Feature: The Battle of Britain And The Flying Aces

By September 14, 2015Events


Due to the extraordinary courage of the Hurricane and Spitfire aircrew, the enormous success of Radar and the dedicated work of the Observer Corps, the Luftwaffe were defeated and the invasion of Britain prevented.

The Battle of Britain ran from 10th July to October 31st 1940 and was the first and only battle to be fought entirely by air. It was a fight for national survival where Allied victory boosted morale and helped shape the outcome of World War II.

The stats…

  • Just under 3,000 aircrew served with RAF fighter Command
  • 20% were foreign nationals from the British Dominions, occupied Europe and neutral countries
  • 544 RAF Fighter Command pilots were killed (1 in 6 pilots who fought)
  • Luftwaffe lost just under 1,900 aircraft
  • Approximately 2,500 Luftwaffe aircrew perished

The RAF were bolstered by a number of Allied aircrew many of whom were volunteers from:

  • Poland  (145)
  • New Zealand (127)
  • Canada (113)
  • Czechoslovakia (88)
  • Australia (32)
  • Belgium (28)
  • South Africa (25)
  • France (13)
  • Ireland (10)
  • United States (9)
  • Rhodesia  (3)
  • Jamaica  (1)
  • Barbados (1)

The RAF Roll of Honour mentions 595 foreign pilots who flew alongside 2,341 British pilots during the Battle of Britain. Winston Churchill named these brave men who chose to serve with the British units as ‘The Few’. Their courage and self-sacrifice went a long way to ensuring victory of the skies.

Who were the ‘Triple Flying Aces’ from the Battle of Britain?

Such an achievement was rare. Although the war produced many flying aces managing to strike 5 or more enemy aircraft, to reach ‘triple status’ a pilot would need to shoot down 15 or more enemy aircraft. Such men included Pilot Officer C Gray from New Zealand, Pilot Officer J McGrath and Polish Flying Officer W Urbanowicz, who destroyed 15 enemy aircraft each during the period.

A profile on some of the ‘Triple Flying Aces’…

  • Squadron Leader James Harry Lacey (Born February 1917 – 30 May 1989) was the second to top scoring British pilot in the Battle of Britain. Known as ‘Ginger’, he shot down 18 enemy aircraft. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal & Bar as well as the French Croix de Guerre. He was one of the few RAF pilots to fly on operations both at the start and the end of the war.
  • Pilot Officer Eric Lock (Born 1920 – 3 August 1941), known as ‘Sawn off Lockie’ on account of his height was the most successful British born RAF pilot to fight in the Battle of Britain. He shot down a total of 21 German aircraft as well as a further shared victory. Awards include the Distinguished Service Order, the Distinguished Flying Cross & Bar and he was mentioned in Despatches. Lock was registered ‘missing in action’ after being shot down in Pas-de-Calais in August 1941. Both his plane and body have never been found.
  • Sergeant Josef Frantisek – (Born October 1914 – 8 October 1940) Josef Frantisek flew a Hurricane as part of the Polish Squadron during the Battle of Britain. He was in fact a Czech fighter pilot and was known as one of the highest scoring Allied flying aces to take part in the Battle of Britain. Frantisek was famed for his ill discipline in the air. He’d often act on instinct, which led to leaving his squadron exposed when flying in formation. He was therefore given the status of ‘guest pilot’ of his Polish Squadron, leaving him free to pursue the enemy without putting his comrades in danger. In just four weeks he shot down 17 German aircraft and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal & Bar. Other awards included the Polish Virtuti Militari and Cross of Valour as well as the French Croix de Guerre. Frantisek’s plane crashed in Surrey when returning home, the reason behind the accident remains unknown.

The accolade ‘Ace in a Day’ – is reserved for just three men during the Battle of Britain

  • Flight Lieutenant Brian Carbury  (Born 1918 – 31 July 1961) from New Zealand fought in the Royal Air Force during World War II and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross & Bar for his endeavours. On the 31 August 1940 he shot down five aircraft in just one day, illustrating extreme bravery, grit and determination. He achieved ‘Ace-in-a-day’ status for his actions. He was responsible for shooting down 15 aircraft and 1 shared target during the period, also becoming a ‘Triple Ace’.
  • Squadron Leader Archibald Ashmore McKellar (Born 1912- 1 November 1940) achieved ‘Ace-in-a-day status’ on the 7th October 1940 when he shot down five Messerschmitt Bf 109s. Scottish born, he flew a Hawker Hurricane fighter during the Battle of Britain and was credited with 21 air victories before being shot down and killed a day after the Battle of Britain was won.  17 of these were during the Battle of Britain and one shared victory, which made him a ‘Triple Ace’. His awards included the Distinguished Service Order and the Distinguished Flying Cross & Bar.
  • Wing Commander Antoni Glowacki (Born 1910 – 27 April 1980) fought in a polish squadron attached to the RAF during the Battle of Britain. He achieved ‘Ace-in-a-day’ status after shooting down five German aircraft on the 24th August 1940. He was later awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Distinguished Flying Medal, Virtuti Militari (The Polish equivalent of the Victoria Cross) and the Cross of Valour & Three Bars.

Various events to commemorate the Battle of Britain will take place in and around the RAF Museum in London. For more details visit www.rafmuseum.org.uk

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