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The long, hot, cloudless summer of 1940 had swept the German armies to the Channel Coast, the disaster of Dunkirk in early-June had sapped national resolve and confidence and by mid-July Hitler was ordering the planning of 'Operation Sealion', the invasion of Britain proposed for the end of September. Although the complexity of an invasion of this size had been greatly underestimated, ( it was referred to by one senior German General as ' the same as crossing a river too wide to be bridged ' ) all were agreed that without command of the air success could not be assured. So it was that in early July the first air attacks were carried out which escalated to the ' Battle of Britain ' in September, involving hundreds of fighters and bombers and resulting in the death of thousands of young British and German airmen in the prime of their youth. The aeroplanes on both sides were equally powerful although in the long run it was the British ' Hurricane' which turned out to be the killer despite the claims made by the more glamorous 'Spitfire'. The Germans had the initiative and sufficient numbers, while the British had the advantage of fighting over their own country and pre-warning from the newly installed Radar Chain.
In The Royal Air Force the basic problem was not machines, fuel or information - it was men, (18% of fighter pilots did not survive their first mission). Following the collapse of the British Expeditionary Force in France, many new pilots were little more than boys rushed into service from University Flying Squadrons. Each fought alone connected to the outside by a very simple radio system which linked him to his fellows and ground controller. In combat pilots quickly learnt about guarding their lives and that of their wingman, mainly through the use of his eyes and own quick reflexes. He could only make one mistake and baling out from a stricken plane was dangerous and exceedingly difficult.
The daily loss of friends and colleagues in battle sapped morale and numbed sensitivity; at the back of the mind thoughts of being maimed or terribly disfigured had to be set aside, resulting in a rash of jokes and songs which made light of everyones deepest fears. Their photographs show them to be fit, clear-skinned and tousle-headed as they stand in their arrogant self-consciousness. Only if you look very closely can you see the tiredness and age in their half-closed eyes; and the nervous tics or twitches which resulted from the long hours on stand-by or the adenalin charged minutes of a dog-fight high among the cotton wool clouds. This statuette, portraying a British fighter pilot in 1940 responding to the call ' Scramble ' , is dedicated to all these young men.