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Posted on Jul 8, 2005 in Front Page Features, Stuff We Like

Hendon RAF Museum

Armchair General

I next decided to visit the Battle of Britain hall – on the basis that my true objective for going to the Museum lay within.

As one might expect, the BoB hall covers the era in 1940 when Britain stood alone against Nazi Germany, under constant attack from the air and threat of invasion from the sea. During the Battle of Britain, only the RAF prevented Germany attempting a full-scale invasion of the British Isles, for without air superiority, the Germans knew that they could not hope to prevail against the mighty Royal Navy. With air superiority, the Germans reckoned that enemy warships could be kept away from their invasion fleet through the use of air power. Thus, the stage was set for a mighty war in the air wherein the Germans would attempt to neutralise the RAF.

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After a lengthy period during which Nazi Germany directed attacks against British airfields during the day, German losses and their ultimate failure to eliminate the RAF from the sky caused the Luftwaffe to change their tactics to the night-time bombing of British cities. This period became known as "The Blitz" and saw much destruction and loss of life. Fortunately for Britain, this tactic, whilst devastating to many civilians, allowed the RAF to recover and survive. Ultimately, Britain was saved from invasion by superior tactics and machines, home advantages and the use of a new weapon known as RADAR. In addition, Hitler’s own impatience and short-sightedness added to the German failure. As history shows, his obsession with the Soviet Union was his eventual undoing.

The entire hall is dedicated to the memory of those who fought in the Battle of Britain, and there are numerous displays telling the story of the outbreak of World War Two, along with exhibits such as those below. Here we see a typical anti-aircraft gun and searchlight of the period.

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A fire engine from the period sits next to a bomb disposal squad. The men here are using a Mk1 fuse extractor, aka "Freddy". This device allowed the automatic extraction of a bomb fuse whilst the crew took cover. Once the fuse was gone, the bomb could be removed from the area without hazard and disposed of.

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Before we get to the planes, I have to mention the extensive display cabinets housing exhibits of all kinds. To the left is a lacework depicting scenes from the height of the Battle of Britain. To the right, a bullet-ridden shattered armoured windscreen from a Spitfire amply demonstrates the hazards suffered by pilots of the time. The pilot of this plane not only managed to land his plane safely, he was able to se through the screen well enough to fire at and destroy a German bomber.

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And now, to the planes. To the left, we see a Boston-Paul Defiant, which is, perhaps one of the most useless fighting machines ever devised if we’re to be honest. Although categorised as a fighter, the Defiant had NO forward armament. Instead, it had a large turret mounted to the rear which was only capable of firing behind or to the sides. Not only did this feature remove the offensive abilities of the Defiant at a stroke, the extra weight of the turret and the gunner severely crippled performance. To be fair however, the Defiant did eventually find a niche as a night fighter and escort plane.

The German plane in the picture to the right is a Junkers Ju88 night-fighter with radar attachment. Originally designed purely as a bomber, many Ju88 variants were produced and the model served as a night-fighter, heavy day fighter, dive bomber, torpedo bomber, reconnaissance plane and anti-tank aircraft. In this respect, the Ju88 almost becomes the German equivalent of the Mosquito with regard to the uses to which it was employed.

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