Sunday, June 28, 2009

War technologies: the Royal Air Force

1940: The Blitzkrieg allows Hitler to conquer France in 6 weeks. In May, France capitulates and in June the British Expeditionary Force withdraws hastily at Dunkirk, abandoning most of its military equipment. England is alone, but luckily for her, has an ace up her sleeve: the Royal Air Force (RAF).

In the 1930s, England worries about maintaining an air force capable of defending the kingdom against all attack from the European continent, a sort of air parity. It draws on expertise developed by aircraft manufacturers while participating to the Schneider Cup events: «Jacques Schneider, one of the legendary Le Creusot dynasty, was among those who, in the inter-war years, strongly believed in the future of seaplanes. Convinced that the seaplane was the aircraft best suited to long range air travel, he sought to stimulate development through a cup that will remain the symbol of an era in aviation history. The Schneider Cup will not only be responsible for the creation of legendary aircraft, with superb lines and dazzling performances, such as the Bernard HV-220, the Macchi MC 72 or the Supermarine S6. It will also greatly contribute to significant progress. Besides the development of V-engines, it will impose the low-wing monoplane design for fast aircraft. There is no doubt that the experience gained by Reginald Mitchell and Henry Royce in their quest for the Schneider Cup has been profitable in the creation of an aircraft that will later become well known: the Supermarine Spitfire. » (Aerostories Web site)

The Luftwaffe's (German Air Force) demise during the famous Battle of Britain, from July 10 to October 31 1940, forces Hitler to abandon his plan of an amphibious assault on the English coast; the excellence British fighter aircraft, the Hurricane and the most recent Spitfire, coupled to the courage of RAF pilots saves England from German invasion. In a speech to the House of Commons on 20 August 20 1940, these events led Prime Minister Winston Churchill to say: «Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few. »

In my next column, I'll review technological development of air weaponry in the United States.

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