It’s now 80 years since the Battle of Britain, the early turning point in the Second World War when the Luftwaffe tried and failed to assert air supremacy and bombed Britain’s civilian population in the Blitz, before being defeated by the RAF.
If your ancestor flew with Fighter Command you may already have some family ephemera relating to the conflict, such as the Battle of Britain Clasp that was awarded to combatants.
But lots of online resources reveal new details about the timeline, aircraft, tactics, contemporary coverage and official reports of the battle in more and more detail.
Indeed if your ancestor was a pilot, there are several websites that should record his name, rank and wartime service – and often a lot more besides.
This RAF website includes information about the Battle of Britain memorial flights and the types of aircraft used.
A clunky-looking but content-rich site that is dedicated to the “pilots, crew, fitters, ferry pilots, cooks, and all concerned with Fighter Command” during the period. It contains a list of all RAF pilots, pilots and crew by nationality, squadrons and a basic diary.
The entry for Monday 29 July 1940, for example, reads “Dover was heavily attacked by 48, Ju 87s escorted by about 80, Bf 109s. Smaller raids took place later in the day, off Portland and Harwich…”
Many of the pilots’ names are hyperlinked, which often lead to biographies and photographs.
TNA’s Research Guides page lists the key RAF collections now available. Second World War material includes combat reports, which pilots or air gunners filed after operational flights. The reports record date/ time of the combat, squadron of the person submitting the information, type/number of enemy aircraft, losses, plus a detailed narrative.
The records are searchable via Discovery. Fields include the name of the author/s of the report, whether pilot (for fighters) or air gunner (for bombers). You can also explore TNA’s operations record books, compiled by the Air Ministry.
This website focuses on the events surrounding the 75th anniversary, and is also the place to explore the Battle of Britain Memorial Wall, which records all recipients of the Battle of Britain Clasp. There are also biographies of a ‘Few of the Few’, and an ‘enthusiasts only’ Squadron Logbook section, which features an assortment of in-depth articles.
“My choice for novice researchers would be the official website of the Battle of Britain Historical Society.
“Its section on Fighter Command in 1940 gives splendid background details and on the action day by day, including descriptions of the fighting on both sides.
“There are features on the aircraft that fought, not just the Spitfire and Hurricane but also the Gloster Gladiator and Boulton Paul Defiant, two older fighters that covered the West Country, as well as German aircraft. Other documents cover the development of radar, the Observer Corps and Air Intelligence.
“The Battle of Britain Historical Society section is more personal and focuses on individuals with a complete list of British, Commonwealth and Allied aircrew that took part, a list of the known surviving participants and stories from the men who flew themselves.”