THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN
"Battle of Britain - The Movie", by Robert J.
Rudhall, book excerpt #3
All text by the late Robert J. Rudhall, circa 2000
To make a film on the scale of Battle of Britain was a massive undertaking. Both producers were well aware of the immense expense of launching into a project such as this, but to the ordinary film fan in the street, to comprehend the many 'behind the scenes' arrangements which have to be met if the production is to function, is difficult to say the least.
This can probably be served best by reproducing a Spitfire Productions memo (Company's Proposals for Mounting the flying Effort) which was circulated on February 1, 1968, with regard to the Ministry of Defence support requested for the movie. This gives some idea of the scale of the operations needed to put the 1940 conflict onto the cinema screen.
Aerial filming. This is planned to take place over the three months, May to July 1968, the intensive phase being during June and July. All filming at RAF airfields will take place during daylight hours and from Monday to Friday only.
Aircraft. 9 Spitfires, 3 Hurricanes and 18 Me 109s, 3 He 111s, 3 Stuka/ Proctor conversions, 1 helicopter and 1 B-25 photographic aircraft will be used. None of these aircraft belong to the Spanish Air Force: most are company-owned and the remainder are on loan from various non-Spanish sources. These aircraft will operate under civil licence and Board of Trade Certificates of Airworthiness are being obtained. In addition, the Company hope that the flying effort provided by these aircraft will be supplemented from time to time during the three months, May to July, by the RAF Memorial Flight (3 Spitfires and 1 Hurricane).
Operational Base. All the civil aircraft would for the most part operate from RAF Duxford - an inactive station - and be serviced there. The RAF Memorial Flight would normally operate from its home base (Coltishall).
Aircraft Servicing. This will be the responsibility of Simpson's Aero Services, under contract let by the film company, the aircraft will be serviced to Board of Trade regulations which are said to be even more stringent than those applicable in the Royal Air Force. Although the servicing company have sufficient licensed civil engineers (management staff), they do not posses the necessary skilled manpower at the supervisory levels and would have the greatest difficulty in recruiting this skilled manpower for such a short term task. Therefore, the film company propose that RAF tradesmen should fill the gap. These tradesmen would be required mainly for the supervision of Simpsons 'junior jitters and mechanics (mainly ex-Servicemen) on the daily maintenance of the Spitfires, Hurricanes and Me 109s, but would work as 'producers ' when necessary. Work on the Me 109 aircraft would be supervised mainly by Spanish Air Force engineers who would be on unpaid leave and in civilian uniforms.
Control of Flying Operations. Flying is planned to commence on a limited scale from Duxford on the 1st May 1968, with the intensive phase taking place from the 1st June to the 31st July. The film company propose that an RAF Wing Commander should be in control of the intensive flying operations and would be directly responsible to the film director for the execution of all flying sequences. His pilots would comprise British test pilots, ex-American and ex-Canadian Air Force and Spanish Air Force pilots in civilian guise, supplemented by a number of RAF pilots (QFI's in Flying Training Command). By having an RAF Wing Commander in charge, this should ensure that operations are conducted strictly in accordance with RAF procedures.
Conversion to type. Conversion to type will be carried out as follows: the company have a dual control Me 109 and Spitfire. One RAF QFI will be converted to the Me 109 by the Chief Pilot of the Spanish company who serviced the Me 109s for the Spanish Air Force. One RAF QFI will be converted to the Spitfire by a QFI of the Memorial flight. These two QFI will then convert the rest of the RAF pilots to the Me 109 and spitfire. The RAF pilots who will fly the Hurricanes will be given a briefing by the RAF Memorial flight Hurricane pilot. All the other aircraft involved will be flown by civil pilots, and these pilots, American, Canadian, Spanish and British, are very experienced on the types concerned.
Air Traffic Control.Arrangements are in hand with the National Air Traffic Control services for provision of air space for the aerial filming and it has been agreed that the Military Air traffic Organisation should exercise air traffic control of all flying undertaken in connection with the film. Flying will be conducted strictly in accordance with current military regulations. Thus there will be no unauthorised low flying or any other infringements of aviation rules likely to cause annoyance to other aviators or to the public.
Control of RAF Personnel. The RAF Project Officer will command the personnel on loan to the company and would be responsible for their discipline and welfare. They will be accommodated at a nearby RAF station (probably Bassingbourn) who will provide full parenting facilities.
Accommodation at Henlow. Three small hangars and office accommodation for the refurbishing of vintage aircraft - flying and nonflying - for use in the production ofthe jilm. This accommodation will be required until about the 1st May 1968.
Airfields. The inactive RAF airfield at Duxford including several buildings for the period 1st February to 31stAugust 7 months) as the main base from which aerial activity will take place. Filming activities are also required at other airfields which are currently being assessed for suitability by the film director. These will probably be Bicester, Debden, Cardington and North Weald - the latter was transferred to the Army Department. With the exception of North Weald, filming activity will be on a small scale mainly to provide different backgrounds. Therefore, interference with normal RAF operations is unlikely.
