I’m hoping we can put the script of this film I’m doing to bed this week, and so have been going through the rough cut and trying to make sure I’ve got as much as possible covered. When you’re used to writing books of 200,000 words, reducing that to an hour of TV is pretty difficult and obviously there’s going to be a large amount that has to be left out.
But here’s one point I’ve been thinking about: what could the Luftwaffe have done differently? If, as I still believe, (despite messages coming in claiming that Hurricane was the best Battle of Britain fighter), that the Germans had the best fighter plane, surely they should have made a larger impact on the outcome? Well, obviously, shortage of fuel was one of the issues, and although they certainly had the technology, they chose not to use auxiliary fuel tanks that would have made life a great deal easier for them. Second, they should have been given free rein all the time and not made to escort the bombers at ridiculously slow speeds.
Third, they could have used radar to help their air-rescue teams fish downed pilots out of the Channel, but fourth, they should have been shooting at any RAF pilot bailing out. Fighter pilots will always tell you it was the machine not the pilot, but it was a shortage of pilots, not planes that was troubling Dowding and Park. It was all very well Galland and Co. notching up record scores, but if the men if shot down were fit and able to fly again later the same day, then they were achieving very little. Shooting down men in their parachutes would also have had a debilitating effect on British morale.
I agree that it’s all very distasteful, but it does seem ironic that the men of the Luftwaffe should have been so gentlemanly in this regard, adhering to a kind of chivalric knights of the sky code that made no sense whatsoever in terms of the total war being fought at the time. They got very upset when RAF aircraft shot at air-sea rescue planes, an action authorised by Dowding on the basis that otherwise those rescued pilots could fight again. And yet the Luftwaffe was the most Nazified of the German armed services and its army had no qualms about lining up Poles and Jews and even members of the BEF in France in May 1940 and shooting them in cold blood.