The Battle of Britain

New Zealand's contribution


New Zealanders in the battle

Alan Deere's <em>Nine Lives</em> memoir
Alan Deere's <em>Nine Lives</em> memoir

Alan Deere's //Nine Lives//memoir


There were many New Zealanders among ‘the Few’ – Churchill’s grateful description of the airmen who took part in the Battle of Britain in 1940. Some proved adept at the difficult task of shooting down enemy planes. Al Deere, a Whanganui law clerk before joining the Royal Air Force (RAF) in 1937, was already an ‘ace’ - unofficially credited with more than five victims - from his efforts in France. A member of 54 Squadron, he added significantly to his reputation during the Battle of Britain, shooting down another four enemy planes and having so many narrow escapes that he would entitle his memoirs Nine Lives.
Another New Zealander flying Spitfires with 54 Squadron, Colin Gray, had also joined the RAF in 1937. He was a brutally effective combat pilot, destroying 14 enemy planes during the battle and sharing in the destruction of two more. He would end the war as New Zealand’s highest-scoring fighter pilot, with at least 27 enemy aircraft destroyed and 22 probably destroyed or damaged.

Pilot Officer Michael Herrick
Pilot Officer Michael Herrick

Pilot Officer Michael Herrick


Brian Carbury, serving with the Spitfire-equipped 603 Squadron, was another New Zealand ‘ace’. He shot down 15 German planes during the battle and shared in the destruction of one. With Gray, he was one of 17 pilots who claimed ten or more victims during the battle. On one day alone, 31 August, Carbury reported the destruction of five enemy planes in three encounters.
Some New Zealanders also made their mark in the battle against night raiders, a defensive effort at first hampered by inadequate equipment. Flying a Bristol Blenheim, Michael Herrick, a 19-year-old from Hastings, shot down three of the four German night bombers downed in September.
While the Kiwis serving with Fighter Command were most directly engaged with the enemy, many other New Zealanders played a part in the battle. Some manned the bombers that destroyed at least 10% of the German invasion craft and damaged ports and other facilities. Others served with Coastal Command or flew air-sea missions that rescued pilots who ditched in or bailed out over the Channel.

Sir Keith Park statue
Sir Keith Park statue

Sir Keith Park statue


Keith Park’s role in the battle was crucial. In marshalling the scarce resources of his fighter group, and successfully employing tactics that allowed timely interception of the enemy forces, he excelled in the most significant wartime role ever undertaken by a New Zealander. His reputation has grown with historical assessment of the battle - reflected in the decision to place a statue of him in London’s Waterloo Place (unveiled on Battle of Britain Day 2010). But at the time he fell victim to the dispute over tactics and his rival Leigh-Mallory’s intriguing at the Air Ministry. Park was transferred to a training command in December 1940, although in July 1942 he became RAF commander of the strategically vital base of Malta.


Alan Deere

Biography


Alan Christopher Deere is possibly New Zealand’s most famous fighter pilot of the Second World War. He was also one of the luckiest, surviving several near-death experiences to become one of the outstanding pilots of the Battle of Britain.
Born in Auckland on 12 December 1917, Deere was working as a law clerk in Whanganui when he joined the Royal Air Force (RAF) in 1937. After completing flight training he was posted to No. 54 Squadron along with Colin Gray, who would go on to become New Zealand’s top fighter ace of the war.
Deere’s first taste of combat came in mid-May 1940 when his squadron was assigned to cover the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) from Dunkirk. In the course of one week he destroyed six Luftwaffe (German air force) planes and was shot down himself – returning to base 19 hours later after hitching a ride on a boat across the English Channel. For his efforts during the Battle of France Deere was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC), which was presented to him by King George VI in June 1940.
During the Battle of Britain Deere’s squadron was part of Keith Park’s famous No. 11 Group, which bore the brunt of the German aerial assault against London and southeast England. Between July and September 1940 Deere shot down eight more planes, earning another DFC (Bar) in the process.
Deere survived several brushes with death during the campaign. The first was on 9 July 1940 when his squadron was scrambled to intercept an enemy formation near Dover. They discovered a group of Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighters escorting a seaplane, which had been sent to undertake pre-invasion surveys of the English coast. Deere’s section immediately engaged the fighter escort and the New Zealander quickly sent a Bf 109 down in flames. He was manoeuvring to attack another fighter when a German plane suddenly headed straight for him. Locked in a deadly game of chicken, neither pilot gave way and their aircraft collided. The engine of Deere’s Spitfire was severely damaged. Unable to bail out and with his cockpit filling with smoke, he managed to head inland and crash land – his Spitfire came to rest in the middle of a corn field before bursting into flames. Deere was able to smash his way out and walk away with minor cuts and burns. Remarkably, he was back on patrol the next day.
A few weeks later Deere was shot down again. He had pursued a Bf 109 across the English Channel and shot it down near Calais when he was attacked by five German fighters. Outnumbered, Deere was able to evade his pursuers long enough to reach the English coast but was forced to bail out of his bullet-ridden Spitfire. Describing this incident, Deere said:

