War in the Air
The 2nd World War
Naughts and Crosses
Europe during the 2nd World War. Much of Europe had been sewn up by German forces. Only Britain was holding out. The Battle of Britain was very must a case of democracy versus the kind of world Hitler wanted to create.
Young men from Australia, New Zealand and Poland risked all alongside British pilots. If not for the RAF and the pilots from all over the world who joined in the defense of Britain during Britain's darkest hour, the world today would be a very different place.
The Germans had won up to this point. They appeared to be unstoppable. They had swallowed up much of Europe as shown nightly in the 1970s in the British comedy Dad's Army.
There have been novels, movies and television shows about what would have happened if the Germans had not hit trouble they couldn't handle in trying to soften up the British with bombing raids.
For example, The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick (1963) is a novel about what life would be like if the Nazis and the Japanese had won the 2nd World War. It is not a very nice world to live in unless, of course, you are German or Japanese or possibly Italian.
The wonderful British propaganda film, The Demi-Paradise (1943) starring Laurence Olivier, first refers to British fighters with their distinctive and rather cheeky dart board bull's-eyes as naughts and the German fighters with their ornate crosses as, well, crosses. We'll get to the importance of the naughts and crosses to the free world later. Right now we should focus on a time when money was short.
THE GREAT DEPRESSION
The 1929 Wall Street, New York stock market got overheated with too many speculators pumping up artificially the value of too many companies.
When the true rather than the exaggerated value of some of these companies was realized panic selling took place. Even rock solid companies were negatively affected in this selling frenzy.
This led to the crash of October 1929 which put the USA into a deep financial hole. There had been stock market crashes before in the USA but none of them had led to stock market downturns in other countries.
There had been, for example, a bad stock market panic in 1893 which led to years of depression in the USA. It was, however, not a worldwide financial disaster.
Why the 1929 crash spread out so far and wide is well known. In 1929 Europe, especially Germany, was heavily indebted to the USA.
Australia was also financially tied up with the USA.
A drought in parts of Australia had been eased by money lent to Australian banks by the USA. The drought broke by the time the Great Depression had reached Australia. Farmers looking forward to good times and being able to pay off their debts got a shock.
The USA was calling in all I.O.Us quick smart to try to stabilize their own economy and the result was financial disaster for all.
The 1930s was a tough decade for many people. My parents grew up in this time frame. Keeping a roof over your head and food on the table were the essentials. Anything else was luxury.
In Australia rabbit from the Rabbito was the cheapest and most common meat.
Rabbit stew with dumplings was the poor man's feast. Children learned to make their own fun. Marbles and skip-rope were popular games.
Swimming was popular in Spring and Summer. There were the beaches and rivers. There were also places such as the Ramsgate Baths, NSW which managed to keep going.
My parents have fond memories of the Ramsgate Baths which opened in the 1920s and closed for good after the summer of 1969 - 1970. (There is some mention of these Baths in my novel Ghost Dance).
The Ramsgate Baths had a shop where you could purchase sweets and ice creams. It also had a shop where you could get fish and chips or the most wondrous banana fritters rolled in icing sugar. There were slot machines, mechanical fortune tellers, and distorting mirrors. All the marvels of childhood for my parents were there. I visited the Baths in the 1960s so I, too, have great memories of the place.
Employment was hard to come by during the Great Depression, especially for unskilled laborers. Young men who could get into the military or the police force had a better future.
In the USA schemes to get more Americans back to being employed and the economy thriving again generally failed.
In Germany the Nazis had grown in popularity by offering bread and soup to the hungry. They also offered a purpose in life to the youth of the nation.
What remained of big business in Germany had the choice of sponsoring the Nazis or the Communists. It was decided that the Nazis should be sponsored. It was generally agreed that the Nazis could be controlled whereas the Communists could not be.This view was false.
When Hitler did take over power in Germany, for many Germans it looked like a good thing. Under Hitler great roads were built and factories were re-opened. Three square meals a day for workers became more common.
Communists and Jews in Germany were persecuted. Church men who protested injustice were thrown into concentration camps.
