THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN
"Battle of Britain - The Movie", by Robert J.
Rudhall, book excerpt #9
All text by the late Robert J. Rudhall, circa 2000
While the aerial unit was shooting the Spanish sequences, director Guy Hamilton was having a fleet of replica Spitfires and Hurricanes built in readiness for the film's airfield attack scenes in the UK. Even though some 27 real Spitfires were available for the cameras, it was deemed that this was not enough if the airfields were to look fully ' inhabited' and convincing. This lack of aircraft problem was even more critical with Hurricanes, as only six were available and many more would be needed if RAF Fighter Command of 1940 were to be convincingly portrayed.
Therefore a temporary ' factory' was set up in three purpose-built tents measuring 120ft by 80ft. Inside the 'factory', supervisor Ken Softly and his construction team set about building Hurricane and Spitfire fighters, using moulds cast from Spitfire V BM597 and Hurricane IIC LF751. A good number of these replicas would meet a fiery end during the film's bombing scenes. Most were pure static facsimiles, but some were fitted with motorcycle engines to turn the propellers. These examples would be towed by wires into bomb craters or exploded while 'taxying' on screen. Ken and his crew even produced a full size CASA 2.111 , used in the Heinkel crash scene, in which the crew is being rescued after a belly landing back in France. This sequence is reported to have been shot in the fields at the back of Pinewood Film Studios.
Considering that the replica aircraft were built for the purpose of being blown up or wrecked in the film's attack scenes, they were highly detailed, which in terms of authenticity on screen, was highly commendable, but this attention to detail by Ken and the rest of the construction crew caused a number of other problems never originally envisaged by the film-makers. When the airfields at Duxford, Hawkinge and N0l1h Weald were dressed with a host of realand replica Spitfires, it was sometimes difficult to tell the difference. On several occasions pilots and groundcrews had approached the wrong aircraft, mistaking a Mark Addie or replica for an airworthy aircraft, which to say the least was embarrassing for all concerned.
These instances led to some of the RAF contingent issuing an unofficial set of 'Pilots Notes', which were rapidly circulated around all those on the 'set' with a sense of humour!
The Spitfire Mk.68
Description and Identification
The Spitfire Mk.68 is an elliptical winged, single engined aircraji, but beyond this description and identification becomes a little difficult. The Spitfire is normally powered by a Rolls-Royce Merlin, but some Mk.68 variants are fitted with a 3 horsepower (hp) single cylinder engine usually filched from an unsuspecting lawn mower. (Note: Mk.68 aircraft are easily identified by their three bladed, zero thrust propellers, and also the fact that they are made of fibreglass. Rumours that these aircraft are made by Airfix and can be bought as kits from Woolworths, price 6/ 11 d -engine extra are entirely discounted).
Pre Mk.68 Spitfires can be divided into three main types, flyers, taxiers and ornaments. Unfortunately they are not easily distinguishable, except in the case of the taxiers which are attempted to be flown, lateral stability being noted to be sadly lacking, due to the fact that the ailerons are not connected up.
Identification by markings is rendered impossible by a group of highly skilled and enthusiastic painters employed by the company, who insist on altering all aircraft markings and letters after each sortie.
'Starting the Engine
The engine may - or may not start. Failure to start is usually due to misidentification (see previous paragraph), but may also be due to a variety of other reasons. A positive engine start can normally be ascertained by any of the following symptoms
1: A small or even large fire burning in the exhaust, or anywhere else for that matter.
2: Groundcrew lying in wounded or maimed attitudes around the aircraft.
3: Aircraft pitches over onto its nose (Engine should normally stop if this occurs, so repeat starting procedure).
4: Crash tender seen leaving for tea-break (normally in association with symptoms mentioned above).
The aircraft is fitted with VHF radio and also a locally fitted substitute. On No Account use the aircraft'sVHF equipment, as its secondary function is to act as a rear fuselage heater; however the heater function does not use a smokeless fuel and the cockpit will, like as not, fill with thick fumes and smoke, which contravenes the clean air act. Communication with ATC is best accompanied by letter or post-card, but if you feel you must talk to SA TCO, always go through Radio Rentals Ltd.
The Spitfire Mk.68 is fitted with many ancillary devices designed to promote the health, comfort and convenience of the pilot. Take for instance the 'canteen substitute' device fitted to the engine. Pilots may have noticed copious amounts of steam issuing from the side of the engine very shortly after start-up. Wise pilots will have a quarter pound of tea placed in the radiator before start-up, thus ensuring a nice 'hot cuppa' in the event of a force landing, which is quite likely. The steam can also be used to cook edible roots or to take an instant Turkish Bath, whichever the situation may warrant.