Vehicles -required at Duxford. 1st May to 15th August. (For Airfield Safety Service) 1 Mk 5 or Mk 6 Fire truck, 1 dual purpose Fire/Crash truck, 1 Landrover, 1 Ambulance. (For conveyance of stores and personnel) 1 passenger/cargo van, 1 minicar. (For towing aircraft and ground purposes) 2 Light tractors.
Parachutists. 6 volunteer parachutists are required between 10lh and 17th June and 81h and 15th July for scenes showing German and British aircrews abandoning their aircraft over English countryside and the sea. The precise method of shooting these scenes has yet to be settled, but we have suggested that the parachutists should be filmed climbing out of the 109s and Spitfires in a wind tunnel and that the actual jumps should be done from a helicopter above a regular parachute-dropping zone. Control of jumping operations should be vested in the senior RAF parachutist taking part.
These requirements passed through many offices within the RAF and MoD before an agreement was reached. Even then, it was plain that this level of cooperation was not going to come free of charge. There would also be a number of conditions which would have to be met if the film company were to benefit from the full backing of the RAF. A Ministry of Defence document dated March 27, 1968, sent to Spitfire Productions Ltd, set out those terms and conditions needed.
The initial loan of RAF personnel, operative from 19th February, 1968, consists of 8 engineering tradesmen, supplemented by a further 13 on 11th March, who will carry out their duties at RAF Henlow and later at RAF Duxford (subject to the conclusion ofa separate agreement covering the leasing of that station) whilst on loan to your company. Any further RAF personnel (including any extra personnel who may be attached to RAF Bassingbourn in support of loaned personnel, e.g. catering staff) and any supply of vehicles, equipment or aircraft, will be listed as additional annexes to the agreement and will be loaned subject to the same terms and conditions or to such amendments as may be mutually agreed.
It is estimated that the total costs of supplying the RAF assistance, as itemised, which your company has requested, will be in the region of ฃ139,000. This figure is quoted solely for your guidance and is based on a current assessment of probable costs. It excludes the costs of any additional RAF personnel or other RAF assistance including issues of equipment etc, that may be required from time to time.
This document also laid out the insurance required from Spitfire Productions with regard to the MoD participating aircraft and equipment.
To effect with an insurance company or companies a policy or policies of insurance covering loss of or damage to historic aircraft provided by the Royal Air Force: each aircraft in a non-flying condition to be insured in the sum ofฃ5,000, and each aircraft from the Royal Air Force Memorial Flight to be insured in the sum of ฃ10,000.
Strict guidelines were also issued regarding the use of RAF personnel and aircraft to be employed during the period of filming.
The company will accept responsibility for the serviceability of all aircraft serviced by RAF personnel on loan to the company. RAF personnel on loan will not be permitted to certify aircraft as serviceable for flight.
The company will obtain British certificates of Airworthiness or Permits to Fly for all aircraft (other than those aircraft loaned from the RAF Memorial Flight) used for flying during the production of the film in accordance with Board of trade rules.
RAF aircraft on loan to the company (other than those of the RAF Memorial Flight) will not be flown without the written permission of the Ministry of defence; RAF aircraft will not be cannibalised for any purpose whatsoever; and RAF pilots only will fly RAF-owned aircraft.
In a separate letter, dated March 27, 1968, the MoD outlined to the film company the use that could be made of the facilities at Duxford. This included:
Use of Buildings on the Domestic Site-Officers Mess (38 bedrooms, dining room, billiard room and large ladies room), sergeant Pilot" Mess (16 rooms), H Block Airmen's Quarters (No's 212, 213, 214) Airmen's Blocks (7, 9, 13), Sergeant's Mess (16 single quarters and annex consisting of22 single quarters), Airmen's Mess.
Use of Buildings on the Airfield -Armoury, Air Traffic Control, Carpenters Shop, Old Equipment section, Station Headquarters, Guard Room, Frontal offices by hangars, 4 Hangars, plus Use of runways and peri track and bays along the boundary of the airfield.
The rental assessment, taking into consideration the extensive repair and decorating work which your company will need to carry out at their own expense before the accommodation is suitable for occupation, is as follows: Airfield, hangars and ancillary buildings - ฃ4,000 per month. Domestic Site buildings - ฃ2,000 per month.
While these outlined costings pale into insignificance when it comes to the sums of money expended by film-makers today, it has to be remembered that this was 1967 and the sums of money mentioned above had to be spent before any of the actual filming could begin.
Saltzman and Fisz soon learnt that to produce Battle of Britain on the scale demanded to ensure an authentic end product was going to cost them a lot more than they had originally envisaged!
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