  • Bullets seemed to come from everywhere and pieces flew off my aircraft. Never did it take so long to cross the Channel. Then my Spitfire burst into flames, so I undid my straps and eased the stick back to gain height before bailing out. Turned my machine on its back and pushed the stick hard forward. I shot out a few feet but somehow became caught up. Although I twisted and turned I could not free myself. The nose of my aircraft had now dropped and was pointing at the ground which was rushing up at an alarming rate. Then suddenly I was blown along the side of the fuselage and was clear. A hurried snatch at the rip cord and, with a jolt, the parachute opened.
As Luftwaffe raids over England intensified in late August 1940 Deere, along with fellow New Zealanders Colin Gray and John Gibson, quickly established himself as an outstanding fighter pilot. Perhaps more importantly, his luck continued to hold.
On 28 August 1940 Deere was forced to bail out over the Kent countryside, landing in the middle of a fully laden plum tree – much to the annoyance of the local farmer. Three days later No. 54 Squadron’s airfield at Hornchurch was bombed just as Deere was preparing to take off. Shrapnel tore off a wing and the propeller of his Spitfire, flipping the aircraft over and sending it sliding along the airfield upside down. Deere was dragged out by another pilot, who promptly collapsed and had to be carried to safety by the New Zealander.
Rested in December 1940, Deere had a spell as an Operations Room Controller before returning to operational duty in May 1941 with No. 602 Squadron. Based in Scotland, Deere was one of the pilots scrambled on 10 May 1941 to investigate reports of a lone German plane flying toward Glasgow. He did not make contact with the aircraft, which later made a forced landing on the outskirts of the city. It was discovered later that the pilot was deputy Nazi Party leader Rudolf Hess.
In January 1942 Deere embarked on a short tour of the United States to teach fighter tactics to American pilots. He was back in action three months later, taking command of a Canadian spitfire squadron before being posted to staff duties at the headquarters of No. 13 Group. In February 1943 he was appointed Wing Leader at the Royal Air Force Station at Biggin Hill. He led 121 sorties over the next six months and earned the Distinguished Service Order (DSO). He went on to command the Free French fighter wing through D-Day and the liberation of France before returning to staff duty in England.
Deere finished the war as New Zealand’s second-highest-scoring air ace – behind Colin Gray – with 22 confirmed victories, 10 probable victories and 18 damaged. He was awarded an Order of the British Empire (OBE) in May 1945 and went on have a prestigious post-war career, including service as Aide-de-camp to Queen Elizabeth II in 1962.
Alan Deere died on 21 September 1995 at the age of 77. Fittingly, his ashes were scattered over the River Thames from a Spitfire.

By Gareth Phipps


The Battle of Britain and its significance to New Zealanders.

Introduction

RAF war poster
RAF war poster




Where there are [ ] that means that I have added in more information. Where I have put … means that I have cut out information that will not help your study.



Shortly after 1 p.m. on 31 August 1940 an Auckland-born 23-year-old desperately gunned his Spitfire down the runway at his squadron’s Hornchurch airfield. Al Deere and his fellow Royal Air Force (RAF) pilots had dashed to their aircraft when ordered to scramble [this means run to your planes] , and the controller screamed at them to take off immediately. A large formation of German bombers, which had escaped early detection, was approaching.


Two of the squadron’s sections managed to get their planes into the air as the first of about 60 bombs began to fall. In the rear Deere and his section had just lifted off when explosions caused all three Spitfires to crash. As bombs continued to burst, Deere was pulled from his upside-down machine by one of the other pilots. He then had to carry his rescuer to safety after the latter collapsed.


