Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Battle Of Britain – part 5

54. The bombing of London begins - by mistake

What happens next is a very ordinary human fault . They got lost.  A German air crew with a desire to return to their respective homes early drops their bombs on what they think isn’t London.  The navigator doesn’t seem to have a clue where London is.  He says it’s six kilometers behind their current position, but still looks outside, at his maps, and at different sections of the cockpit.  Satisfied, the pilot releases the bombs, and by doing so commits what might have been the biggest blunder in the Battle Of Britain.  Upon returning to base they are informed that only Hitler can order bombs to be dropped on London.  And since they have disobeyed this order there is going to be an inquiry.  They are given a rather sobering dressing down by a superior officer, and are ordered to report to Berlin.

55. there is going to be an inquiry

Back in England Churchill is furious, and orders a retaliatory bombing of Berlin. Just as the German pilot and his navigator (who I think is about to have an abrupt change in occupation) get to the German capital British bombs start falling.

Hitler goes berserk, pledges to flatten London, sends hundreds of tons of bombs to counter the British threat, conveniently forgetting about occupying the city, and leaving it unscathed by bombs. The producers pick this time to inflict more soap opera on the viewer. Colin and Maggie Harvey are arguing about the same subject they were the last time. They are cuddling in bed as the bombs from the Luftwaffe's most inaccurate bomber crew crash into the ground. For the first time Maggie sees that her husband is afraid.

This where the film really gets good. Unfortunately Hollywood fact and historical fact couldn’t be further apart. Historical Note – It’s at this point in time when the term “The Blitz” is coined. Survivors still use the phrase today when referring to the bombing of London. Time is really compressed, and in my mind, that is the films biggest fault. The producers try to compress almost six months of activity into just over two hours into pseudo-entertainment. I call it that because there is nothing entertaining about war.

Germany is determined to bomb London back to the stone age. Hitler becomes vaguely aware that the initial plan to wipe the RAF from the air is failing miserably, and that the window of opportunity for an invasion of England is rapidly shrinking, so he switches tactics and tries to demoralize not only the citizenry of London, but all of England. Historical Note – the film makes no mention of this at all, but it’s obvious something has changed.

The actions of the RAF pilots were nothing short of super human. Fighter pilots would sometimes be scrambled three to six times per day. If you compare the faces of the British pilots at the end of the film with they way they looked at the beginning of the film you’ll see they look very, very, tired – and a good deal older.  For they have seen more action in just a few short months than some people experience in a career. Plus they have experienced something no other soldier in any other war has experienced – sleep deprivation. In a twenty-four hour period they were lucky – extremely lucky to get four hours of sleep. One has to wonder why entire squadrons of men simply didn’t collapse from exhaustion at the end of a flight.

Spitfire pilots of 610 Squadron relax between sorties 

      Some Spitfire pilots of Squadron 610 relax – and collapse

The film does an ok job of showing some the drama a lot of military personnel went through.  Ian McShane portrays Sergeant pilot Andy who goes through hell and lives. Not only does he take an unplanned dip in the English Channel (he gets shot down), he battles government idiocy to get his wife and kids evacuated from London, and relocated to the country. At the beginning of the film she writes Andy and says she’s “bored”.  The Germans are now bombing day and night, and air fields are being damaged and destroyed by fighters and bombers. After months of active duty, flying sortie after sortie, Andy gets some well deserved leave. For some reason, one I fail to understand, Andys wife (we never learn her name) brings the kids back to London from the safety of the Scottish highlands. I would think that a mother would not want her children in harms way.

The sequence with Andy and his family also shows us the resilience Londoners had. Some elderly gentleman wanders into a rest center when civilians could go during a bombing raid. His favorite pub ( In England it’s short for public house. In North America we call it a bar) has just been destroyed. In watching this short sequence I find it somewhat ironic that’s its fine if he gets bombed at his pub, but should the pub get bombed that’s a travesty of monumental proportions.

63. London is ablaze

                                                 London in flames

66. His pub is bombed

                           `They just got the Rose And Crown`

67. Andy and the Mrs.

                 Andy has a few choice words for the Mrs.

Word comes of a family trapped on Shaw Street.  Word goes out in the rest center for volunteers to help dig them out. This one facet of the human spirit I love. Sometimes somebody will think nothing of rescuing total strangers. Andy volunteers in a second, and goes off to rescue people he will never know. On his way back he sees a glow coming from near the rest center. A German bomb scores a direct hit on the rest center. Andys wife and his two boys are dead. There are no survivors.

70. The church is bombed

71. Andy goes into shock

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