Trains, Boats & Planes | 15 September 2016Behind the Scenes of the WWII Fighter Command Share article facebook twitter google pinterest During the dark days of 1940, when Britain faced the might of Hitler’s armed forces alone, the RAF played an integral role in winning the Battle of Britain against the Luftwaffe, thus ensuring the country’s safety from invasion. The men and women of Fighter Command worked tirelessly in air bases scattered throughout the length and breadth of Britain to thwart the Nazi attacks; The Secret Life of Fighter Command tells their story. From setting up the ground-breaking radar systems along the coast of the Southeast of England, to the distribution of spotters of bombing waves coming along the Thames Estuary, the boffins who designed and built the guidance and detection structures to organise a winning defence umbrella, to the Wrens who plotted enemy movements and then conveyed this to the various RAF squadrons stationed in the UK’s zonal defence system – all of them played a part in maintaining the security over Britain. Through exclusive interviews with various members of this unique and world famous organisation, bestselling author Sinclair McKay tells the human story of how Britain survived the Nazi onslaught and enabled our Hurricanes and Spitfires to triumph over the German airforce. ‘A beautifully proportioned body and graceful curves just where they should be’. Lord Balfour of Inchyre was one of many pilots who rhapsodised about Spitfires, seen here in formation. Photo credit: © IWM (CH 740) / The Secret Life of Fighter Command Although much joked about at the time, the striking silvery masses of barrage balloons – here protecting shipping – were a valuable tool in Fighter Command’s defensive arsenal and were ubiquitous over London. Photo credit: © IWM (A 6175) / The Secret Life of Fighter Command The Luftwaffe over London. On the night of 7 September 1940, Hitler’s promised retaliation for an RAF raid on Berlin came in the form of wave after wave of bombers. The pilots of Fighter Command managed to shoot down a surprising number. Photo credit: © IWM (C 5422) / The Secret Life of Fighter Command Bentley Priory, on the hilly northern outskirts of London, from which Fighter Command personnel could see London ablaze during the height of the Blitz. In the eighteenth century, the house played host to poets and princes. Photo credit: © Graham Hill/Stanmoretouristboard / The Secret Life of Fighter Command The first Operations Room was set up in the ballroom; whilst a more secure and hi-tech version, including colour-coded clocks, was being constructed beneath the ground. Photo credit: © IWM/Getty Images via Getty Images / The Secret Life of Fighter Command The Hornchurch station down on the marshes near the Thames – which on autumn mornings would frequently be shrouded with yellow fog – was to prove pivotal throughout the fight for Britain, and was frequently targeted by the Luftwaffe. Photo credit: © IWM (COL 191) / The Secret Life of Fighter Command With radar in its infancy, navigation could be dicey, especially in the absence of familiar landmarks; some pilots even used Bradshaw’s Railway Timetable to identify certain lines to guide them back to base. Photo credit: © IWM (C 1664) / The Secret Life of Fighter Command The signal to scramble was sometimes curiously a relief; the hours beforehand waiting in the mess were, even though pilots never admitted it at the time, a source of great tension. Photo credit: © Jimmy Sime/CentralPress/Getty Images / The Secret Life of Fighter Command Buy from an Online Retailer US: UK: Praise for The Secret Life of Fighter Command ‘McKay stitches together a rich tapestry of material – some new, some familiar, including reports from the archive of The Times – to bring alive the all-engulfing drama of 1940, as Hitler’s Luftwaffe attempted to establish air superiority over England as a prelude to invasion. Poetry and sharp politics.’ –The Times SINCLAIR MCKAY is the bestselling author of The Secret Life of Bletchley Park and The Secret Listeners for Aurum, as well as histories of Hammer films, the James Bond films, and the pastime of rambling. He lives in London. Share article facebook twitter google pinterest If you have any comments on this article please contact us or get in touch via social media.