Deere was one of 135 New Zealanders who fought in the Battle of Britain as part of the RAF’s [Royal Air Force] Fighter Command. Many others served with Bomber and Coastal Commands. Their participation reflected [New Zealand’s] vital interest in the outcome of this struggle for control of the British skies in the northern summer of 1940.
New Zealand had gone to war in September 1939 determined to support the British cause and defend the British system upon which it depended for both economic and physical security. With the United Kingdom now at risk, New Zealanders followed the events of July-October 1940 with deep apprehension [worry]. They needed no reminding of the disastrous consequences that would follow a German conquest of the ‘mother country’ [this is what they called Britain at that time].

The invasion threat

The origins of the Battle of Britain lay in the dramatic and unexpected collapse of the Allied [French & English] front in Western Europe in May-June 1940.


The French surrender [to Nazi Germany] on 22 June left the British Empire fighting Germany alone, and raised the prospect of an invasion of the British Isles.


Although most of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) had been [saved] out of Dunkirk [as they had been driven into the sea on the coast of France by Germany] , vast quantities of equipment had been lost. The forces available to defend Britain were weak and unprepared, with no more than six combat-ready divisions available.


Britain fights on

Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill
For some in Britain the dire [really bad] situation seemed to demand an end to the conflict on the best terms available. German leader Adolf Hitler hoped [Britain would surrender] and in July, he offered peace. But Prime Minister Winston Churchill and the bulk of his Cabinet disagreed: Britain would fight on. This defiance, Britons knew, would inevitably invite a German attempt to break their [the British] resistance.


Hitler was uncertain about the prospect of forcing British submission [giving in]. There were obvious risks in a cross-Channel invasion, even with air superiority. His naval advisers warned that the greatly inferior Kriegsmarine (German navy) would not be able to prevent the British fleet from intervening. More fundamentally, Hitler wanted to attack the Soviet Union at the earliest possible moment, suggesting this possibility to his commanders as early as 29 July. Hitler rationalised [thought] that the rapid defeat of Soviet Russia would undermine continuing British defiance [make them want to give up].


Operation Sea Lion

Despite his doubts, on 2 July Hitler ordered the high commands of the three German services to begin preparations for a landing [on British] “at the earliest possible date”. A fortnight later, he issued a further directive. The timetable for “Operation Sea Lion” called for orders to launch the invasion to be given on 11 September with the actual assault to take place ten days later.


The plan depended on nullifying [neutralising] British air power and on assembling the shipping required to convey [take across] a German landing force of 100,000 men with equipment across the English Channel.


If the Royal Air Force (RAF) rapidly collapsed, as Luftwaffe (German air force) head Hermann Göring predicted, a landing might be risked. Otherwise the battering would have neutralised the British threat while Germany turned east and quickly disposed of the Soviet Union/Russia.


The Luftwaffe did not wait for formal orders before beginning operations to whittle down British air strength. Officially, in Britain, the battle is dated between 10 July and 31 October 1940, though heavy German air attacks would continue into 1941 (The Blitz). A case can also be made for a mid-June opening date or 1 July, the day that Germans stepped on to British territory - in the Channel Islands.


The Battle of Britain

Opposing forces

British preparations

Sir Hugh Dowding with Battle of Britain pilots
Sir Hugh Dowding with Battle of Britain pilots

Sir Hugh Dowding with Battle of Britain pilots
While the military authorities struggled to make good post-Dunkirk deficiencies [hadn’t got their organisation fixed up after having to be evacuated from France], the Royal Air Force (RAF) was preparing to meet the Luftwaffe (German air force) under the overall command of Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding.


They were not starting from scratch: during the interwar years an integrated air defence system had been developed. As constituted in June 1940, Fighter Command was organised in three groups: Air Vice-Marshal Keith Park’s No. 11 Group covering the southeast; No. 12 Group (Air Vice-Marshal Trafford Leigh-Mallory) covering the midlands; and No. 13 Group (Air Vice-Marshal Richard Saul) covering the north. The German occupation of France soon led to a modification: another group, No. 10 Group, was created to cover the southwestern flank of England; it was commanded by Air Vice-Marshal Sir Christopher Brand.


The fighter planes of these groups were supported on the ground by 1000 heavy and 700 light anti-aircraft guns and 1500 barrage balloons.


The main problems were a shortage of aircraft and pilots, exacerbated [made worse] by losses in France and Norway. At the outset of the battle Dowding had just 644 fighters.


Of the RAF’s 52 squadrons, some had been lost altogether, others were exhausted, and 11 were converting to new aircraft.


