Northern Ireland has a proud aviation history. During World War Two, there were several military airfields in operation in the country such as RAF Sydenham and RAF Long Kesh. The USAAF and Polish Squadrons of the Royal Air Force temporarily called Ulster home and the Battle of the Atlantic is well-documented.
From July to October 1940, the Battle of Britain raged in the skies over the United Kingdom. The name “Battle of Britain” was first used on 18th June 1940 in a speech from Winston Churchill to the House of Commons.
What General Weygand has called The Battle of France is over. The Battle of Britain is about to begin.
The battle was the first major military campaign fought solely by air forces. Hitler’s Luftwaffe increased attacks on the United Kingdom and the Royal Air Force valiantly defended the skies.
The British military recognises the campaign as lasting from 10th July 1940 to 31st October 1940. German historians disagree, including the Blitz which means the battle went on until June 1941.
Nazi Germany’s main objective was to force Britain into a peace agreement. The Luftwaffe first targetted convoys and ports. By August, attention had shifted to incapacitating RAF Fighter Command by hitting airfields and manufacturing factories.
The men of Royal Air Force Fighter Command were among the bravest in Britain. On 20th August 1940, British Prime Minister Churchill paid tribute to them:
Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.
Twenty-eight of these men had connections to Northern Ireland and served in the Battle of Britain. Seven perished in the 1940 dogfights. A further eleven men would not survive the war.
As well as pilots, Northern Irish men and women made up some of the Royal Air Force’s ground crew. In total, the number of men and women from Northern Ireland killed during the Battle of Britain stands at 72.
If we hadn’t won the Battle of Britain the Nazis would have invaded England and there’s no doubt about it. We would not have the freedom that we have today and Northern Ireland’s fighter pilots played a key role.
John Hewitt – Aviation Historian in 2010
Battle of Britain Aircrew
Remembering the airmen with connections to Northern Ireland who flew with the Royal Air Force during the Battle of Britain.
Battle of Britain Memorial Flight
A Hawker Hurricane, Avro Lancaster, and a Supermarine Spitfire took to the skies over Portrush as part of the Airwaves Airshow on 4th September 2016.