Battle of Britain Aircraft

The Second World War had been raging across Europe since September 1939. By the summer of 1940, Britain was the only major opponent of Nazi Germany that remained undefeated.  For any invasion of Britain to succeed, the German Luftwaffe would first need to defeat the British Royal Air Force. 

'What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilisation. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, "This was their finest hour."

Winston Churchill, June 18, 1940.

The RAF Museum’s collection includes rare and historic aircraft which help to tell the incredible story of the Battle of Britain that followed. Four of these aircraft actually took part in the Battle, while the remainder are later production versions of types which played a crucial role in the conflict and represent period examples which either no longer exist or are not held by the Museum. 


Hawker Hurricane Mk. I (Serial No. P2617)

 

The Hawker Hurricane Mk.1

 

While it may be regarded as less glamorous than its famous contemporary the Supermarine Spitfire, to many the Hawker Hurricane is the unsung hero of the Battle of Britain. Hurricanes entered RAF service in 1938 and by September 1940 equipped 32 Squadrons of RAF Fighter Command. More numerous than the Spitfire, Hurricanes were responsible for the destruction of more enemy aircraft during the Battle of Britain and proved themselves rugged and dependable. At the height of the Battle in August 1940, it was in a Hurricane of 249 Squadron that Flt Lt James Brindley Nicholson won Fighter Command’s only Victoria Cross of the Second World War. 

Hurricane Mk.I, Serial No. P2617, served with 607 Squadron during both the Battle of France and the Battle of Britain before being transferred to No. 1 (Canadian) Squadron at Prestwick in Ayrshire where it flew patrols over the Clyde Approaches. Between November 1940 and August 1943 it flew with various training units until selected for preservation in April 1944 by the Air Historical Branch before coming into the RAF Museum’s collection in 1972.

Vickers Supermarine Spitfire Mk. I (Serial No. X4590)

 

Vickers Supermarine Spitfire Mk.1

Probably the most famous fighter aircraft of the Second World War, the Supermarine Spitfire was designed by Reginald Mitchell and entered service with 19 Squadron at RAF Duxford in August 1938. At the start of the Battle of Britain nineteen squadrons of RAF Fighter Command were equipped with Spitfires and the type served with distinction throughout the conflict. Conceived as an air defence fighter, it also was adapted for other roles including photographic reconnaissance and ground attack. The design was also adapted for operation from aircraft carriers and renamed ‘Seafire’.    

Spitfire Mk. I, Serial No. X4590, is a Battle of Britain veteran. It is one of a batch of 500 built by Vickers Supermarine in 1940. It entered RAF service in September 1940, being assigned to 609 Squadron at RAF Middle Wallop. Interception patrols were its regular task, and, while being flown by Pilot Officer S.J. Hill on 21 October, X4590 had a half share in the destruction of a Junkers Ju 88 that was the 100th enemy aircraft brought down by 609 Squadron. In February 1941, X4590 was transferred to 66 Squadron, where it continued operations until April 1941. Later transferred to training duties, X4590 was retired from service in October 1943 and stored for future use by the Air Historical Branch. Displayed at various venues in the UK, X4590 was transferred to the RAF Museum in 1972.

Boulton Paul Defiant Mk. I (Serial No. N1671)

 

Boulton Paul Defiant Mk.1

The Boulton Paul Defiant was designed and built by Boulton Paul Aircraft of Wolverhampton. It introduced a new tactical conception in two-seater fighter aircraft whereby no forward firing armament (as in the Hurricane and Spitfire) was carried, all offensive firepower being instead concentrated in a gun turret located behind the cockpit. In combat, the Defiant was reasonably effective at its intended task of destroying bombers in the early days of the Battle of Britain but proved vulnerable to the Luftwaffe's more manoeuvrable, single-seat Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighters. The lack of forward firing armament proved to be a great weakness in daylight combat and the weight of two crew members and a turret greatly affected its performance. It was subsequently withdrawn from its day-fighter role in August 1940 but it was used subsequently in the night fighter role in which it repeated its earlier successes. It was gradually replaced in its night role by the Bristol Beaufighter and de Havilland Mosquito. Defiants were later used as gunnery trainers and for air-sea rescue duties. 