Only 28 combat-ready squadrons were available, 23 of them equipped with the most modern fighters, Supermarine Spitfires and Hawker Hurricanes.


With aircraft production not meeting targets, the prospect of attrition [losing planes] was worrying. About 1000 pilots were available, a number that allowed little margin to cover losses.


The RAF did enjoy one major advantage: since the battle was fought mainly over British territory, pilots who baled out or crash-landed were often able to rejoin their units and damaged aircraft could also sometimes be recovered.


The RAF had several other advantages. First, its main fighter planes, the Spitfire and the Hurricane, were excellent machines, more than a match for the main German fighter, the Messerschmitt Bf 109, except at very high altitudes.


Second, the RAF had the benefit of a recent major scientific advance - radar, a development whose importance the Germans initially under-estimated [didn’t get was so important].


The network of 52 radar stations on the coast of Britain provided timely warning of the build up of German concentrations of planes over France.


Park used this information, backed by sightings of the Air Observer Corps once the enemy planes crossed the coast, to deploy his limited resources. This direct intelligence was backed by information got from the British ability, since April 1940, to read deciphered German operational messages - the so-called ULTRA intelligence.


German preparations

In contrast to the longstanding British air defence preparations, the German armed forces faced a daunting and unexpected task. They initially regarded the landing would be like crossing a large river, with the Luftwaffe providing the bombardment support with its dive bombers, especially the Junkers Ju 87 (Stuka).


But the Germans needed to assemble an invasion fleet capable of transporting a large force.
British intelligence soon detected the build-up of barges and other craft in ports opposite the British Isles. These concentrations would be targeted by the RAF in an important, but costly, side bar to its effort in the battle.


Both Coastal and Bomber Commands, in which hundreds of New Zealanders were serving, carried out bombing raids against port facilities and communication hubs.
German Heinkel He 111 bomber
German Heinkel He 111 bomber

Heinkel He 111 bomber


The German air effort against Britain would be made by three air fleets (Luftflotten) deployed in the newly conquered territories.


The northern-most was Air Fleet 5, arrayed in Denmark and Norway. It was not well placed to attack Britain, given the distance involved; fighters did not have the range to accompany bombers all the way to targets from these bases. It was, however, a threat that the British could not ignore, ensuring that squadrons could not be stripped from No. 13 Group to assist further south.


The brunt of the German effort would be borne by Air Fleet 2 in the Low Countries and Air Fleet 3 in northern France. Altogether, these two air fleets had 2600 aircraft, of which 1200 were twin-engine bombers and 760 single-engine fighters.


In mounting the air campaign, the Luftwaffe faced some distinct disadvantages. In the first place, its bomber aircraft, the Heinkel He 111, the Dornier Do 17 and Junkers Ju 88, were essentially medium bombers, with relatively small bomb loads. Designed to support the Wehrmacht (German army) they were not well suited to the type of strategic campaign now required.


More seriously, the main German single-engine fighter, the Messerschmitt Bf 109, had limited range, ensuring that it could only spend about quarter of an hour over Britain before heading home or risk ditching in the Channel. This reduced the protection the fighters could give the bombers. The vaunted two-engine Messerschmitt Bf 110 fighter quickly proved incapable of mixing it with the RAF fighters.


The Battle of Britain

The battle:July-August

The battle: first phase

British pilots 'scramble', July 1940
British pilots 'scramble', July 1940

British pilots 'scramble', July 1940


Luftwaffe (German air force) commanders recognised that their main task was to whittle down the strength of Royal Air Force (RAF) Fighter Command. They began a series of operations designed to draw the RAF into combat on terms favourable to the Luftwaffe.
They focused on the convoys of ships proceeding through the English Channel to and from east coast ports. These convoys came under heavy air attack from the beginning of July 1940.


Close to base, and thus less hampered by fuel limitations, the German fighter planes were able to take a steady toll of the RAF fighters sent to protect the convoys. The British, for their part, tried to avoid combat with the German fighters and instead attack the enemy bombers.


