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The Battle of Britain Feature Film (1969)

Overview: Why did Britain win the Battle of Britain? Looks at multiple factors surrounding Hitler’s failure to execute Operation Sea Lion – the invasion of Britain. Begins with a relay activity to gather information about the factors, a student led teaching roulette, followed by a prioritization sort and then a written answer using PEEKA paragraphs.

Blog: Many moons ago when studying at the University of Edinburgh I was lucky enough to meet Wallace Cunningham – a real Battle of Britain fighter ace. An incredible man who fought in 19 Squadron flying Spitfires. He was eventually shot down over France and spent three years in a prisoner of war camp (Stalag Luft III – the same camp made famous by the Great Escape). I asked him how he felt about modern day representations of the Battle and he began to talk about the 1969 Battle of Britain feature film starring a tonne of famous actors including a young Michael Caine. It was, and still is, one of my favourite movies but I was expecting him to be unimpressed with the depiction. Instead he said it was brilliant. In the whole thing he could spot only one mistake. Everything else was true to reality. I assume here he was referring to the aircraft and squadron markings rather than the dialogue etc. However, having received validation from no other than a real Spitfire pilot, I have come to love it even more.

Aside from the incredible large scale dogfights the film successfully explains many of the factors behind Hitler’s failure (and Britain’s success). This is what this is lesson is largely based on (with some added factors not shown in the film). Three factors are made clear in the film. Firstly, the film is especially good at explaining Hitler’s mistake in switching from the bombing of the airfields to the bombing of the cities – a decision he made just as he had the RAF on its knees. While the poor citizens were enduring the Blitz the RAF were able to rebuild and operate effectively without much harassment to their logistics and airfields. Secondly, it memorably depicts the effectiveness of radar – with RAF chief famously saying they were “praying to God and trusting in radar”. Thirdly it does a fantastic job, now often sadly forgotten, of showing the role that Allied airmen played. The scene of the Polish pilots engaging the Luftwaffe while on a training flight is incredibly moving as it is funny – and it has become a viral hit among young Poles today.

Also vital in any study of this period is to address the seriousness with which modern Britons take the idea that ‘Britain fought alone’ and somehow in so doing won the Second World War. It is view not really shared outside of the country – the Russians lost millions of men and women and the Americans also invested more in terms of manpower and money. That the image of Churchill and plucky Britain standing up to the tyrants of Europe seems to have become so prevalent during the recent Brexit referendum is an interesting modern, and peculiarly British, interpretation of events. This lessons features an extension activity that asks students to think about the long term impact of this 'national narrative'.

Who says History doesn’t have any bearing on the modern day hey?

Hope it helps.

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