The Spitfire Mk.68 is a remarkable aircraft in all respects. It is a joy to fly, and an even greater joy to land. Treatit badly and it will treat you in a like manner, but treat it with the respect it deserves and in all probability it will finish you off altogether!
One 'real' aircraft type, which was almost extinct, but would have to be portrayed in the film, was the Junkers Ju 87, Germany's infamous Stuka dive bomber. Stukas were used by the Luftwaffe in the first phase of the Battle, during the attacks on Britain's radar stations. This aircraft type would have to make an appearance in the film if the whole story of the Battle was to be accurately depicted. Spitfire Productions only had one Stuka on strength, that being Ju 87D-5w/nr 494083, which was on loan from the Ministry of Defence. The MoD at first refused permission for the film company to restore this aircraft to flying condition, although it is believed that Simpson's Aero Services engineers actually managed to get the engine running on one occasion.
Another avenue would have to be explored in order to get Stukas into the film. Once again Vivian Bellamy's expertise in replica building was called upon.
We had this idea of converting a Percival Proctor into a sort of one-third scale Stuka,recalled Vivian in 1997. I bought three complete Proctors, plus a dismantled airframe for spares and converted two into Stuka lookalikes. By altering the fuselage, taking out the four-seat cabin, and making the glasshouse-style cockpit canopy to fit what we had left, we had a basic Stuka-looking fuselage. I then took the wings off and altered the centre-section of the wing to resemble the inverted gull-wing configuration, which the Stuka was well known for.
The un-altered outer wing sections were then bolted back onto the centre section. We put a larger engine in the airframe, and modified the fin, rudder and tailplane to have that angular look. I thought that with the bigger engine and the larger control surfaces at the rear of the aircraft, it should fly pretty well, but in reality it was bloody awful. The one aircraft, which we actually flew for around five hours before the project got the chop, wallowed about all the time, and we could not actually carry out the near vertical dives which were the trademark of the Ju 87. In reality we could have carried out the dives, but the wings would have come off when we pulled up after releasing the bombs, which was hardly a practical proposition at all. So my scale Stuka was not used. Instead the film company had some large scale radio controlled models built and they were used in the final film.
As time went on the Ministry of Defence realised that Spitfire Productions could safely operate the fleet of vintage aircraft in their control, and permission is reported to have eventually been granted to restore the real Stuka to flying condition. Sadly this revelation came too late for the film, as it would have taken up far too much money to instigate the restoration of the Ju 87, and it would never have been ready in time to meet the filming schedule, so the Stuka remained on the ground.
"God's teeth, take cover!" - Kenneth More
While preparations were being made to welcome the aerial unit back from Spain, there was much to be done behind the scenes. John Wilson Apperson, the film's wardrobe manager, was in the process of having up to 2,000 costumes made for the actors and actresses to wear. Ron Baker, one of the production's 'props men' managed to acquire a dozen Spitfire and Hurricane gun sights and a stock of Spitfire main wheels. A security company was contracted to carry out guard duties at the film's main airfield locations, in the expectation of many hundreds of onlookers, who could not only endanger themselves during
the forthcoming bombing scenes, but could actually get in the way of air-to-ground photography.
With the large numbers of vintage aircraft being employed in the film, it was obvious that a support organisation would be a major requirement in keeping all of the fighters and bombers serviceable. While John 'Tubby' Simpson and his engineers would, with the benefit of hindsight, work absolute wonders, a consortium of companies from Britain's aircraft industry was 'seconded' for extra back-up. Indeed, a large-scale technical team had been built up to coordinate and oversee the production, as well as a number of British and German technical advisors.
I was in effect a Bomber Baronremembered Hamish Mahaddie in 1988. I spent all of my war in RAF Bomber Command, so I felt it was not right that I was the only technical advisor on Battle of Britain. I brought in some of the RAF's fighter aces from 1940 so that they could watch the filming and advise if things were not being carried out correctly. People like Stanford-Tuck and Ginger Lacey were invaluable, because they knew what Fighter Command was like in 1940, and were therefore able to keep a wary eye on what went into the cameras each day.
