Spitfire top fighter plane ever produced.

A Royal Visit to the HQ of RAF Fighter Command at Royal Air Force station Bentley Priory. The operations rooms were in specially made underground bunkers. The home which is located in the London Borough of Harrow was purchased by the RAF in 1926. 

George VI FC with Dowding

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, escorted by Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding, Air Officer Commander-in-Chief of Fighter Command, visit the Headquarters of Fighter Command at Bentley Priory, near Stanmore, Middlesex


RAF Station Bentley Priory was finally closed in 2008. Subsequently developed into luxury condominiums. The British Government continues to sell off its historic heritage to private interests which immediately close them to the public. For large sums of money, you can now rent historic rooms in the Palace of Westminster which is the seat of the House of Commons for private parties. This includes the members dining room and bar where Winston Churchill was often found. It really is enough to make a person ill.


Ground crew refueling Supermarine Spitfire Mark IIA, P7420, of No. 19 Squadron RAF from a tractor-drawn petrol bowser at Fowlmere, Cambridgeshire. This newly-arrived example was one of the few Spitfire Mark IIs to fly operationally with a front-line squadron before the end of the Battle of Britain.


A formation of Supermarine Spitfire Mark IIAs of No. 303 Polish Fighter Squadron RAF dips their wings as they pass the saluting base during a visit by the Polish President, Władysław Raczkiewicz, to Northolt, Middlesex.


Many Polish Air Force pilots made their way to Great Britain after the German’s overran Poland. In spite of their antiquated aircraft, the Polish Air Force had put up a credible defense. AOC-in-C Dowding of Fighter Command was wary of these pilots at first. Few spoke English and he thought they might be too undisciplined. As it turned out, they learned English quickly and since they had been professional airmen and flying for a number of years they were some of the most experienced fighter pilots the RAF had.

Better, given what the Nazis were doing to their homeland, the Poles had a visceral hatred of the Germans. If they ran out of ammunition and were over England, Polish pilots often rammed German planes then baled out.


Spitfire F Mark XIV, RB159 ‘DW-D’, being flown by the commanding officer of No. 610 Squadron RAF, Squadron Leader R A Newbury, when based at Friston, Sussex.

photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum



Flight Lieutenant Laurie of No. 222 Squadron, Royal Air Force warming up Supermarine Spitfire Mark V, BM202 ‘ZD-H’ “Flying Scotsman”, at North Weald, Essex. This aircraft was the second bearing this name to be paid for from donations made by LNER personnel, arranged through the company’s wartime headquarters at Hitchin.

(photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum)



The Spitfire XII had been in service for over a year when this shot was taken on 12 April 1944 of two Friston-based aircraft from No 41 Squadron. Essentially a Mk V airframe mated to Rolls-Royce’s powerful 1,735hp Griffon engine (which gave it a top speed of about 390mph at 18,00ft), the Mk XII was a low-level interceptor, equipping two home-defence squadrons. By 1944, however, enemy fighter-bomber incursions were rare and the Mk XIIs were being employed on offensive sweeps over northern France.

(photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum)

New Zealand RAF Hero Known As the “Defender of London” During the Battle of Britain, part one



“The Defender of London”

Air Vice-Marshal Keith Park

Park was Air Officer commanding the most vital of Fighter Command’s four operational areas, No. 11 Group, which covered south-east England. Park had the hardest of jobs, assessing which attacks posed the most danger and which could be safely ignored. He was careful to commit his squadrons in ones and twos, ensuring enough units remained in reserve to meet subsequent raids. These tactics were effective, but meant the RAF fighters were usually outnumbered in combat. He is seen here later in the war when he became Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief Middle East Command. (photo and caption courtesy of the Imperial War Museum)

11 Group was  the critical group command out of the four groups in Fighter Command (10,11,12 & 13). Park had to constantly, and I mean constantly, decide in just a few minutes, seconds even, whether a German raid picked up by RAF radar stations and volunteer observers was real or a diversionary raid designed to draw his fighters away from London or ambush them with a huge number of German fighters.

Writes historian David Wragg in the RAF Handbook:

“…the Luftwaffe would be across the Channel in just six minutes and be over the first of Fighter Command’s 11 Group airfields in south-east England in a quarter of an hour, and while German aircraft would be picked up by radar as they massed over the French coast, it took four minutes for information from the radar stations to reach the airfields and thirteen minutes for a Spitfire to reach 20,000 feet.” 

Air Chief Marshal (as he later became) Sir Keith Park RAF (15 June 1892 – 6 February 1975) was actually a New Zealander. Like many young men in the Empire he answered the call to serve in the British forces in World War One. He first joined the artillery and fought mainly on the Western Front. In 1916 he joined what was then called the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and remained in the new service, renamed after the war as the Royal Air Force.



Replica of Sir Keith Park’s personal Hawker Hurricane on display at the Museum of Transport and Technology in Auckland.


(Photo taken in 2007 and released into the public by the author.)

According to historian Stephen Bungay in The Most Dangerous Enemy: A History of the Battle of Britain, Park first served in the RFC as an artillery observer which makes sense given his background, and later transferred to fighters. He was credited with shooting down 14 German planes. Park was also shot down twice.

Sir Hugh “Stuffy” Dowding, Air Office Commanding Fighter Command, was a difficult person to get along with at the best of times and one intolerant of incompetence and stupidity of which there was much in the RAF and especially the Air Ministry. It was Dowding who recognized Park’s talents. After serving for several years as Dowding’s Chief Staff Officer, Dowding appointed Park to command 11 Group, which he knew would be the most critical group command when war came.

Says historian Stephen Bungay, “he was uniquely qualified for the job”.



Uniform and medals of Sir Keith Park


Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath, Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire, Military Cross & Bar, Distinguished Flying Cross. Legion of Merit (USA), Croix de guerre (France).


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


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.



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



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.

(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.



Free French…………………………14


(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.