When you hear people talk about the aircraft from the battle of Britain I wonder which spring to mind first? The Spitfire maybe? It’s a common misconception that the Spitfire won the war when really that accolade should go to the Hawker Hurricane. But what of the lesser known aircraft who also contributed to securing our freedom.
Boulton Paul Defiant
Built by Boulton Paul Aircraft the Defiant was a turret fighter with no forward firing guns. In combat this lack of forward firearms put her at a disadvantage but she sure made up for that during night fights, shooting at the enemy from below. Due to delays in production it couldn’t be used in 1940 for its inital use of standing defensive roles and was forced into action. The only known survivor Defiant I, N1671 resides at the RAF museum in Hendon, London having been passed over in 1971. She was known by the pilots as Daffy.
This British light bomber was built by the Bristol Aeroplane Company and really came into its own during the early part of the war. It actually came about after Lord Rothermere the then owner of the Daily Mail challenged the British aviation industry to produce a high-speed aircraft capable of carrying 6 passengers and 2 crew members. Another aircraft which fared better at night even though it could outrun most biplane fighters in the late 1930’s. Unfortunately it stood little chance against the German Messerschmitt during daylight. The surviving aircraft don’t seem to do well flying at Duxford, following a 12 year restoration a scrapped Bolingbroke became an airworthy Blenheim only to crash a month later at Duxford in 1987. It took a lesser 5 years to turn a replacement Bolingbroke in to a representation of a Bleinheim which also crashed at Duxford in 2003.
Another aircraft out of the Bristol Aeroplane Company, this multi role aircraft often known simply as Beau was a variant of the Beaufort and often used during night flights and later as ground attack. There are a few survivors, in the UK Beaufighter TF.X, RD253 is on display at the RAF museum in Hendon, London and Beaufighter TF.X RD220 is under restoration at the National Museum of Flight East Fortune Airfield, east of Edinburgh. Duxford also houses one which is in the process of a lengthy restoration.
The only biplane which fought in the Battle of Britain and also the RAF’s last fighter biplane it was often pitted against formidable foes during the early days of the war. During the Battle of Britain no actual combat sorties took place during the height of the aerial battles however it did intercept a Heinkel He 111 without result. In the UK Gladiators have been preserved at Shuttleworth in Bedfordshire and the RAF museum in Hendon, London.
“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”
– Winston S. Churchill