We didn't have many real problems because the producers and director had done their homework well, but we did, from time to time, have trouble with some of the less famous actors who were in the film. People like Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine were fine, but the younger up-and-coming actors sometimes got delusions of grandeur. I remember one of them saying that he was not happy about wearing the pilot's oxygen mask, as 'his public' would not be able to recognise him in the cockpit scenes.So Ginger Lacey said to him one day 'Look, you see that film extra stood over there, well he will be more than happy to wear the mask and swap his £25 per day for your £250 per day'. From that day on we had no more trouble with the 'bit players'. Ginger Lacey was very effective in what he did on the film.
Battle of BritainTechnical Advisory Team
|Chief Technical Advisor||G/C TG Mahaddie DSO DFC AFC C.Eng, AFRaeS|
W/CCG St Jeffries DFC
|Ministry of Defence (RAF) Policy||AB Twist (DPR Dept)|
|RAF Project Officer||W/C CG St Jeffries DFC|
|Tactical Advisor RAF:||W/C R R Stanford Tuck DSO DFC|
|Deputy:||S/L J Lacey D FM|
|Research, Air Historical Branch:||L A Jackets|
||W/C M G Lovell RAF
HQ Fighter Command
||W/C C Legge W AAF
HQ Fighter Command
|Tactical Advisors (Luftwaffe):||General A Galland|
|Deputy:||Oberst H Brustellin|
||F/L R G Boorman
|Simpsons Aero Services:||John Simpson|
|Field Support Consortium:||Rolls-Royce|
|Military Air Traffic Organisation:
||W/C L C Young (RAF)
Arnold Field (CAA)
|Air Registration Board
(Aircraft Importation & Re-export):
|Aircraft Entry Carnet
(Royal Aero Club):
|Customs Advisor:||J G Lambie|
|Madrid British Embassy: (Air Attache)||G/C R Coulson|
|Spitfire Production Office:||Agustin Pastor|
|Malaga:||Lt Col D Antonia Rivas Monroe|
|Tablada:||Cmdt Col J M A Del Valle Rodriguez|
|Officer I C Maintenance:||Capt Francisco Sanchez Collado|
|Chief Test Pilot (Bf 109s):||Cmdt Pedro Santa Cruz|
During the time while the aerial unit were in Spain, the film's major 'stars', in the human sense of the word, were being 'called up' for duty and were in the studios filming the interior scenes for the movie. The interiors were a mixture of real locations and recreations; the latter specially built at Pinewood. The early pre-credits scene in the film, where Dowding (Sir Laurence Olivier) walks down the long passage en-route to the lift which serves Sir Francis Stokes' (Harry Andrews) office, was shot in the Ministry of Defence buildings in Whitehall, London. The lift attendant was played by 69-year-old Edward Williams, a role he took in real life. This short scene was filmed on a quiet Sunday morning, so that the film crew would not disturb the workings of the 'powers that be' at Whitehall in their day to day tasks.
Other interiors had to be painstakingly re-created for the cameras. Air Chief Marshal Dowding's office at Bentley Priory was pieced together at Pinewood, using period photographs and the help of Dowding's one-time right-hand man, Robert Wright. Air Vice Marshall Keith Park's (Trevor Howard) main operations room was another which had to be built especially for the production. Some of the actors with smaller roles (Nigel Patrick, Sir Michael Redgrave etc) were able to complete their scenes for the film in a matter of days, whereas the more major players were involved for a lot longer, especially those who had airfield sequences as well as interior scenes to film.
"Don't just stand there, get one up" - Robert Shaw
Before the flying unit arrived back in Britain from Spain, negotiations were being carried out between the film company and the UK's air traffic control services. To film the aerial dogfights forBattle of Britain it would require sizeable slices of airspace, which for safety reasons would have to be kept clear of other aircraft. Wing Commander Leslie Young, a senior RAF air traffic controller, was seconded to Spitfire Productions by the Ministry of Defence, and it was his task to oversee the flying operations and co-ordinate airspace requirements.
In an unprecedented move, three corridors of the sky above East Anglia and the Midlands were allocated to the film company by the Military Air Traffic Organisation for the duration of shooting. Each of these measured 50 miles long by ten miles wide. NOTAMS (Notices to Airmen) were issued when filming was to take place which in effect cleared these corridors of any unwanted aircraft.
