🎥 Battle of Britain – 1969

The Story …

During the Battle of France in June 1940, RAF pilots evacuate a small airfield in advance of the German Blitzkrieg. The pilots, along with British and French military, leave just as German aircraft arrive and execute a heavy strafing attack.

At the deserted beaches of Dunkirk, the BBC reports British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s declaration that “what General Weygand called the ‘Battle of France’ is over. The Battle of Britain is about to begin.”

In neutral Switzerland, the German ambassador, Baron von Richter, proposes new peace terms to his British counterpart, Sir David Kelly, stating that continuing to fight the “masters” of Europe is hopeless.

Kelly retorts, “Don’t threaten or dictate to us until you’re marching up Whitehall … and even then we won’t listen!

In England, commanders use the German delay to build up their strength, training pilots and ground controllers …

The campaign begins with the Luftwaffe launching an early morning assault on “Eagle Day”. The plan is to destroy the RAF on the ground before they have time to launch their Spitfire and Hurricane fighters. Two radar stations at Ventnor and Dover are put out of action and a number of British airfields are damaged or destroyed, but British losses are relatively light. A grueling battle of attrition ensues, with the RAF airfields under repeated attack.

Tensions develop between commanding officers of 11 Group, Keith Park, and 12 Group, Trafford Leigh-Mallory. 12 Group is tasked with protecting 11 Group’s airfields while 11 Group meets the enemy, but in raid after raid 12 Group aircraft are nowhere to be seen. Called to meet Dowding, Leigh-Mallory explains that the “Big Wing” tactic takes time for form up, while Park complains that the tactic simply is not working.

The turning point occurs when a squadron of German bombers becomes lost in bad weather at night and drops bombs on London. In retaliation, the RAF attacks Berlin. Though the damage is negligible, an enraged Adolf Hitler publicly orders London to be razed. Hermann Göring arrives in France to personally command the attack, confident that the end of the battle nears. Their first attack skirts the RAF, who are still defending their airfields to the south, and they bomb unopposed. Night time attacks follow and London burns.

During the Blitz, non-commissioned fighter pilot Andy Moore comes home on leave and is furious to discover that his family have returned to London from their place of evacuation. Meeting them in a church during a raid, he gives his children presents of model aeroplanes, and tells his wife she must return them to the country at once. As they argue, an ARP warden arrives with news of a family trapped in a burning house. Andy goes to help but when he returns, the church has been reduced to a flaming ruin, leaving his wife and children dead.

To supplement Commonwealth forces, the RAF has been forming units of foreign pilots who have escaped German-occupied countries. The main difficulty is their lack of English-language skills. While on a training flight, a Free Polish Air Force squadron accidentally runs into an unescorted flight of German bombers. Ignoring the commands of their British training officer, they peel off one by one and shoot down several of the bombers with unorthodox aggressive tactics. Park rewards them by elevating them to operational status, leading Dowding to do the same for the Canadian and Czech squadrons as well.

While discussing the day’s events, Park and Dowding examine the German switch to London. Given a respite, Park notes that he will be able to repair his airfields and bring his squadrons back to full strength. Dowding adds that 12 Group units north of London are now all within range, while enemy fighters are at the extreme edge of their own range. He concludes that “turning on London could be the Germans’ biggest blunder.”

The next German daytime raid is met by a massive response; watching his formations build up in 11 Group’s operations room, Wing Commander Willoughby wryly states “this should give them something to think about.” RAF fighters arranged into large groups attack en masse, overwhelming the German raids. Luftwaffe losses are now critical and Göring is incensed, ordering his fighters remain with the bombers, an order the pilots hate because it robs them of the mobility required to keep the British squadrons off the German bombers. Losses continue to mount on both sides.

The climactic air battle of 15 September 1940 arrives, with Winston Churchill in attendance at 11 Group’s operations room. In the underground bunker, British ground control personnel order every squadron into the air to meet the massive attack. Intense combat in the sky over London follows, with both sides taking heavy losses. The outcome is so confused that Dowding refuses to comment on the events.

