summer of the spitfire


On Saturday June 8, 1940, West Ham beat Blackburn Rovers in the FA Cup Final. Ten days later, Winston Churchill warned the British people that a somewhat more serious contest was in the offing: “The Battle of France is over”, he told the House of Commons. “I expect the battle of Britain is about to begin.” Soon the skies were criss-crossed with vapour trails as the airmen of Fighter Command fought it out with the Luftwaffe over the waters of the Channel and the fields and towns of southern England. Almost before it was over, the duel had won them legendary status. National mythology set the defeat of the Luftwaffe during that long hot summer alongside the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 as one of the defining moments of English history – and of the English character. Myth wrapped itself around the facts, as myth will at such moments. Britain “stood alone”, a David facing Goliath as “the Few” fought for the skies and kept an all-conquering German juggernaut at bay. United as one, and stiffened by the “Dunkirk spirit”, the country stood behind its Prime Minister, ready to fight to the last. Its saviour, during that hot anxious summer, was the thin blue line of the Royal Air Force, embodied in the lethal beauty of the Supermarine Spitfire – a plane every schoolboy could recognize instantly years after the battle was over.

more from John Gooch at the TLS here.