The Royal Air Force agreed to provide a number ofpi lots to fly the Hurricanes and Spitfires during filming, and, as one could imagine, when this news broke there were lots of eager pilots clamouring to get their names down on the list. From those that applied a final list of ten was drawn up, all of which were Qualified Flying Instructors, with fighter backgrounds. Led by Wing Commander George Elliot from HQ Flying Training Command (who personally selected the pilots by giving them a one hour flight in one ofthe Spitfire Tr.9s to see if they could safely handle the aircraft), the rest of the 'lucky ones' included: Sqn Ldr M A Vickers - RAF Valley, Sqn Ldr S St J Homer - Edinburgh University Air Squadron, Sqn Ldr D J Spink - RAF Acklington, Sqn Ldr D W Mills - RAF Cranwell, FltLt M R Merrett - RAF Linton-on-Ouse, Flt Lt D J Curry - RAF Manby, Flt Lt R D Coles - RAF Little Rissington, Flt Lt R B Lloyd - RAF Little Rissington and Flt Lt J M Preece - RAF Oabngton.
At the end of the Spanish filming a roster was drawn up at Tablada as to which pilots would be flying the Messerschmitt 109s for the British sequences. The following Spanish Air Force pilots were granted limited periods of leave of absence from their military duties: Pedro Santa Cruz Barcelo, Ramon Guiterrez Martinez, Jose Manuel Alvarez Coterillo, Eladio Ramos Gutierre, Jose Mingot Garcia, Fernando De Artega Danvilla, Jose Antonio Garcia Perez, Julio Arrabal Teran, Jesus Fernandez Trujillo, Carlos Diego Garcia-Bermudez, Fortunato Lanzaron Olmos, Francisco Alvarez Redono, Manuel Cabello Arcas, Francisco Meseguer Garcia, Camillo Vazquez Herjas and Pedro Nieto Matrinez. Wilson Connie Edwards, from the Confederate Air Force in Texas, and Vivian Bellamy in England would accompany these pilots for the flight to England.
May 14, 1968, dawned cold and windy. It was hardly good conditions to welcome the flying unit from Spain. The Heinkels, Messerschmitts, Spitfire and Mitchell had taken five days to fly from Tablada to Duxford, initially landing at RAF Manston in Kent to clear customs, and if this was the sort of weather the film unit would have to put up with in the UK, then things did not look too good for keeping the production on schedule. One Heinkel and a Messerschmitt were stuck in Jersey after suffering taxying accidents on landing, but the rest of the fleet made it to Duxford, after some confusion which saw the formation orbiting over the City of Cambridge. A Spitfire and Hurricane from the RAF's Battle of Britain Flight at Coltishall, plus one of the film's two-seat Spitfires, had earlier launched out of Duxford in order to welcome the 'Luftwaffe' to Britain, which was indeed a portent of things to come.
With a strong crosswind that day at Duxford, there were a few' dodgy' moments as the tired pilots brought their aircraft in to land, but all got down safely and were battened down for the night in readiness for the aerial dogfights to come.
"Don't you yell at me, Mister Warwick" - Susannah York
As with the Spanish shooting, the film unit was dogged with bad weather in England during the summer of'68. During late May the French airfield scenes were being shot at the south-western end of Duxford, where the film company had built an impressive-looking chateau. Tents, vehicles and ancillary equipment surrounded this facade, completing the illusion of an Allied Expeditionary Force airfield in northern France at the time of Dunkirk.
While the ground scenes were relatively easy to put 'into the can' the schedule was delayed when it came to filming the Hurricanes taking off. The rain had rendered the grass area on that side of Duxford Airfield unusable and this meant several days of waiting around for the grass to dry before any filming
could take place. This scenario of the filming schedule being dictated by the weather conditions had a critical effect on the film's finances, and on more than one occasion Harry Saltzman had to fly out to United Artists in the USA in order to negotiate extra cash for the production.
Almost every day, the pilots, groundcrews, cameramen, and all the other technical personnel needed to operate the vintage aircraft fleet, would arrive for briefing at 8am, the sorties of the day would be planned and agreed, the aircraft would be warmed up, only to have the clouds roll in and put a stop to any flying activities for the whole day. This happened time and time again during May, June and July.
The days when the weather was set fair, it was a 'maximum effort' to get as much aerial footage filmed as was humanly possible. Duxford Airfield came alive as the Spitfires, Hurricanes, Messerschmitts and Heinkels, plus the B25, got airborne and headed off over East Anglia for the filming corridors in the sky. Around an hour later they would all return and the sortie would be debriefed. Sometimes during the evening the previous day's footage, the 'rushes', as they are known in the film industry, would be viewed by the director, producers and pilots over in Duxford's former camp cinema.