The battle: second phase

In August 1940 this softening up phase gave way to a more direct attack on Fighter Command. On 1 August Hitler issued a directive for ‘the conduct of air and sea warfare against England’. To provide the conditions needed for the ‘final conquest’, the Luftwaffe was to bring the RAF to its knees by an assault ‘primarily against flying units, their ground installations, and their supply organizations, but also on the aircraft industry, including the manufacturing of anti-aircraft equipment’. This intensified campaign (Adler) would begin on or after 5 August.
German bombers under attack
German bombers under attack

German bombers under attack
Although the Germans recognised the importance of radar, and attacked various radar stations, they failed to shut down the system. Instead, they concentrated on Fighter Command’s airfields, a target that was bound to draw the British fighters into battle and assist the object of destroying Fighter Command.
The Germans planned to overwhelm Fighter Command in a grand attack. Adler Tag, as the opening of this effort was termed, took place on 13 August, after being delayed five days by adverse weather. Continuing weather problems lessened its impact, but it brought Fighter Command to the brink of destruction. Airfields throughout southeast England came under heavy bombardment. Two days later, Fighter Command faced its greatest test, as all three air fleets mounted raids. More than 2000 sorties stretched the British defences to the limit. But the German effort was undermined by faulty intelligence: the airfields attacked were mostly not crucial to Fighter Command’s survival. The Luftwaffe lost 57 aircraft during the day, and its Air Fleet 5 was so badly mauled that it subsequently took little part in the battle.
Despite its relative success on 15 August, Fighter Command soon found itself under growing pressure as the Germans continued their assault on vital airfields and factories. The toll of British pilots mounted ominously. Between 23 August and 6 September, Air Vice-Marshal Keith Park's No. 11 Group lost 295 aircraft and 103 pilots (plus 128 wounded). He feared that the fighter defences would collapse if the Germans continued to attack the airfields and struck at the operations rooms and communications that controlled the British effort.
'... we had not even reached the door of the hut before an airman burst out yelling to us to scramble. It was a warm day, the engines were already hot, and Merlin engines could be easily ‘flooded’ under these circumstances. Some of the less experienced pilots had trouble starting. I was first out on to the airfield with my section, waiting for the others to get into position, and had just turned on the radio in time to hear a panic stricken shout over the R/T, ‘54 Squadron take off, take off, for Christ’s sake take off.’ I had never heard the controller use this sort of language before, and it was obvious that something was very wrong, so I opened my throttle and for Christ’s sake took off ... As we crossed the boundary, I looked back to see the airfield disappear in a cloud of smoke and rubble.'
Fighter pilot Colin Gray recalls a close call on 31 August 1940, the worst day experienced by Fighter Command during the battle. Colin Gray, Spitfire Patrol, pp. 59-60

The Battle of Britain

The battle: September-October

Tactical disputes

Painting of Keith Park, 1940
Painting of Keith Park, 1940

Painting of Keith Park, 1940
In early September 1940 Britons steeled themselves for the German invasion that now seemed imminent. As Royal Air Force (RAF) Fighter Command found itself on the verge of defeat, Air Vice-Marshal Keith Park had to contend with a distracting disagreement over tactics. Faced with multiple raids and little time to deploy his units, he had scrambled single squadrons to make interceptions. Their success depended on rapidly reaching the optimum altitude to attack the oncoming Luftwaffe (German air force) bombers or to defend themselves from escorting fighters. This approach helped Park's No. 11 Group break up or disrupt many of the raids before they reached their targets.
Often No. 12 Group, less directly in the line of attack, was tasked to protect airfields while No. 11 Group’s aircraft fought the raiders. Among No. 12 Group, with more time to develop their response, the belief in combining squadrons grew – the so-called Big Wing approach, advocated by Air Vice-Marshal Trafford Leigh-Mallory. These massed formations of fighters could, it was asserted, have a decisive impact against an enemy bomber force. Opponents pointed out that the time taken to form up a wing meant that it would likely strike at enemy bombers only after they had dropped their bombs and were heading home.
Trafford Leigh Mallory
Trafford Leigh Mallory

Trafford Leigh-Mallory
Although he considered the Big Wing approach impracticable in the circumstances confronting his group, Park did employ two-squadron formations where possible later in the battle. His superior, Air Marshal Hugh Dowding, agreed with Park’s approach, later noting that ‘If the policy of big formations had been attempted at this time in No. 11 Group, many more German bombers would have reached their objective without opposition.’ With benefit of experience in later commands, Park was convinced that ‘we would have lost the Battle of Britain if I had adopted the “withholding” tactics of No. 12 Group’.