As the last surviving example of its type, Defiant Mk. I, Serial No. N1671, is unique. It was not used in the Battle of Britain but represents those which did serve during the early days of the conflict. N1671 was taken on charge by the RAF in August 1940 and delivered to No 307 (Polish) Squadron at Kirton-in-Lindsey in Lincolnshire. It is exhibited today in the markings of that Squadron. The aircraft flew numerous sorties until October 1942 when it was withdrawn from use. In April 1944 the Air Historical Branch requested that a Defiant be made available for display and N1671 was chosen, joining the RAF Museum’s collection in 1971.



Messerschmitt  Bf 109E-4/B (Serial No.4101)

 

Messerschmitt Bf 109 E4/B

The Messerschmitt Bf 109 was a German Second World War fighter aircraft that formed the backbone of the Luftwaffe's fighter force. It first saw operational service during the Spanish Civil War and was still in service at the dawn of the jet age. Originally conceived as an interceptor, later models were developed to fulfil multiple tasks including bomber escort, fighter-bomber, ground-attack and photographic reconnaissance. Bf 109E, Serial No. 4101, was built in Leipzig by the Erla Maschinewerk company and was originally assigned to 6th Staffel of Jagdgeschwader 52 before transfer to the 2nd Staffel of Jagdgeschwader 51 with whom it served during the Battle of Britain, operating from Wissant in Belgium.

On Wednesday 27 November 1940 the Luftwaffe undertook several fighter sweeps over Kent, losing six Bf109E’s in the process, including this particular aircraft. It was flown that day by 21-year-old Leutnant Wolfgang Teumer of 2/JG51, being shot down by Flt Lt George Christie DFC flying a Spitfire of No.66 Squadron. Leutnant Teumer made a wheels-up landing at RAF Manston in Kent. The aircraft was recovered, repaired and used for evaluation purposes by the Royal Aircraft Establishment and Rolls Royce. In 1943 the aircraft was eventually put into long term storage, along with other Air Historic Branch aircraft, as a future Museum exhibit. 

Fiat CR.42 Falco (Serial No.5701)

Fiat CR.42 Falco

 

The Italian Fiat CR.42 was a single-seat biplane fighter that served primarily in Italy's Regia Aeronautica before and during the Second World War. Obsolete by the time it first flew, CR.42’s nevertheless served the Italian Air Force well in the Mediterranean theatre of war.
 
Following the Fall of France, a Regia Aeronautica group of CR.42 and Fiat BR.20 bombers was established in Belgium for raids against Britain. During the later stages of the Battle of Britain they flew several operations but suffered a comparatively high loss rate, both bombers and fighters being outclassed by the Hurricanes and Spitfires of RAF Fighter Command. Harwich was attacked by the Italians on 11 November and Margate and Folkestone were the targets on 23 November 1940. These raids only served to emphasise the deficiencies of the Italian aircraft and they were soon withdrawn back to the Mediterranean area.

 Fiat CR.42, Serial No. 5701, is a genuine Battle of Britain veteran and a rare example of its type. On 11 November it took part in the raid on Harwich but early in the mission began to suffer engine problems, the pilot eventually being forced to make an emergency landing at Orfordness in Suffolk. The pilot was captured and the aircraft was recovered and later flown for evaluation purposes. 

Junkers Ju 87 G-2 Stuka (Serial No.494083) 

 

Junkers Ju 87 G-2 Stuka

 
One of the most famous Luftwaffe aircraft of the Second World War, the Junkers Ju 87, known in Germany as the Sturzkampfflugzeug (dive-bomber) but better known in the abbreviated form as the Stuka, was first used during the Spanish Civil War where it proved highly successful. It was also used as the spearhead in the German invasion of Poland and the Low Countries, where again, it proved itself to be highly effective. In the early days of the Battle of Britain the Stuka was used to attack shipping in the English Channel and against airfields and towns in the South East. However, when it came up against more modern fighter aircraft for the first time, its shortcomings became evident and after suffering heavy losses against the RAF it was withdrawn from the battle in early August 1940.