Luckily we managed to attain a fairly good aircraft serviceability record during filming,recalled Hamish Mahaddie. I originally had allowed for one aircraft "to be lost each week, and at the end of the filming schedule we would have no aircraft left. But due to the sheer hard work and determination by Tubby Simpson and his engineers we kept the fleet going right up to the end.
We had very few real spares we could turn our hands to, so iffor instance we had a radiator problem, Tubby would whip it off the aircraft and tear off to Delaney Galley, the radiator specialists, who would fix it overnight, and the radiator would be back on the aircraft by late morning the following day. Trouble was, Tubby was the sort of person who could not really delegate work, and he ended up doing most of it himself. He sadly died shortly after we had finished the film and I'm sure that it was due to the very high workload shouldered by him in keeping all the aircraft flying.
The unenviable task of keeping all of the aircraft under control on the ground and in the air at Duxford fell to Squadron Leader Ron Chadwick. It was his job to see that the laws of the air were obeyed at all times, and it was no mean feat to cope with the vagaries of some 30-plus vintage aircraft on a day to day basis. On the grounds of safety, no low level beat ups were authorised, although some did inevitably take place by some of the more exuberant pilots when they returned from filming sorties.
The British Board of Trade had issued the Messerschmitts and Heinkels with restricted permits to fly, which enabled them to get airborne for the purposes of aerial filming and moving location only. With the exception of the aircraft operated by the RAF's Battle of Britain Flight, this meant that the film's aircraft fleet was not allowed to take part in any air displays during the months of production.
"We either stand down or blow up, which do you want?" - Michael Caine
Surprisingly accidents during filming were few and far between. One of the Messerschmitts, C4K-61 (G-AWHF), was written off when it groundlooped on landing after a filming flight on May 21 . Wilson Connie Edwards, one of the American Confederate Air Force pilots working on the film, belly landed one of the two-seat Spitfires IXs, MJ772 (G-AVAV), at Little Staughton on July 9 after suffering engine failure during one of the filming sorties.
One of the taxying Spitfires collided with a camera crew at Duxford, thankfully without any major injuries to the crew or damage to the aircraft, during a take off scene, while at North Weald another of the 'taxiers', (XVI TE384), was tipped up onto its nose by actor Robert Shaw, who got a little over enthusiastic with the brakes during the middle of 'Weald's famous 'scramble'.
One of the film's 'few' was Squadron Leader Mike Vickers. Mike at that time was a QFI at RAF Valley and was coming to the end of his posting at the base. After having served in the Fleet Air Arm during the war, aboard HMS Formidable in the Pacific, Mike transferred to the RAF in 1949 and had flown many hours in piston-engined aircraft. He was just what the film's flying unit was looking for. After being selected, the then 44 year-old Mike reported to Duxford on April 24, 1968, to meet Wing Commander George Elliot, who was the 'flying boss' for the RAF side of the operation. I was the first of those selected to arrive, remembered Mike Vickers in 1999, so George Elliot made me his number two. That afternoon, George, who was the only really operational Spitfire pilot amongst us, checked me out on one of the film's two-seat Spitfires. I was subsequently given the task of checking out the rest of the pilots from the RAF as they arrived. We were initially based at RAF Debden, which was then the RAF Police Dog Training School, and we carried out most of the 'workup' flying, plus some of the early filming from there.
As the various Spitfires and Hurricanes were made ready at Henlow they needed air testing and flying over to Debden. On one occasion I went over to Henlow to test and hopefully bring back Spitfire IIa P7350, which had actually flown in the real Battle of Britain. When I got the aircraft airborne I noticed that the radiator temperature was rising rapidly, so I quickly had to throttle back and return to the airfield.
It transpired that Mike's problem with the Spitfire was caused by a blocked radiator, a common occurrence with some of the film's aircraft, which had been sat around in museums for some considerable time. After the radiator had been flushed out a couple of times the fighter was deemed to be ready for collection. This was plainly not the case, as Mike recalled. On the day I collected the Spitfire, it happened again. I arrived overhead Debden only to find the radiator temperature soaring over the limit. On that occasion I had to shut the engine down and carry out a glide approach and landing. As the aerial shooting gathered momentum we operated out of Debden, Duxford, Hawkinge and North Weald. On the odd occasions we also used Netheravon, Lympne and Sywell. As more aircraft arrived from Henlow we were able to film larger formations, but this sometimes got a little complicated. The flying unit was under the direction of David Bracknell, and each evening we would have a conference when the next day's scenes would be explained. We would decide what was possible from the flying point of view and work out the number of aircraft needed, depending on what we had serviceable at the time.
