Hundreds of Pilots From Around the World Flew for Fighter Command in the Battle of Britain

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Pilots of No. 310 (Czech) Squadron
No. 310 Squadron was formed at Duxford in July 1940.
Squadron Commander Gordon Sinclair said of the Czechs he commanded: ‘…they were anxious to fly, and anxious to get at the enemy, very anxious, probably more than we were…they didn’t like the Germans. Six of the pilots in this photograph did not survive the war. The plane behind the men is a Hawker Hurricane. (Photo courtesy of Imperial War Museum)

During the Battle of Britain, only 80% of Fighter Command’s pilots were actually British.

10 % came from the Empire and Commonwealth and 10% from other countries. No one seems to agree on the exact figures.

The numbers of pilots on the RAF Roll of Honour for the Battle of Britain isn’t the same as the number on the RAF Battle of Britain Monument on London. A “Battle of Britain pilot” is defined as a pilot who flew at least one operational mission between 10 July to 31 October 1940.

Wikipedia cites numbers from a variety of sources including official documents and newspaper articles.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-British_personnel_in_the_RAF_during_the_Battle_of_Britain.

 

The two histories I consulted also have different numbers.

The Most Dangerous Enemy: A History of the Battle of Britain by Stephen Bungay and The Battle of Britain by Richard Hough and Denis Richards are the two histories.

These two books cite different figures on the number of pilots from different countries. Because The Most Dangerous Enemy seems the most thoroughly researched source, I used the figures from that book which are quoted as follows:

New Zealand………………………..129

Australia……………………………….30

Canada………………………………….100

South Africa & Rhodesia……….27

I think that part of the disparity in numbers between the various sources results from such issues as Canadians who were flying for the RAF but during the Battle of Britain were incorporated into all Canadian squadrons of the Royal Canadian Air Force.

The other 10%, and perhaps the most highly motivated pilots of all, were from European countries occupied by Nazi Germany.

Poles………………………………….146
(5% of Fighter Command’s overall strength were Polish Air Force pilots who had braved the German occupation forces and security police to make their way to England).

While Air Marshal Dowding, AOC Fighter Command, was at first skeptical of the Poles, after the Battle of Britain was over he wrote, “had it not been for the magnificent material contributed by the Polish squadrons and their unsurpassed gallantry I hesitate to say that the outcome of the battle (of Britain) would have been the same.” As cited in, “Polish Aces of World War Two” and Dowding’s official dispatch on the battle.

303 RAF Fighter Squadron, composed almost entirely of Poles, had the highest record of any RAF Squadron in Fighter Command for shooting down Germans.

There were several Czechs in 303 Squadron and one of them, Sergeant-Pilot Josef Frantisek, was the highest scoring ace in the Battle of Britain, shooting down 28 German planes.

Czechs…………………………………………………………….88

Belgians……………………………….28

Free French…………………………14

Americans……………………………11

(Due to US neutrality laws, Americans could be arrested and lose their citizenship were they known to be on their way to serve in the armed forces of a foreign power. Eventually, an exception was made for Americans who wanted to fight for the British and in 1941, after the Battle of Britain, 240 American pilots flew with Fighter Command in three specially designated “Eagle” squadrons).

By the end of the war in May of 1945, the combined Anglo-American fighter squadrons had cleared the skies of German planes in the West and Red Air Force had cleaned the air of German planes in the East.

News article on the four NZ Battle  of Britain pilots who were still alive in 2010.

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10673790

 

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: http://charlesmccain.com/