THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN
article from Aircraft Illustrated Extra August 1969
The Battle of Britain
Epic struggle of 1940 re-enacted on film
"The struggle of today is not altogether for today, it is for a vast future also."
"Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few."
Two quotations from two vastly different eras. But both are concerned with freedom and the fight for freedom, for which each age has to muster its strength and courage. Both apply - Lincoln's generally, Churchill's specifically - to the 16-week-long war in the air that was waged in the skies above Great Britain in the high-summer months of 1940.
Messerschmitt 109s chase Spitfires through the clouds in a never-ending dogfight over France, in a scene from the film. (This and all other black and white stills courtesy Spitfire Productions.)
Prime Minister Winston Churchill's emotion-charged tribute was to the Royal Air Force and the young fighter pilots who in 1940 - facing odds of five to one - held off the weight of Hitler's Luftwaffe, attacking Britain from a conquered Europe.
This war-within-a-war has been re-fought in epic detail in the Panavision and Technicolor film "The Battle of Britain", to be released by United Artists and to have its premiere on September 15 - Battle of Britain Day. Produced by Harry Saltzman and coproduced by S, Benjamin Fisz, the film is the fulfilment of their three-year dream, Director Guy Hamilton first shouted "action!" in Spain on March 10, 1968. The cameras-two-time Academy Award winner Freddie Young was the cinematographer started turning.
The cast (in alphabetical order) includes Harry Andrews, Michael Caine, Edward Fox, Trevor Howard, Curt Jurgens, Ian McShane, Sir Laurence Olivier, Nigel Patrick, Christopher Plummer, Sir Michael Redgrave, Sir Ralph Richardson, Robert Shaw and Susannah York. The cast in the German sequences includes Wilfried Van Aacken, Dietrich Frauboes, Peter Hager, Wolf Harnich and Hein Riess.
The 1940 Battle of Britain reached its climax on September 15; shortly afterwards Hitler postponed, finally cancelled his invasion plans. The Battle began with the British withdrawal from France via Dunkirk and the preparation by the Germans to mount Operation Sea Lion, Hitler's invasion project for Britain. But before the Germans could cross the 22-mile strip of the English Channel the Royal Air Force had to be destroyed.... The Luftwaffe started by attacking British airfields, then switched its attack to London and other British cities, a blitzkrieg which gave the RAF a chance to breathe-and then strike back.
The hero of the Battle of Britain is the story itself. And one man: Lord Dowding, Commander in Chief of the RAF's Fighter Command from 1936 to 1940.
About this David-versus-Goliath story, Harry Saltzman, Canadian-born producer who became known across the world for helping bring James Bond to the screen, said : "We used advanced techniques in practical filming that have never been used before. The visual impact will be unlike anything else ever filmed before." To achieve this a flight simulator was built at Pinewood Studios, Bucks, and a specially-equipped North American B-25 Mitchell took to the air to film the aerial battles. The air fleet of more than 100 Spitfires, Hurricanes, Messerschmitts and Heinkels was assembled by Group Captain Hamish Mahaddie to provide the aerial excitement.
Spain was the location site for the recreation of the German invasion fleet of barges which, in 1940, was intended to follow through the Luftwaffe's smashing of the RAF; the heavy formations of the Luftwaffe, heavy with menace, setting off to bomb Britain; the scenes of drama in the German High Command when Goering demanded of his aides: "why is the RAF still in the sky?"
The film, which was made with the full co-operation of the British Ministry of Defence, the Royal Air Force and former leaders or the Luftwaffe, then returned to Britain for some vivid reconstructions of what happened in 1940. The London Blitz, with all its death and destruction. was made terrifyingly realistic yet again during filming at Dragon Road, off the Old Kent Road and at the London Docks. Londoners who had lived through the 1940 Blitz praised the authenticity of the fiery re-creation. Then the five film units needed to encompass the full epic scope of the story, filmed at Duxford, Hawkinge, North Weald and Northolt - actual springboards from which the RAF leaped to defend Britain.
The aerial combats were filmed mainly from the converted B-25 Mitchell bomber which has become known as "the flying platform"; it was adapted for the maximum of photographic possibilities (aerial cameraman : Skeets Kclly) - including a television monitor. At Pinewood Studio a special simulator aided the reality of the sequences, and at the studios were re-created scenes of the high command decisions that shaped the course of the Battle.
All squadrons and pilots are anonymous in the film because it was felt that the credit was a co-operative one and that no individual act should be singled out. British tactical adviser was Wing Commander Robert Stanford-Tuck, fighter ace during the Battle, and General Adolf Galland, German fighter ace, spoke for the German side.
The Spanish Air Force provided pilots for the Heinkel and Messerschmitts involved in aerial combat. Four Texans were in the aerial team in Spain: Marvin Gardner, Lloyd Nolen, Gerald Martin and Wilson "Connie" Edwards, members of the Confederate Air Force, a living 'museum' dedicated to the preservation of great fighter planes of the past. In "The Battle of Britain" they portray Luftwaffe colonels.
The film is based on historical facts and the book The Narrow Margin by Derek Wood and Derek Dempster, a book which was researched over a period of six years.
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