The battle: third phase
German bomber over London
German bomber over London

German bomber over London
Had the Germans pressed on with their attacks on the airfields tactical issues might rapidly have lost relevance as Fighter Command’s very existence was at stake. But on 7 September 1940 a change of German strategy let the RAF off the hook. On that day a bomber force attacked London, the first heavy daylight raid. It quickly became apparent that this was no random event - a succession of raids on the capital followed. From this time night bombing raids on London, which had happened on occasions over previous weeks, also became more intense. With its airfields no longer the primary Luftwaffe target, Fighter Command was provided with a respite, which it used to good effect to restore its position.
The reason for this change of strategy - later seen as the decisive moment in the battle - remains unclear. One explanation is that Hitler demanded that the Luftwaffebomb London in retaliation for an RAF bombing raid on Berlin on the night of 25-26 August - a raid that was itself retaliation for the first major Luftwaffe bombing attack on London the previous night. On 2 September orders were issued to Air Fleets 2 and 3 to mount a ‘retaliatory attack on London’. Another explanation is that Luftwaffeleader Hermann Göring recognised that the necessary conditions for Operation Sea Lion could not be attained, and hoped that attacks on British population centres might bring about a collapse of morale, encouraging acceptance of German peace offers.
German incendiary bombs
German incendiary bombs

German incendiary bombs
Underlying the changed German strategy was more likely an over-estimation of the damage that had been done to Fighter Command in the preceding weeks. German intelligence estimates put its strength at no more than 300 machines, when in fact it had more than double that figure. Hitler and Göring may have assumed that this remnant could be destroyed while trying to prevent the raids on London, and that this might yet open the way for a landing.
The change of strategy occurred just four days before the scheduled order to launch Operation Sea Lion. If there were hopes that a devastating attack on the capital might cripple Fighter Command, they were quickly dispelled as No. 11 Group, assisted by No. 12 Group, took a heavy toll of the German bombers. The evidence of continuing resistance led to postponement, on 9 September, of the Sea Lion launching order by three days, soon extended by another three days. These delays did nothing for the morale of the German aircrews, who were aware of the RAF’s continued potency. Losses mounted alarmingly.
Aircraft contrails over England
Aircraft contrails over England

Aircraft contrails after dogfight, September 1940
On 15 September the Luftwaffe made a supreme effort. A series of raids battered the capital all day, fiercely contested by some 300 British fighters. Park committed his whole force. When the visiting Prime Minister, Churchill, asked him about reserves, he replied, ‘There are none.’ About 60 German planes were destroyed during the day - though at the time a morale boosting 185 was announced.
With no end to British resistance in sight, and the adverse weather of autumn approaching, Hitler accepted that Operation Sea Lion must be postponed at least until the following year. On 17 September he put it off ‘until further notice’, and then on 2 October he ordered most of the preparations to be dismantled. The dispersal of invasion vessels was soon being noted by RAF reconnaissance aircraft. In the meantime, the Luftwaffe continued to batter London and other British cities, an onslaught that would continue well into 1941.



New Zealanders in the RAF

Replica of Keith Park's Hurricane fighter
Replica of Keith Park's Hurricane fighter

Replica of Keith Park's Hurricane fighter
The battle came too soon for men of the newly instituted Empire Air Training Scheme to take part. But more than 550 New Zealanders - who had been awarded short-service commissions or went to Britain to enlist - were serving in the RAF when the war began.


At the outset of the battle of Britain 60 New Zealanders were serving in Fighter Command, and in all 135 would take part. After Britons and Poles, they were the third-largest national group within the command.


Four New Zealanders - Squadron Leaders M.V. Blake, P.G. Jameson, T.G. Lovell-Gregg and H.D. McGregor - commanded fighter squadrons during the battle. Others served in Bomber Command, including No. 75 (New Zealand) Squadron, and in Coastal Command.


In addition, some expatriate New Zealanders who had made the RAF their career after the First World War held senior appointments. One of them was Air Vice-Marshal Keith Park, who in April 1940 took command of No. 11 Group, covering southeastern England and the approaches to London. Park was a ‘brilliant leader and operational commander' who had ‘the ability to take things in at a glance and so to make sense quickly of the chaos of the battlefield.’ He made a point of visiting his squadrons, often flying his own fighter plane to do so.

Navy and army contributions

Although the outcome of the Battle of Britain was ultimately determined in the air, preparations to meet the invasion involved New Zealanders in all three services.


