Nazi Germany’s leader drew up a strategy to invade the UK under Operation Sea Lion during the Battle of Britain, as the RAF vigorously intercepted the Luftwaffe crossing the Channel. Following the fall of France, the Fuhrer wrongly assumed the Government would seek a peace agreement and he reluctantly considered invasion only as a last resort if all other options failed. And the brutal tyrant may have just succeeded if Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding had not stepped up to “revolutionise” the RAF five years earlier.
Channel 5’s new documentary ‘How Britain Won WW2’ revealed how the officer, who served as a fighter pilot and then a commanding officer during World War 1, played a crucial role in Britain’s air defence.
Presenter Michal Buerk explained: “Just five weeks after Dunkirk the people of Britain were facing the unthinkable – invasion.
“Hitler’s thinking was simple, if he could knock out the RAF and Britain’s air defence, then a Nazi land invasion would be bound to succeed.
“There was just one small problem with his plan, one man saw it coming and started making plans to thwart it from the outset. A rare moment of foresight that shifted the course of the war.
Hugh Dowding placed a crucial role in World War 2
The Battle of Britain saw the RAF intercept the Luftwaffe
“Most people have never heard of Hugh Dowding, but years before a shot was fired, it was Dowding who had the vision to ready Britain’s air defence against attack.”
Historian and author Joshua Levine detailed how Mr Dowding’s uncomfortable personality made him the right man for the job.
He said: “His nickname was Stuffy, Stuffy Dowding, and that was because he was really quite socially awkward.
“He used to host terrible sherry parties, where he would just have one glass and play his gramophone – it was almost impossible to get anyone to come.
“But the other side of that was that he was an organisational genius and was fascinated by technology.
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A Hawker Hurricane and a Supermarine Spitfire
“That became important because he was basically the person who formulated Britain’s air defence.”
Presenter Arthur Williams detailed how Mr Dowding rolled out his masterplan.
He added: “Four years before Britain goes to war, at a time many are still in favour of appeasing Hitler, Dowding sees what’s coming and he has a plan to make Britain’s air defence the best in the world.
“Germany had been forced to disarm following World War 1, but its government, nonetheless, tasked its engineers with designing a new air force of nimble bombers and super-fast fighter planes.
“Britain was still investing in heavy bombers. After years of chipping away at the air ministry, Dowding convinces them it’s time to invest and modernise.
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Hugh Dowding with the Queen and King George VI
Historian and author Joshua Levine
“The first of his babies was a brand new fighter called the Hawker Hurricane.”
RAF researcher Kris Hendrix noted during the series: “This was revolutionary, a complete real game-changer when it entered service it was probably the best fighter in the world.”
But the Hawker Hurricane was just the start, and in 1938 the Spitfire was first introduced to the RAF fleet.
Designed by Stoke-on-Trent’s Reginald Mitchell, the Spitfire was a decisive asset for the RAF during the Battle of Britain.
Showing one of the single-seat fighter aircrafts at RAF Hendon Museum, Mr Hendrix added: “Just look at it, it’s such a beautiful design and beyond the aesthetic aspect, that meant that it could fly really fast, more than 360mph.
Presenter Arthur Williams got a first-hand look at the aircrafts
“It was one of the fastest in the world.”
The fighters were thrown into action from July to October 1940, where they played a key role in picking off the Luftwaffe and protecting Britain.
After the battle, the Spitfire superseded the Hurricane to become the backbone of RAF Fighter Command, and saw action in the European, Mediterranean, Pacific, and South-East Asian theatres.
Much loved by its pilots, the Spitfire served in several roles, including interceptor, photo-reconnaissance, fighter-bomber, and trainer, and it continued to serve in those roles until the Fifties.