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RAF Duxford's leading role in the Battle of Britain
Douglas Bader's 'Big Wing' flying in sky, 1940
Douglas Bader's 'Big Wing', comprising three squadrons, taken by Stanley Devon

The fresh young faces of the men who won the Battle of Britain look out from a photographic exhibition at the Imperial War Museum Duxford.

It has been launched to mark the 70th anniversary of the famous victory.

RAF Duxford was an important base for the Spitfire and Hurricane pilots who battled the Luftwaffe in the summer and autumn of 1940.

From 1938 the aerodrome had been prepared for action. All that work paid off during the Battle of Britain.

War in the skies

Czech pilots from No 310 Squadron, 1940
Pilots of No. 310 (Czech) Squadron. Six did not survive the war

The conflict was the first major campaign to be fought entirely by air forces. The German leader Adolf Hitler hoped to soften up Britain for invasion, by bombing its cities and defeating the Royal Air Force.

The aerodrome at Duxford had been built during the First World War. By the 1930s it was the home of No. 19 Squadron and the first Spitfire was flown from there.

In 1940 the RAF expanded to nearby Fowlmere and Hurricanes piloted by Czechoslovakians arrived. Every day around 60 Spitfires and Hurricanes were readied for action.

The Few

Douglas Bader & pilots of 242 Squadron
Douglas Bader and pilots from his No. 242 Sqadron. Many were Canadians

Duxford and Fowlmere were home to some of the greatest heroes of the Battle of Britain.

Douglas Bader was one - he had to persuade the RAF that his artificial legs should not be a barrier to active service.

British pilots such as Brian Lane, 'Grumpy' Unwin, 'Farmer' Lawson and Wallace Cunningham showed immense courage in the face of the enemy. They were joined by men from around the Empire and Poles and Czechs whose countries had been over-run by the Germans.

In a speech by Winston Churchill on 20 August 1940 he famously said about the Battle of Britain pilots: "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few."

Over 2000 men from Great Britain are officially recognised as having taken part in the Battle of Britain, alongside nearly 600 from overseas. These included pilots and other aircrew.


Mechanic rearming Spitfire, 1940
Fred Roberts rearms the machine-guns on Sgt Bernard Jennings' Spitfire

Many of the photographs in the exhibition were taken by Stanley Devon, a photojournalist who was twice-named News Photographer of the Year. He was an official RAF photographer and sent to Duxford to record life at a typical fighter station.

The images stand as a memorial to those young men who lost their lives in the conflict.

Post-war Duxford

In 1943 RAF Duxford became home to the United States 8th Airforce. After the war the RAF took it back and it ceased to be an operational base in 1961.

The Imperial War Museum gave the abandoned airfield a new lease of life in 1977.

The exhibition of photographs will run until the end of 2010 and is one of a number of ways the Imperial War Museum Duxford is marking the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.

In pictures: Duxford Goes To War
09 Sep 09 |  History

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