The Ju 87 continued in service until the end of the war and proved itself as a very effective anti-tank weapon on the Eastern Front.  

Ju 87 G-2, Serial No. 494083, is one of only two complete Stukas surviving worldwide. While this variant was never flown in the Battle of Britain it is displayed to represent the Stukas operated by the Luftwaffe during the conflict.  Research has identified it as having been built in 1943-44 as one of 1,178 JU87 D-5 ground-attack variants ordered, but later modified to G-2 standard, including fitting under wing mounting points for the two 37mm (1.46inch) Bk37/Flak 18 cannons carried by this variant.  It was discovered in a factory close to the Russian border at the end of the war and taken back to the Royal Aircraft Factory at Farnborough for evaluation. The Stuka was renovated at RAF St Athan and was also used in a non-flying role during production of the feature film ‘Battle of Britain’. 

Messerschmitt  Bf 110G-4/R6 (Serial No.730301)

 

Messerscmitt Bf 110G-4/R6

The Messerschmitt Bf 110 was a twin-engine heavy fighter developed in Germany during the 1930s. Employed by the Luftwaffe throughout the Second World War, it was mainly Bf 110c and Bf 110d variants that were operated during the Battle of Britain.  Relatively untried by the time it encountered RAF fighters in the Battle of Britain, its deficiencies soon became apparent and it was withdrawn after suffering heavy losses. Assigned to other duties, by the end of 1940 it was becoming well established as a night fighter. It was in this role that the aircraft excelled against allied forces, by attacking RAF night bomber formations over Germany and often patrolling the skies over the UK awaiting unsuspecting RAF bombers returning to base.
 
One of only two complete surviving examples of the type, Messerschmitt Bf 110G-4/R6, Serial No.730301, was never used in the Battle of Britain but represents those earlier variants operated during the conflict. As a G-series night fighter, this particular aircraft was originally fitted with FuG220b Liechtenstein SN-2 radar - the G-series being specially developed as night fighters. It is believed to have been manufactured in 1944 and served with Nachtjagdgeschwader 3, the unit responsible for the aerial night defence of Denmark and North Germany until Germany's surrender in May 1945. This particular aircraft was captured at Grove Airfield Denmark and was one of five Bf 110's taken by the British for technical evaluation in 1946. The aircraft then passed to the Air Historical Branch for retention as a future Museum exhibit, moving to the RAF Museum collection in 1978.

Junkers Ju 88 R-1 (Serial No.360043)

 

Junkers Ju 88 R-1

The Junkers Ju 88 was a German twin-engined aircraft designed by Junkers Flugzeug-und Motorenwerke (JFM) in the mid-1930s as a Schnellbomber (fast bomber). It suffered from a number of technical problems during its development but later became one of the most versatile combat aircraft of the Second World War. Operational use of the Ju 88 began in the summer of 1939 with the A-1 version taking part in the invasion of the Low Countries and Scandanavia. Several Luftwaffe units used the type during the Battle of Britain operating from bases in Denmark and France. Because of poor defensive armament the Ju 88 proved to be an easy prey for the Spitfires and Hurricanes of Fighter Command. The Ju 88 was extremely versatile and derivatives were produced which included night fighters, dive bombers, torpedo bombers and minelayers. As a night fighter the Ju 88 proved very effective against allied bombers operating over Germany.
   
One of only two complete surviving examples of the Ju 88, Serial No. 360043, never flew in the Battle of Britain but represents the variants employed by the Luftwaffe during the conflict. This particular aircraft is a later R-1 night fighter version, its nose adorned with an array of aerials for the Lichtenstein SN2 Air Interception Radar.  On the 9 May 1943 360043 was landed intact at Dyce Airfield Aberdeenshire by a defecting Luftwaffe crew, the aircraft was intercepted by two Spitfires and escorted to Dyce aerodrome. The pilots of both Spitfires were subsequently recommended for award of the Distinguished Flying Cross medal (DFC) on the grounds that they did not shoot the aircraft down, the only time this decoration was recommended for that reason. The aircraft was given the RAF serial number PF876 and flown extensively for evaluation by the Royal Aircraft Establishment and the Bomber Development Unit. In October 1945 the Ju 88 passed to the Air Historical Branch, joining the RAF Museum’s collection in 1978.


