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All Posts, Aviation, Military History

Author Guest Post: Dilip Sarkar MBE

Battle of Britain

The Breaking Storm: 10 July 1940 – 12 August 1940

Where to begin?’, as an old history lecturer of mine at university once said – and now I find myself with so much to discuss about this new book that I know how he felt! ‘Where to begin?’ indeed!

Well, let’s first re-wind to Volume 1, The Gathering Storm: Prelude to the Spitfire Summer of 1940, the first in this eight-volume and unprecedented series. As another history lecturer used to say, ‘Context, context, context!’ – and this provides that, in spades. The Battle of Britain is a huge story, which has previously been written about from a Fighter Command and Luftwaffe perspective concerning the fighting between 10 July 1940 – 31 October 1940. That is understandable – but there is infinitely more to the story than that. To fully understand these events, and the lives and times of those involved, first we need the context – so that’s Volume 1, which explores the development of military aviation, pre-war air power doctrines, First World War aviation, disarmament and retrenchment, the birth of the Luftwaffe, Spanish Civil War, the creation of Fighter Command and the System of Air Defence, the crossover from biplanes to monoplane fighters – and much more besides. The Royal Navy, Bomber and Coastal Commands, civil defence, all of these things are explored along with the German strategy and plans, the Fall of France and a day-by-day account of the fighting between 2 July 1940 – 9 July 1940 inclusive – arguing that the Battle of Britain really began on 2 – not 10 – July 1940. There’s a more detailed summary of Volume 1 in this previous blog.

New Zealander Sir Keith Park, commander of 11 Group, defending London and the south-east, with his personal Hurricane during the Battle of Britain – recently, Dilip Sarkar proved that he had flown operationally during the Battle of Britain, meaning Sir Keith is now officially recognised as one of The Few.
A convoy being attacked off Folkestone on 14 July 1940 – inspiring Charles Gardner’s controversial BBC broadcast.
Hurricane pilots of 32 Squadron await their next scramble at Hawkinge, a forward airfield inland of Folkestone.

Volume 2, The Breaking Storm, then looks at the first phase of the Battle of Britain, what the Germans called the Kanalkampf, which was fought over Channel-bound convoys. This and the next six volumes provide a day-by-day diary of the entre sixteen-week battle – from a 360° perspective; the final volume will explore how the Battle of Britain has been commemorated over the years, its place in popular history and culture, and provide a directory of museums, memorials and sites of interest. The day-fighting is forensically reconstructed, every combat, every squadron action, every raid – and so much more. The essential efforts of Bomber and Coastal Commands are included, and Daily Home Intelligence Reports provide a unique glimpse at what the Home Front was feeling. The germination and development of Operation Sealion – the proposed German invasion of Britain – and Hitler’s strategy towards Britain and such a hazardous undertaking are all explored in great detail. The essential thing is that this work, likely to top a million words in total, returns to original documents and other sources – the accessible narrative arising often challenging the accepted narrative. The subject has never before been approached in such a comprehensive manner, and for me personally is the culmination of a lifetime’s research and a career-topping project. Historical research and writing is all about being aware of the latest published research and sources – and this is the latest on the Battle of Britain, including a vast bibliography.

HMS Sandringham burns in Dover Harbour.
A Do 17 and crew before a raid on England.
A Me 109E-1 of Luftflotte 3’s JG2 Richthofen.

An important thing arising from the research for Volume 2 is that by reviewing the flying log-book of Air Chief Marshal Sir Keith Park, I was recently able to prove to the authorities here that the Air Officer Commanding 11 Group, Air Chief Marshal Dowding’s right-hand man, actually flew operationally during the Battle of Britain. Sir Keith is therefore now accepted as a legitimate recipient of the coveted Battle of Britain Clasp – and is himself one of the fabled Few. This blog explains that journey.

Inside a typical Observer Corps hut.
A Blenheim of Bomber Command’s 2 Group preparing for a raid on either an enemy airfield or one of the invasion ports – the Battle of Britain did not simply concern Fighter Command, which is often forgotten.
A Sunderland of Coastal Command escorting a convoy and searching for U-boats – a forgotten side of the Battle of Britain.

Importantly, this series is produced in association with and in support of The Battle of Britain Memorial Trust CIO, which manages and maintains The National Memorial to The Few at Capel-le-Ferne, Folkestone, the idea being that the Trust will have this substantial body of work as a point of reference on what was arguably the most important battle of modern times. We can all support the Trust’s vital work by becoming a ‘Friend of The Few‘.

An Armstrong-Whitworth Whitley of Bomber Command takes-off for a nocturnal raid on Germany – another forgotten aspect of the Battle of Britain.
Hurricanes of 56 Squadron scramble from North Weald – ironically there were two-thirds more Hurricanes than Spitfires during the so-called ‘Spitfire Summer’ of 1940.
Ray Johnson was an armourer on 152 Squadron at Warmwell – whose tape-recorded memoir provides a colourful account of those dark days.

Volume 3, Attack of The Eagles: 13 August 1940 – 18 August 1940, follows next spring, and Volume 4, Airfields Under Attack: 19 August 1940 – 6 September 1940, in September 2024. I have just finished and am about to submit Volume 5, Target London: 7 September 1940 – 17 September 1940, and will start Volume 6, Daylight Defeat: 18 September 1940 – 30 September 1940, very soon.

Kemble-based Pilot Officer Alec Bird – killed in action over Gloucestershire on 25 July 1940 but, being a ferry pilot, whose name is not included amongst those of the fabled Few – something Dilip Sarkar is currently seeking to rectify.
Pilot Officer Alexander Osmand, a Hurricane pilot based at Exeter with 213 Squadron – who saw action over Portland in July and August 1940. Sadly, a married man and faher, he would not survive the war.
Tony Osmand proudly displays his father’s log books and medals.

Thanks to everyone who supports my work in whatever way – it is much appreciated and all helps this massive project progress.

Well done Team!

Pilot Officer Richard Demetriadi of 601 Squadron, a Hurricane pilot shot down and killed during the furious combat off Portland on 11 August 1940 – the day on which Fighter Command lost twenty-five pilots killed or missing, the highest number of any day throughout the entire sixteen-week conflict.
Tessa Houghton with the family archive and proudly displaying her uncle’s portrait. Sadly, Pilot Officer Demetriadi would not be the only family-member killed in action during the Battle of Britain.
In July 1940, Michael Wainwright was a pilot officer flying Spitfires with 64 Squadron at Kenley; he died in 2015 – just one of countless Battle of Britain aircrew interviewed by Dilip Sarkar and whose memories punctuate this unprecedented eight-volume series.
Exhaustion: Flight Sergeant Frederick ‘Taffy’ Higginson, 56 Squadron. Pilot Officer HM ‘Steve’ Stephen of 74 Squadron recalled the ‘Kanalkampf’ as the most exhausting phase of the Battle of Britain.

Dilip Sarkar MBE FRHistS, 2 October 2023

Links: –

Dilip Sarkar’s website.

Dilip Sarkar’s YouTube Channel.

All of Dilip Sarkar’s Pen & Sword titles available here.

Battle of Britain Memorial Trust CIO.

Watch Charles Gardner’s epic war reporting of 14 July 1940 here.