If the Messerschmitts or Heinkels were needed, then Santa Cruz would organise that side of the operation. Difficulties would often arise when the Spanish pilots were required to take part in scenes together with the Hurricanes and Spitfires. Only one of the Spanish team understood sufficient English to translate what was required to the rest of the Spanish pilots. Sometimes he got it right and sometimes he didn't which we generally did not find out until we had got airborne. If the Spanish had taken off first, an initial problem then arose because they would often get lost and stray into controlled airspace, start shouting at each other and block up the radio frequency.
It was very difficult to restore any semblance of order, but eventually, usually by courtesy of Midlands Radar, we would get the Spanish contingent to rejoin and take up their positions for filming. But this was not the end of the problems, as when the director called 'action' we would discover that another misunderstanding had arisen in the translation and the Spaniards would fly off in the wrong direction! Unfortunately this pantomime happened more than once.
"We were up sir, trying to knock out the enemy en masse" - Patrick Wymark
During the time the film unit was operating at Duxford, it was visited by the world's press on more than one occasion, and often accompanying the media were former wartime fighter aces from both sides of the conflict. On May 26 Lord Dowding, who many feel was the architect of Britain's victory in 1940, visited the airfield, having previously been to Pinewood Studios for a few days to watch Sir Laurence Olivier taking his part for the cameras.
Vivian Bellamy was present at Duxford on the day of Dowding's visit.It had been arranged that during a break in filming some of the Spitfires would be flown for Dowding and the press people, remembered Vivian. Not wanting to be outdone, after the Spitfires had landed, Pedro Santa Cruz and the rest of the Spanish pilots took up all the Messerschmitts and proceeded to carry out a formation roll at 800 feet. It was very impressive to watch.
As with any aerial war film there would be a requirement for pilots and crews to be seen bailing out of their stricken aircraft and parachuting safely to the -ground. Several of these would be seen to 'roman candle' (parachute failing to open) as did happen all too often during the war, on both sides of the conflict. For these shots one of the film company's two-seat Spitfires was used, with a dummy strapped to the wing or fitted inside the front cockpit. Dummies were also dropped from the unit's Alouette helicopter. At a given moment the dummy would be released and fall to the ground in camera-shot.It was while the unit was operating out of Duxford that the majority of the film's parachuting scenes were shot. For the successful parachuting descents a team of stuntmen were employed to carry out this demanding task.
One of these was Derek Baker, a former member of the Parachute Regiment, who has since spent a considerable time in the film industry acting as a stuntman, plus stand-in for such well known stars as Michael Caine, Lewis Collins, Sean Connery and Charlton Heston. Derek acted as the jumpmaster during the filming ofWhere Eagles Dare and has fond memories of flying through the Swiss Alps in a Junkers Ju 52. He also participated in the productions of The Eagle Has Landed, Batman as well the James Bond films On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Octopussy, A View to a Kill and The Living Daylights.
I was interviewed and taken on by Sydney Streeter, the film'sProduction Supervisor, said Derek in a 1997 interview with the author. My main involvement was at Duxford, during August and September 1968. We had a group of people, which were designated as the jump team working in conjunction with 'Jeff' Hawke in the camera ship. It was our job to co-ordinate the various jumps to comply with what Guy Hamilton wanted on any particular day. The weather had to be just right of course, too low cloud and it was not worth jumping in the first place, and if the wind was too strong we would be blown away from the drop zone. We fitted up a sort of children's slide in the lower gun gondola in the two Heinkel bombers, so that we could slide straight out in a safe exit from the aircraft. We all had to wear the appropriate costumes, depending on whether we were supposed to be portraying the British or Germans, and these costumes had to be modified for us to use.
We were using the wartime round canopy, but we also had reserve parachutes in case the round ones didn't deploy properly. The seat-type parachute pack, where the round canopy was supposed to deploy from, was in actual fact the housing for the reserve system. The main canopy was attached with a bellyband to our chests and in to a cable system up on top of our shoulder. As we exited the aircraft we pulled the main chute on our chest, which fired out and as soon as it was open we then released the belly-band. This fell away, so that when we came into camera view there was nothing on our chest and the flapping seat-type parachute pack was still in place with the reserve if we needed it. I suppose we carried out about 25 jumps in all, and the director then picked which ones he wanted to use in the finished film.