Heinkel He 111 H-20/R1 (Serial No. 701152)

 

Heinkel He 111 H-20/R1

The Heinkel He 111, which is probably the best-known of the Luftwaffe’s bombers, was designed in 1934. At the time of the Battle of Britain, the variants in use with the Luftwaffe were the He 111H and He 111P. In daylight operations the He 111 proved vulnerable to fighter attack, being too slow to take effective avoiding action and too poorly armed to defend itself. Later, the type enjoyed greater success as a night bomber. Like most German aircraft of the period, it was first used operationally during Spanish Civil War and then in the invasion of Poland and the Low Countries. It was less effective during the Battle of Britain when it came up against a more modern fighter force. Throughout its life the He 111 was used in many roles and was even employed as a platform to launch V-1 missiles. Post-war the the He 111 was manufactured in Spain as the ‘CASA 2-111’, remaining in service as a transport aircraft into the early 1970’s

One of the few original German built He 111’s still in existence; Serial No. 701152 never flew during the Battle of Britain but represents the variants employed by the Luftwaffe during the conflict. It was built in 1944 as an H-20 troop transport, the last production variant of the war. This version was intended as a fast troop carrying aircraft capable of delivering up to eight fully equipped paratroopers on clandestine operations. 701152 was captured by the Americans and was subsequently operated by the Enemy Aircraft Flight of the RAF Central Fighter Establishment. After a long period in storage it was reassembled for cockpit sequences in the feature film ‘Battle of Britain’ before joining the RAF Museum’s collection in 1978.

Bristol/ Fairchild Bolingbroke Mk. IVT (Serial No. 10001)

 

Bristol / Fairchild Bolingbroke Mk IVT

Displayed to represent an RAF Bristol Blenheim Mk IV light bomber, this aircraft is actually a licence built version of the Blenheim produced in Canada as the ‘Fairchild Bolingbroke IVT’. Its markings represent the Blenheim IV of No. 139 Squadron, which, on 3 September 1939, carried out the first RAF operational mission of the Second World War, a reconnaissance sortie over Wilhelmshaven. The role of the Blenheim during the Battle of Britain is little known but this aircraft represents those RAF Blenheims employed to attack German airfields in northern France during daylight, often incurring heavy losses. In 1937 the Canadian Government issued a contract for licence production of the Blenheim Mk IV to the Fairchild Aircraft Corporation. The new aircraft was designated ‘Bristol Fairchild Bolingbroke IV’ and was virtually identical to the Blenheim aside from American instrumentation and other equipment acquired from local sources.

The Bolingbroke IV was intended for use as a coastal reconnaissance bomber operating on anti-submarine patrols over the coastal regions of Canada. Bolingbroke IV-T’s were also used as navigation and gunnery crew trainers under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan.  By mid-1947 all Bolingbrokes had been withdrawn from service and disposed of. Serial No. 10001 was ordered in 1941 as part of the second batch of Bolingbroke IV-T’s for delivery between March 1942 and May 1943. Post-war it was sold to a farmer in Manitoba and remained on his property until it was recovered for the RAF Museum in 1966.

It was acquired for restoration as a Blenheim IV as no genuine British-built Blenheims are known to exist. In 1972 it was taken to the Aircraft and Armament Experimental Establishment at Boscombe Down in Wiltshire where a group of volunteers worked to bring it up to its current display standard. 

Martin Ward : Storekeeper / Recorder
About the Author

Martin Ward : Storekeeper / Recorder

I joined the RAF Museum in 1999 to assist in the re-location of the reserve collection from Cardington to Stafford. Initially helping unload over 150 lorry loads of artefacts. Shortly after I started data entry on the Museum Collections Management System, locating items with an inventory level record. Currently I am working on the entire 3D collection, updating artefacts to a “Full Catalogue” record status which has helped the Museum in making selections for its WWI exhibition.

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