THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN
"Battle of Britain - The Movie", by Robert J.
Rudhall, book excerpt #7
All text by the late Robert J. Rudhall, circa 2000
There is no doubt that Hamish Mahaddie had gathered together a formidable array of real aircraft to re-fight the Battle of Britain, but it was obvious that a certain amount of model work would still be needed for the film's extensive aerial dogfight sequences. Aircraft blowing up or crashing into the sea could not be simulated in any other way, apart from in model form. Work with miniatures in previous aviation films had often left something lacking in the credibility department. One only has to look back at productions such as 633 Squadron, The Way to the Stars, Angels One Five and Reach For the Sky, all of which were let down with the use of dubious-looking and sub-standard models. However, one must also bear in mind the time periods when these earlier films were made. These productions were obviously limited to the technology available at the time of shooting and really should be judged in this context.
Considering thatBattle Of Britain was in production just four years after the 'Airfix-style' Mosquito models were seemingly flying around flat comers in 633 Squadron, the scale aircraft used in Battle had come on in leaps and bounds, as had the handling and filming of them. It was in early 1967 that the decision was taken by Battle's producers to involve the model makers in the film's shooting. Under the control of John Siddal, who had been responsible for the stunning model work on Stanley Kubrick's 2001 A Space Odyssey, a team of four distinguished radio control model builders/flyers were gathered together. Mick Charles, Jack Molton, Chris Olsen and David Platt were contracted by Spitfire Productions to put together and fly a 'model air force'. Originally their task was to design and build three prototypes to asses the practicalities of using flying models in the film.
Three main types were chosen when work started at Pinewood Studios on January 16, 1967, the Junkers Ju 87 Stuka, Messerschmitt Bf 110 and Hawker Hurricane. The Stuka was actually modelled on the RAF Museum's late war Ju 87D model, as at that time it was thought that the real aircraft would be restored to flying condition and used in the aerial sequences. Filming requirements were mapped out and a total of 100 models were deemed necessary for the aerial scenes. This meant that a quick construction method had to be developed by the model makers. Jack Morton devised a moulding process for glass fibre construction, which at that stage was almost unheard of in model making circles.It was originally planned to have all of the aircraft equipped with retractable undercarriages, but it soon became apparent that this would lead to weight and complexity problems, so a launch trolley system was adopted which proved to be highly successful. Belly landing the models in the grass after filming proved to cause the least damage. With Hamish Mahaddie's negotiations bearing fruit with the Spanish Air Force, the model makers then centred their attentions on the Spitfire, Hurricane, Hispano Buchon and CASA 2.111.
All of the aircraft were constructed to one eighth scale, which was deemed large enough to portray the desired effect on screen, the team were provided with a small workshop at Pinewood Studios, and work started on the model production line. Aerial cameraman Skeets Kelly assessed the models for their ability to be 'mixed in' with the full scale aircraft, which proved to be remarkably good, but on March 10, 1967, the team received a letter from Hugh Atnvooll, the film's Production Supervisor, which read: Due to many factors it does not seem possible that the production of 'The Battle of Britain' can proceed. It is with great reluctance therefore, that I must give you the appropriate notice of termination of employment in accordance with your letter of engagement.
It is however, possible that, due to the circumstances, we may request an extension ofyour employment for one or two weeks to assist our endeavours to 'run down' our operations. May 1 take this opportunity of thanking you all for your assistance on this project and record the appreciation of myself and this Company for all your efforts. Yours Sincerely, for and on behalf of Spitfire Productions Ltd. Hugh Attwooll.
This was indeed a bitter blow for the team, and they all reluctantly went their separate ways.
However, just seven months later the film was back on track with a new financial backer, and the model makers returned to Pinewood. Jack Morton's fast construction method now came into its own, for as is usual in film work, everything was needed yesterday. A special dispensation had been arranged for the models to be able to fly without silencers fitted, which meant that the models could retain a more authentic profile, although the noise of the models flying through the air must have been deafening!
'Weathered' in accordance to that carried by the real aircraft, the model air force was then ready for the cameras. The Stukas were fitted with small bombs on bomb-release carriers, as used on the real Ju 87s. This meant that a separate radio control transmitter had to be used to make the Stukas release their deadly cargo during the attack on the Ventnor Radar Station scene (the only scene when the model Ju 87s would be used). This second transmitter could also be used to trigger off small explosive charges, which ignited fuel supplies carried in contraceptive condoms inserted inside the model Stukas.
Markings on the models had to be co-ordinated with the real aircraft for any given scene, and this certainly kept the continuity department staff busy. Much of the actual model filming was carried out near Lasham and Duxford, with a large-scale dummy radar station being constructed for the Ventnor scene. This consisted of the upper part ofthe four radar towers, as the lower portion would be built to full scale for the ground scenes in the film. The two portions would then be edited together in the cutting room after shooting was finished on the film. One memorable scene in the film features a pair of the Ju 87 models colliding in mid-air. This was totally unplanned, but was thankfully captured on film by six cameras. After watching the rushes the film's producers asked the model team to repeat the occurrence with other models, but try as they may it could not be done.
As with the full size aircraft, the weather interrupted the filming schedule, so much so that the model unit was moved out to Malta in order to secure some blue sky backdrops in October 1968. This was the last bout of flying for the film models, and with no further use for them, only three of the aircraft actually returned to the UK intact, the rest, their job done, were set on fire in a large bonfire at the Malta location, thus bringing to a close some 21 months of work for the model unit.
Viewed over three decades after they were filmed, the model sequences included in Battle still look convincing, despite great strides having subsequently been made in the area of models in films, and the almost taken for granted computer generated images in movies these days. That the model scenes still hold their own is testament indeed to the skills of a small closeknit and talented team who provided a very important part of the filming of Battle of Britain.
Visit the Models page of the Photo Gallery to see pictures of the aircraft models used in the movie
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