The next day the RAF anxiously await a raid that never comes. Likewise the Luftwaffe is disheartened by heavy losses and also await orders that never come to resume raiding. Two German anti-aircraft gunners, who had earlier observed a French port teeming with Kriegsmarine vessels and landing barges, now observe a deserted harbour basin. Göring leaves the front, accusing his commanders of betrayal.

Dowding looks out over the gardens and up to the sky where the words of Winston Churchill appear onscreen …

“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few …”

Credits :

  • Directed by Guy Hamilton
  • Written by James Kennaway and Wilfred Greatorex
  • Produced by Harry Saltzman and Benjamin Fisz
  • Cinematography : Freddie Young
  • Edited by Bert Bates
  • Music by Ron Goodwin and William Walton
  • Production Company : Spitfire Productions
  • Distributed by United Artists
  • Release Date : 15 September 1969

Cast :

  • Harry Andrews as Harold Balfour, Under-Secretary of State for Air
  • Michael Caine as Squadron Leader Canfield
  • Trevor Howard as Air Vice-Marshal Keith Park, Air Officer Commanding No. 11 Group RAF
  • Ian McShane as Sergeant Pilot Andy Moore
  • Kenneth More as Group Captain Barker, Station Commander at RAF Duxford
  • Laurence Olivier as Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding, Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief RAF, Fighter Command
  • Nigel Patrick as Group Captain Hope
  • Christopher Plummer as Squadron Leader Colin Harvey, a Canadian pilot in the Royal Air Force
  • Michael Redgrave as Air Vice-Marshal Douglas Evill, Senior Air Staff Officer Fighter Command
  • Ralph Richardson as Sir David Kelly, British Ambassador to Switzerland
  • Robert Shaw as Squadron Leader “Skipper” [Note 1]
  • Patrick Wymark as Air Vice-Marshal Trafford Leigh-Mallory, Air Officer Commanding No. 12 Group RAF
  • Susannah York as Section Officer Maggie Harvey, Colin’s wife
  • John Baskcomb as Farmer
  • Michael Bates as Warrant Officer Warwick
  • Isla Blair as Andy’s wife
  • Tom Chatto as Willoughby’s Assistant Controller
  • James Cosmo as Jamie
  • Robert Flemyng as Wing Commander Willoughby
  • Barry Foster as Squadron Leader Edwards
  • Edward Fox as Pilot Officer Archie
  • Bill Foxley as Squadron Leader Evans
  • David Griffin as Sergeant Pilot Chris
  • Jack Gwillim as Senior Air Staff Officer
  • Myles Hoyle as Peter
  • Duncan Lamont as Flight Sergeant Arthur
  • Sarah Lawson as Skipper’s wife
  • Mark Malicz as Pasco
  • André Maranne as French NCO
  • Anthony Nicholls as Minister
  • Nicholas Pennell as Simon
  • Andrzej Scibor as Ox
  • Jean Wladon as Jean Jacques
  • Nick Tate as RAF Pilot (Uncredited)

Germans and Axis :

  • Curd Jürgens as Maximilian Baron von Richter, German Ambassador to Switzerland
  • Hein Riess as Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring, the Commander-in-Chief of the Luftwaffe
  • Dietrich Frauboes as Generalfeldmarschall Erhard Milch, Inspector General of the Luftwaffe
  • Peter Hager as Generalfeldmarschall Albert Kesselring, Commander of Luftflotte 2
  • Wilfried von Aacken as Generalmajor Theo Osterkamp, Jagdfliegerführer 2
  • Karl-Otto Alberty as Generaloberst Hans Jeschonnek, Chief of Staff of the Luftwaffe
  • Wolf Harnisch as Generalmajor Johannes Fink, Commander of Kampfgeschwader 2
  • Malte Petzel as Oberst Beppo Schmid, Head of Luftwaffe’s Military Intelligence Branch
  • Manfred Reddemann as Major Falke
  • Paul Neuhaus as Major Föhn
  • Alexander Allerson as Major Brandt
  • Alf Jungermann as Lieutenant Froedl, Brandt’s navigator
  • Helmut Kirchner as Boehm
  • Reinhard Horras as Bruno
  • Rolf Stiefel as Adolf Hitler

Film Information Source :


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