Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Henley Probus Club

DURING this 75th anniversary year of the Battle of Britain, it was appropriate that the August

DURING this 75th anniversary year of the Battle of Britain, it was appropriate that the August meeting should have as guest speaker Chris Wren talking about the Fighter Command control centre at RAF Uxbridge.

The scene was set with slides showing pre-war RAF Uxbridge, including shots of the 76 stairs leading down to the lower corridors and the plotting room with the large map table, squadron state boards and controller’s cabin.

The talk covered the lead-up to the outbreak of war, the invasions of Poland, Denmark and Norway by Germany and the surrender of Holland and Belgium followed by the retreat from Dunkirk during which half a million men were rescued.

It is interesting to note that we in Henley were treated to the sight of several of the Dunkirk “Little Ships” gathered for the Traditional Thames Boat Festival in July.

During the Battle of France the RAF lost 915 aircraft, of which half were Hurricanes and Spitfires, and nearly 300 aircrew, mainly fighter pilots.

The Battle of Britain was covered in depth from the period of July 10 until October 31, a total of 114 days. Major events were August 11, when 25 pilots were killed, August 15, when the Luftwaffe launched raids both in the north and south of England and August 18, known as the “hardest day” with three attacks in the South-East.

During the last week of August and first week of September 103 pilots were killed and 128 seriously injured.

The accidental bombing of London on August 24 and the retaliation by Bomber Command on Berlin the next day saw a change in the direction of the German air offensive.

On September 7, 900 aircraft attacked London, the start of the Blitz. The Luftwaffe was now concentrating on a civilian target and the situation started to change.

On September 15 with Winston and Mrs Churchill in the bunker at Uxbridge, London suffered two major raids. With the loss of 56 aircraft, the Luftwaffe realised that the RAF was far from being defeated and on September 18 Hitler postponed the planned invasion,

Operation Sealion. The daylight battle continued throughout September and October but by the end of October the Luftwaffe deployed mainly at night.

This continued throughout the winter, with the last major attack on London on May 10, 1941. Hitler then turned his attention to the Soviet Union. Losses suffered by Fighter Command were 1,023 aircraft and 544 aircrew. The Luftwaffe lost 2,698 aircrew and 1,887 aircraft.

It is perhaps poignant to note that one of our members, Mike Crosskill, who died earlier this year, fought in the Battle of Britain and his name is inscribed on the Fighter Command memorial at Capel-le-Ferne, near Folkstone.

Altogether it was an excellent talk well given and received.

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