For at least a decade Germans had suffered deprivations much of the rest of Europe had managed to avoid.
There were key years in the 1920s in which the USA had managed to ease Germany's pain but all that was over. Many Germans felt it was right to give up a flawed democracy for a dictatorship because it was generally felt that the Fatherland needed a powerful leader more than democracy.
And so Germany moved into being ruled over by Adolf Hitler.
In England in the 1930s the powers that be tried to ease the nation's financial pains with much needed housing projects. Prime Minister Chamberlain wanted peace in Europe in order to get the nation back on its feet. He did not want war with a quickly re-arming Germany.
In Australia the completion of the Sydney Harbor Bridge in 1932 filled the nation with pride. Today it stands as a hardy, thriving monument to what Australian workers are capable of doing when given the chance.
In New Zealand experiments with radar would eventually aid the Americans in the Pacific once they had entered the 2nd World War.
The Spanish Civil War (1936 - 1939) gave Germany a place to test new weapons. It also proved how useless the League of Nations was in keeping the peace in Europe.
In the late 1930s the USA was re-arming for war. This was the shot in the arm the American economy needed.
The USA, however, would not be drawn into the fighting begun in 1939.
There were too many Americans who did not want to be involved in a European conflict they essentially saw as being none of their business. Other Americans were actually supportive of Nazi Germany.
Nazi Bund meetings and camps, for example, were held in in New York (1938) and San Francisco (1938).
A Second World war in the Make
THE MARCH TO WAR
The Treaty of Versailles was, by the 1930s, regarded by many politicians throughout the Western World as unfair to Germany. If Hitler wanted to take back land that had been confiscated from Germany under the treaty that was okay. The British and the French would allow this to happen.
Would Hitler stop there or go on to conquer land that had never been part of Germany? If a country wanted to be part of the greater Germany, or if the powers that be would could be convinced that this was so, would it be permitted?
Austria became part of the developing Nazi German empire. Czechoslovakia was taken. There was hope that Germany would stop with Czechoslovakia and Europe would stabilize.
A non-aggression pact was made by Germany with Communist Russia. Germany then invaded Poland. Britain warned Germany to leave Poland. Britain was ignored and then Britain declared war on Germany. British forces, however, were not prepared at the time to offer much aid to the Polish people. France also found herself at war with Germany.
When German forces invaded France, the British tried to help out but it was no use. France and the low countries were quickly swallowed up by the German war machine.
Churchill, the man who had warned Britain that Hitler could not be trusted, became the new Prime Minister. German forces were poised across the English channel to invade. All that needed to be done before this could happen was the clearing of the skies of the Royal Air Force. This seemed to be a small matter. Even so, to avoid bloodshed, could the British people be reasoned with?
The king's brother, for example, had proven to be pro-Nazi and there were members of Churchill's cabinet not keen on showing any further resistance to the Nazi onslaught. The Americans were not going to come and save the day. The British were alone and quite vulnerable. Further resistance seemed foolhardy at best.
Australia, New Zealand and Canada had declared war on Germany but, for the most part, were not in a position to give immediate aid to Britain.
The Battle over Britain
Naughts and Crosses - The Battle of Britain
Britain refused to surrender to German might.
The British prepared themselves as best they could for bombing raids.
The American press gave the British two weeks before they would have to give up. The Battle of Britain lasted for months with the extraordinary British actually victorious.
The RAF were outnumbered in both planes and pilots.
What's more, many of the German pilots were veterans of aerial combat while many of the RAF had not had any actual combat experience. Unknown to the Germans, the radar network and observer corps that had been set up throughout Britain were more sophisticated than they had imagined.
There were more Hurricanes than Spitfires involved in saving Britain from invasion. Even so, it was Mitchell's Supermarine Spitfire with its Merlin engine that became the symbol of British resistance.
German Stukas were at first used to disrupt British shipping and to attack British radar towers. They were easy meat for the Spitfires and Hurricanes.