Naval reservists sent to the United Kingdom in May 1940, including two who would become prominent later (Peter Phipps, the first New Zealand Chief of Defence Staff, and Phil Connolly, a future Minister of Defence), were assigned to small minesweeping vessels in the English Channel. They were in the front line as the battle developed, shepherding ships in and out of port and sweeping mines.
Maori soldiers in England, 1940
Maori soldiers in England, 1940

Maori soldiers in England, 1940
Somewhat fortuitously, New Zealand also had a substantial presence on the ground. These were the 5000 men of the Second New Zealand Expeditionary Force's (2NZEF) Second Echelon, who had been diverted from their original destination, the Middle East, and landed in Scotland on 16 June.


Their arrival had been a boost to British morale as France collapsed. The government in Wellington agreed that they could, if fully equipped and trained, be used in an anti-invasion role. Divisional commander Bernard Freyberg flew to Britain to take command of the force, which was organised as two brigades - Brigadier James Hargest’s 5 Brigade, which included the 28th Maori Battalion, and a composite [made up of different parts] brigade. The force was incorporated into the defence system on 17 July, and deployed in the Maidstone area in southeast England, part of a reserve ready to deal with airborne landings in the area.



The Battle of Britain

Roll of honour

The following roll lists the names of New Zealand aircrew who died while serving with RAF Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain, July-October 1940. It contains 20 names - of whom 15 were killed in air operations and five as a result of aircraft accidents.


Nearly 3000 aircrew were awarded the Battle of Britain Clasp for having flown at least one authorised operational sortie with an eligible unit of RAF Fighter Command (including a number of attached Coastal Command units) during the period from 10 July to 31 October 1940. Of these, 135 came from New Zealand. They made up the third-largest national contribution after Great Britain and Poland.


See a full and definitive list of New Zealanders awarded the Battle of Britain Clasp here (pdf). This list was compiled with the assistance of Errol Martyn.
Name
Rank (highest during BoB)
Qualifying Squadron
Aircraft
Cause/Date of Death
ALLEN, James Henry Leslie
Flying Officer
151
Hurricane
Killed on air operations – 12 Jul 1940
BICKERDIKE, John Laurance
Pilot Officer
85
Hurricane
Killed in aircraft accident – 22 Jul 1940
BRENNAN, Jack Stephen
Sergeant
23
Blenheim
Killed in aircraft accident – 21 Aug 1940
COBDEN, Donald Gordon
Pilot Officer
74
Spitfire
Killed on air operations – 11 Aug 1940
HIGHT, Cecil Henry
Pilot Officer
234
Spitfire
Killed on air operations –
15 Aug 1940
HILL, Howard Perry
Pilot Officer
92
Spitfire
Killed on air operations – 20 Sep 1940
HOLDER, Robert
Sergeant
151
Hurricane
Killed in aircraft accident – 26 Oct 1940
HUGHES, David Earnest
Sergeant
600
Blenheim
Killed on air operations – 3 Oct 1940
KEMP, John Richard
Pilot Officer
141
Defiant
Killed on air operations – 19 Jul 1940
KIDSON, Rudal
Pilot Officer
141
Defiant
Killed on air operations – 19 Jul 1940
LOVELL-GREGG, Terence Gunion
Squadron Leader
87
Hurricane
Killed on air operations – 15 Aug 1940
ORGIAS, Eric
Pilot Officer
23
Blenheim
Killed on air operations – 25 Sep 1940
PATERSON, James Alfred
Flight Lieutenant
92
Spitfire
Killed on air operations – 27 Sep 1940
PRIESTLEY, John Sinclair
Pilot Officer
235
Blenheim
Killed in aircraft accident – 30 Aug 1940
RASMUSSEN, Lauritz Andrew Woodney
Sergeant
264
Defiant
Killed on air operations – 4 Sep 1940
SIMPSON, Geoffrey Mervyn
Flying Officer
229
Hurricane
Killed on air operations – 26 Oct 1940
STANLEY, Douglas Owen
Sergeant
151
Hurricane
Killed in aircraft accident – 26 Oct 1940
WENDEL, Kenneth Victor
Flying Officer
504
Hurricane
Killed on air operations – 7 Sep 1940
WILLIAMS, Wycliff Stuart
Pilot Officer
266
Spitfire
Killed on air operations – 21 Oct 1940
YOUNG, Robert Bett Mirk
Sergeant
264
Defiant
Killed on air operations – 8 Oct 140


Further information


HOW TO CITE THIS PAGE
'Alan Deere', URL: http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/people/alan-deere, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 21-Aug-2014