A Dragon Rapide was used on one occasion when the director wanted to film a series of parachute jumps with people in different costumes. We took off from Duxford and dropped on the far side of the airfield. I also did the Polish Hurricane pilot jump, when he lands in the cornfield and the farmers rush up to him with the pitchforks. When you see the long shot of the pilot coming down to the ground, that's me on the end of the parachute. The film then cuts into close-up with the actor taking off the parachute harness. I jumped out of the Alouette helicopter for that shot.
Derek spent seven weeks working on the film and the Hurricane bail-out scene was filmed on his 30th birthday. Unbeknown to him, Guy Hamilton knew this and asked Derek do the shot twice. On the second 'take' all the film crew burst into 'Happy Birthday' as Derek floated to the ground in the field!
"Silence, in Polish!" - Barry Foster
The bombing of Duxford Airfield is one of the most impressive scenes in the film, but this sequence alone has been the subject of more debate than any other in the film's history. At the time of filming, no future purpose had been found for Duxford. There was talk of it being converted into an Open Prison after the film unit had left, by which token some of the airfield's buildings would be demolished to make way for new ones.
Duxford's Belfast Truss hangars had been in existence since World War One, but one would bite the dust in the most controversial part of the film company's involvement with the airfield. After much debate between the producers and director, as to whether Spitfire Productions had actually got permission to blow up any of the airfield's buildings, it was decided to go ahead with the main airfield attack scene on June 21.
Mike Vickers remembers this day well:Paths were marked out with white tape to indicate safe passage between the explosive charges, which had been buried in the grass. The explosions were then triggered off as we were taxying our aircraft along the safe paths. No one had, however, thought of all the smoke, dust and debris which would reduce the visibility to zero. After the explosions started we could not see the marked fanes at all and therefore the scene became very hairy. Indeed, it was during this sequence that one of the Spitfires inadvertently taxied into one of the camera crews, thankfully doing little damage.
Earlier in the day, special effects coordinators Cliff Richardson and Glenn Robinson prepared the hangar for' demolition'. They placed inside half a ton of gelignite and three full oil bowsers, all of which were wired up to the main control panel.
As the Spitfires scrambled a series of charges were set off down the airfield to simulate a stick of bombs falling from the marauding Heinkels. When it came to the big hangar explosion, nothing happened! The charges placed inside had failed to detonate. 'Cut', called Guy Hamilton, and all eyes then turned to Richardson and Robinson. With their considerable reputations firmly on the line, they walked into the hangar. This was at great risk to themselves, as the explosive could still ignite! After checking the system, and making good all the fuses and relay switches, they emerged and said that the hangar was ready. By this time the light had started to diminish and the hangar explosion sequence was postponed until the following day.
On June 22 the crew assembled again, and with the great sense of relief on the part of Cliff and Glenn, the hangar went up in a tremendous sheet of flame and smoke. Expertly cut in to the previous day's shooting by the film's editing team, this, on screen, looks like one long continuous 'take'.It was during the bombing of Duxford that a good number of the replica aircraft met their end. Some were simply blown to bits where they stood, others had a more complex role to play. When one sees a Spitfire crash into a fuel bowser, it was a carefully wired replica, which was guided to follow a particular path and then hit the tanker. On impact the explosives crew detonated the charge to blow up the fuel tanker. The replica was 'taxied' by Ken King and Les Steele, who were in charge of the replica aircraft effects. Pulling the Spitfire along on a pair of wires it was guided towards the bowser and the rest is history. Sadly in the finished film, the vehicle explodes a split second before the Spitfire hits it, and there is the sound of screeching tyres, which considering that the Spitfire is taxying on grass, was a bit of an oversight on somebody's part in the sound department!
With the typically British summer disrupting the aerial scenes, time was rurming out for Hamilton to capture the required flying footage. In an effort to get some better weather and with it the chance to finish offthe dogfight sequences, it was decided to take some of the aircraft down to the south of France, where it was hoped that the sun would be out and the skies would be blue. Mike Vickers was one of the pilots to go on this 'jaunt'.We took nine Spitfires (G-AIST, ASJV, ASSD, AVDJ, AWGB, AWIJ, AB910, PM631 and PS853), three Messerschmitts (G-AWHC' AWHH and AWHT) and the Mitchell to Montpellier. On August 10 we took off from Duxford and cleared customs at Cambridge Airport. Flying in easy stages via Le Touquet, Dinard for a night stop, Bordeaux, where we stopped for refuelling, and then onto Montpellier. Our arrival made the television, radio and newspapers and there was quite a crowd to greet us. We spent nine happy and gastronomic, days filming in the Mediterranean sunshine, and drinking good French wine. However, the Camargue or the Etang du Thau did not bear much resemblance to the south-east of England, so I think that some ofthe footage we shot there was wasted and was never used in the film. It was with some reluctance that we retraced our steps to Cambridge, stopping this time at Bordeaux, refuelling at Nantes and Le Touquet, before arriving back at Duxford on the evening of August 22. After a short time renewing our acquaintances with our families, we were back struggling with the British weather.