The Stuka was fine on bombing and strafing missions but too slow to be a top class fighter. Stuka losses were so high they had to be withdrawn to save both planes and pilots.
The Messerschmitt Bf109 was an excellent fighter. It had already proven its worth in battle as had the men who flew her. The Spitfire had the very slight edge in speed and in turning. The 109 was, however, faster than the Hurricane though not as sturdy.
The 109 shot down more British aircraft than any other German fighter during the Battle of Britain.
There was also the Messerschmitt Bf110 which was a long range twin engine plane that turned out to be too slow against Hurricanes and Spitfires. It should be noted that Hurricanes were mostly used to down enemy bombers and Spitfires were mostly used to go after German fighters.
Dog fights in the air over England between Spits (naughts) and 109s (crosses) became legendary. Often from the ground in daylight they could only be seen as patterns of white streaking across the sky.
The only way an observer on the ground could usually tell them apart was by the sound of their engines. Of course having a pilot or a bit of debris from a plane land in your backyard was another way to sort them out.
British fighter pilots became national heroes and their pictures and stories appeared on cigarette cards.
The biggest disadvantage the 109 had was that its time over England was sorely limited by its fuel capacity. If a German fighter pilot was enticed to fight for too long over English soil he could win a fight with a Spitfire or a Hurricane but run out of fuel on the way back and crash into the English Channel.
In terms of fuel capacity the German bombers were less limited but the further inland they went the less they could rely on fighter escort for protection on their return journey.
It was when the Germans changed tactics that the outcome of the fighting became less certain. By leaving coastal defense and the airfields alone to concentrate on bombing London and other cities such as Coventry, the Germans made their first big mistake.
The next big mistake was the insistence that the German fighter planes fly close to the bombers. This order hampered the effectiveness of the 109 which was essentially a hunter. Gone was the possibility of deadly surprise attacks upon Spitfires and Hurricanes.
Bombing raids at night were tried by the Germans in order to save on planes and men. The radar and observer corps, however, were up to keeping tabs on the German planes even at night.
The pilots who fought on the side of the British in the Battle of Britain included: Australians, New Zealanders, Free French, Czechs, Poles and Canadians. There wasn't enough of them to make up for lack of British pilots. What they lacked in numbers, just like the British, they made up for in guts and determination. It should be remembered that these were young men fighting for what they believed in.
Empire, for example, was still an important concept to Australians despite the Gallipoli fiasco during the Great War and other bad decisions made by the British leaders during that particular war.
There was one thing that caught my eye in a documentary on The Battle of Britain. An RAF pilot at an airfield had on his flight jacket the stick figure with halo symbol of Leslie Charteris' famous fictional adventurer, The Saint. Simon Templar, better known as The Saint, was created in 1928.
In his early adventures Simon Templar was an excellent pilot with fighter pilot capabilities. Perhaps the Battle of Britain pilot had this in mind when he adopted the symbol for good luck. Personally, I hope it did bring to him the very best of British luck.
Freedom to be Cherished and Fought For
Nazi rule in Europe was not broken by Britain's successful resistance to Nazi terror. It did, however, prove that the German war machine was not all powerful. It could be stopped.
It must not be forgotten that the fighter pilots that risked all in the Battle of Britain were not all British. There were Australians and New Zealanders. There were polish pilots who took their knowledge of German fighter pilot tactics and used this knowledge to shoot them down for a free Britain and, sadly, for a free Poland that did not eventuate at war's end. Poland, however, did eventually obtain its freedom.
Today Islamic State appears to be a force of evil as bad as the Nazis were during the 2nd World War. Hitler had plans to create his own form of Christianity. Islamic State uses religious fanaticism for its own ends. The world may have changed in many ways since 1945 but the fight to keep democracy and free will alive continues.
More by this Author
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Bullying in the USA, Australia and France. School boy bullies. Nations throwing out democracy for dictatorship because of bullying. Religious bullies. Computer bullies. Fighting against bullying.
Standing tall and one person making a difference has long been part of the American identity. In propaganda terms it has been useful. Can one person really make a difference? John Wayne and Vietnam.