How Australia’s ‘brave few’ helped to stop the Nazi war machine
Eighty years ago this year, the Battle of Britain was being fought in the skies over southern England. Hitler’s Luftwaffe was trying to destroy the Royal Air Force to pave the way for a German invasion of Britain. A successful invasion and occupation would complete the domination of western Europe by Hitler’s Third Reich and to this end German commanders believed a massive bombing campaign would bring Britain to its knees and lead to its ultimate surrender.
The Battle of Britain opened with raids against key airfields and radar sites across southern England in an attempt to destroy the RAF on the ground but despite Britain’s perilous state in 1940, it had developed a strong air defence network of ground observers and radar that would prove crucial during the Battle of Britain in providing early warning of German attacks. And Australia was among the first nations to come to Britain’s aid.
Thirty-five Australians flew combat operations during the Battle of Britain, 10 of whom were killed in action. One of them was Flight Lieutenant Pat Hughes of Cooma, New South Wales, who had at least 15 credited kills to his tally and was among the top aces of the time.
Each day between July and October 1940, British and German aircraft clashed in the skies above England and, although outnumbered the RAF had superior fighter aircraft in their Spitfires and Hurricanes.
The Australian airmen were among those international airmen immortalised by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in his tribute to the men of Fighter Command: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”
One of the last few surviving Spitfires in the world is housed in the Temora Aviation Museum, New South Wales.