At this stage the film was reportedly costing somewhere in the region of £20,000 per day, the original ten to twelve week schedule for the filming of the aerial sequences had gone 'out of the window' and there were still scenes to be completed. By now the Spanish Air Force pilots were having to return home as their 'leave of absence' was coming to an end.It was another crisis point for Battle of Britain.
Because the Spaniards were leaving, some of us were converted onto the Messerschmitts, remembered Mike Vickers. At that time J also got involved in some of the camerawork myself. There were a couple of scenes which required shooting from inside the cockpit of a Spitfire, one was of Simon, a new pilot with little experience, becoming disorientated and getting lost in the sky, before being shot down by a Messerschmitt.
"Ifwe're right, they'll give up. If we're wrong they'll be in London in a week" - Laurence Olivier
By the end of September the contract which allowed Spitfire Productions to operate out of Duxford was coming to an end, some of the RAF pilots were having to return to their parent units, leaving just a handful of service and civilian personnel on the flying unit. Work at Duxford was wrapped up and the unit moved to Bovingdon in an attempt to put the final sequences' in the can'.It was while operating out of Bovingdon that special clearance had to be obtained for the two Heinkels to fly up the River Thames estuary for the blitz scenes in the film. The last location filming took place at Netheravon, when Mike Vickers and some of the remaining pilots carried out some more dummy pilot parachute drops for the cameras. On October 22, almost six months to the day of my arrival at Duxford, the aerial unit ceased to operate, recalls Mike. I had personally flown 110 hours in the Spitfires, 20 on the Messerschmitts and five on the Hurricanes. Those weeks had turned out to be one of the most interesting and exciting periods of my flying career.
(Mike Vickers returned to his normal duties and finally retired from the RAF in 1978. He subsequently joined Oxford Air Training School at Kidlington Airport and spent several years training commercial pilots and instructors. He retired in 1992, after 50 years of flying, with 17,500 hours and 120 different types in his logbook.)
Some 110 hours of pure flying scenes had been shot, which had to be edited down to the 40 minutes required for the finished film. The aircraft employed in the production had, in total, clocked up some 5,000 flying hours re-creating Britain's Finest Hour. It had, in anybody's book, been an epic effort.
Aircraft leased from their civilian owners, and those borrowed on occasion from theBattle of Britain Flight quickly returned to their rightful homes, while the various MoD aircraft were put back to their original configurations at Henlow, from whence they were re-allocated to RAF stations around the UK. Those aircraft purchased by Hamish Mahaddie, on behalf of Spitfire Productions were offered for immediate disposal. A late 1968 document contained those aircraft 'up for grabs', with a set of prices, which today would seem too good to be true. Heinkel 111s G-AWHA and G-AWHB, both in flying condition, were offered for £7,000 and £6,000 respectively. Two Messerschmitt 109s, which had been mocked up with dummy radiator scoops for a possible role in the film Patton, were priced at £7,500 each or £14,000 for the pair. Five of the six taxying Messerschmitt, which were still located in Spain, could be acquired for £2,000 each, or £8,500 for all five. The two Spitfire Tr.9s, which had valid certificates of airworthiness, commanded a higher price of £12,000 each, while one of the 'spare' Spitfires, a Griffon-engined Mk.XIV, was available for £4,750. The Canadian-built Hurricane G-AWLW was in the Spitfire Tr.9 price league and was for sale at £12,000. Also listed for sale at the same time was Mahaddie's DH Mosquito B/TT.35 G-ASKB, star of 633 Squadron and Mosquito Squadron. This was on offer for the princely sum of£9,000!
And so the world's 35th largest air force was dispersed. With upwards of 100 vintage aircraft under their command, producers Saltzman and Fisz had achieved what they set out to do. They had created a lasting celluloid tribute to 'The Few'.
It was now the turn of the backroom boys at Pinewood Studios to put the story together, editing the mass of film footage, creating the special effects, and finally matching the soundtrack music to the action on the screen.
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