The Falcon & the Viper

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Chapter 18

The Foreign Secretary, Lord Halifax, together with political sentiment voiced from members of other political parties and elements of the British public, favoured a negotiated peace with an ascendant Germany. However, Churchill outmanoeuvred Halifax by calling a meeting of his twenty-five member outer cabinet, to whom he delivered a passionate speech, convincing those present that Britain must fight on against the warmongering Hitler at whatever the cost.

Churchill used his skilful rhetoric to harden public opinion against capitulation and to prepare the British for a long war. On the day of the end of the evacuation in a rousing speech in the House of Commons, he rallied the nation:

“Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous states have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”

Over the nine days of the Dunkirk evacuation, the RAF shot down one hundred and seventy six German aircraft, for a loss of a hundred British aircraft. The valiant pilots of the RAF had fought hard in the battle for the sky and had truly helped to avert disaster. Winston Churchill acknowledged this fact and delivered another speech in parliament about the pilots defending the skies over southern England and the Channel, saying:

“This was their finest hour. The Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin.”

Churchill could not have been more correct as the destruction of the RAF had been paramount to Adolf Hitler’s plans, before launching an invasion of Britain. His party comrade, Hermann Goering, Commander in Chief of Germany’s Luftwaffe, had advised Hitler that with German supremacy in the air, the Royal Navy could be beaten and an invasion accomplished. Goering had even boasted that it would take only four days to knock out the RAF’s Fighter Command from the air.

The German Air Force had begun by attacking ships in the English Channel to lure British fighters into aerial battles, hoping that the RAF would lose not only precious aircraft but also their pilots. An engagement in early July set the pattern in which six RAF Hurricanes found themselves grossly outnumbered by Messerschmitt 109 and 110 fighters escorting large numbers of Dornier bombers. The skirmish drew other RAF squadrons into the fight and attacks with other decoys. The RAF flew over six hundred sorties in one day alone, twice the daily average during the Dunkirk evacuation. By the very geography of its setting, Biggin Hill played a decisive part and Johnny Faulkner and Anthony Barker’s 79 squadron was in the thick of the fighting.

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