Spitfire! 1954 saw the first Merlin-engined Messerschmitt 109 take to the air, a feat that it accomplished from San Pablo Airport, near Seville.

It was the Hispano HA 1112 M1L Buchon variant of the famed fighter that Hamish Mahaddie gazed upon behind the hangars at Tablada in 1966. The type had remained in service with the Spaniards, providing effective ground attack and fighter capabilities right up to the mid 1960s. After inspection it was ascertained that 27 complete aircraft could be made from all the bits that lay around on the airfield, of which 18 would be able to fly, with the remainder capable of taxying or be used as static dressing for airfield scenes.

The Messerschmitts were about to come up for sale in an auction, or as it is known in Spain, a Sabasta. Hamish would remember that word long after the film was a fading memory, for it was a make or break crisis during his involvement with Battle. A Sabasta is a sealed bid auction, and after consultation with the authorities, as to the price range they were expecting to realise on the aircraft (around $2,250 each), Hamish entered his bid only to be confronted by a rival consortium who were also interested in the Messerschmitts, and who were obviously trying to push the price up. Following many telephone calls to various contacts in high places Mahaddie did not alter his bid, and on the day of the auction came away with the Messerschmitts as one job lot.

As for the Heinkels, they were still in service and were obviously not for sale. Would it therefore be possible for the film company to 'borrow' the bombers in order to shoot the Luftwaffe sequences in the movie? Sadly for the film makers, this was a period when Anglo-Spanish relations were at a low ebb. Wrangling over the ownership of Gibraltar had reached a peak, and here was a film company asking to borrow the entire Spanish bomber fleet. It took some high level diplomacy by British officials, Saltzman, Fisz and Mahaddie to save the day on that score. Initially General Franco refused permission for the Heinkels to be used, but after considerable pressure from Rolls-Royce, who, after all, supplied the much needed spares for the engines, Franco relented and gave his permission. Eventually, after much to-ing and fro-ing of official documents between the British and Spanish governments, it was agreed that Spitfire Productions could use the Heinkels, and that all costs involved regarding fuel and maintenance, crews wages etc, would be covered by the Spanish government. The only exception being that the film company would have to pay for the painting of the aircraft in German markings, and then return them to Spanish colours when the filming was finished.

This was a major breakthrough for Saltzman and Fisz, and the unprecedented level of co-operation from Spain is reported to have saved the film around 200,000. After many hurdles, Battle of Britain had gained its Luftwaffe!  Back in the UK, Spitfires were still being rounded up to star in the film. Air Commodore Allen Wheeler's Mk Ia AR213 (G-AIST), which had been in storage at Old Warden Aerodrome for several years, was re-assembled and made ready by Tubby Simpson and his crew. The Shuttleworth Collection's Spitfire V, AR501 (G-AWIJ) was rejuvenated and added to the 'squadron'. Spitfire IX MH434 (G-ASN) had been purchased from Tim Davies, a pair of former Irish Air Corps two-seat Spitfire trainers, MJ772 (G-AVAV) and TE308 (G-AWGB), owned by Tony Samuelson at Elstree, had also been put under contract, and would prove to be especially useful in the training up of the pilots who were to fly the vintage fighters in the film, as well as acting as camera platforms for specific scenes.

Rolls-Royce's Griffon-engined Mk XIV RM698 (G-ALGT) was leased to the film company, and a similar deal was reached with the Texas-based Confederate Air Force (CAF), which had just purchased Spitfire IX MK297 (G-ASSD) in the UK and four of the Messerschmitts in Spain. A proviso in the contract stated that this quintet would be flown in the film by CAF pilots, Wilson Connie Edwards, Marvin Lefty Gardner, Milt Harradence, Gerald Martin and Lloyd Nolen. A further Spitfire IX, MH415 (G-AVDJ) came out of storage in France. All of these had to be prepared for filming by Simpson's Aero Services at RAF Henlow, and painted in 1940 camouflage.

While a lot of emphasis was being put on the aircraft to be used in the production, the two producers had also been busy signing up actors and actresses for the 'human' side of the story. Sir Lawrence Olivier was contracted to play the vital part of Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding, Rex Harrison was originally cast for the part of Air Vice Marshal Keith Park, but had to drop out due to delays in production. His place was taken by Trevor Howard. Squadron Commanders came in the shape of Michael Caine, Christopher Plummer and Robert Shaw, while some of Britain's up and coming actors would play the younger pilots, James Cosmo, Edward Fox, David Griffin, Myles Hoyle and Ian McShane. Personifying key diplomatic representatives were Sir Ralph Richardson and Curt Jurgens, while smaller, but no less important, roles were taken by Kenneth More, Nigel Patrick, Michael Redgrave and Patrick Wymark. The sole major female part, and the film's obligatory love interest, was given to Susarmah York. The 'acting' content of the film was indeed in the 'heavyweight' class.

"Spring chicken to shite hawk in one easy lesson" - Edward Fox

Work was carrying on in Spain to put the non-airworthy Messerschmitt fighters back into flying condition. The Spanish Air Force mechanics worked hard to ensure that the required number of' 109s were ready for the filming to begin. $1,000 was allocated to each of the airworthy examples, and $600 for the taxying machines. The Spanish-built Messerschmitt was a radically different beast from the German Bf 109E variant, which fought in the 1940 Battle. Now fitted with the Merlin, the entire nose contours had been changed. There was little the film company could do about this, but it could re-model other areas of the Messerschmitts to be as close to the E model as possible. The paint scheme would be a great help in disguising the Buchon, but there were other 'specifics' which could be tackled as well. Dummy machine guns were fitted to the wings, the upper engine cowling had a couple of replica machine guns mounted, and , I 09E-style tail struts were added to the rear fuselage. But there was one important area which would make all the difference on screen.

Hamish Mahaddie takes up the story: In order to give a clear definition between the RAF and the Luftwaffe, we had the beautiful elliptical shape of the Spitfire Swing, and the cut off squared-look of the Messerschmitt. But the '109 built by the Spanish had nearly a metre of rounded wingtip. In charge of flying the Messerschmitts for the filming was Commandante Pedro Santa Cruz, and he was not all all happy when I suggested removing the round wingtips. I said that I would personally test the de-tipped Messerschmitt, and this was tantamount to an insult to a Spaniard, especially one of his ability, to say you will do something after inferring he cannot do it. Santa Cruz became very annoyed with me and said "Certainly not El Hamish" as he called me, "I will do the testing". We then removed the wingtips, faired the ends over and true to his word, Santa Cruz test flew the fighter, and was actually ecstatic about the performance of the aircraft, asking why the rounded wingtips had been fitted in the first place!

By late 1967 arrangements had been made with the Spaniards to use the airfield at Tablada to represent Germany and France in the film. The production was ready to roll and a first shooting date of Spring 1968 had been set by the producers and director. Battle of Britain was, at long last, underway.

 

 

 

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