Seventy years on, brothers Colin and Ewan McGregor take viewers through the key moments of the Battle of Britain, when 'the few' of the RAF faced the might of the Nazi Luftwaffe.
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In the summer of 1940, Britain was in terrible danger.
Nazi Germany was planning to invade our shores.
Only the fighter pilots of the Royal Air Force could stop them.
70 years ago, in these very skies above our head,
there was a brutal and savage war waged,
the outcome of which determined our very existence as a nation on this island.
This is my brother Colin, who was a fighter pilot in the RAF
and who served in some of our modern conflicts.
And I know from my experience there's a huge network of people
supporting our pilots, and we wanted to discover how their contributions combined to give us victory in 1940.
And what it was that made the Battle of Britain Britain's finest hour.
We've always been fascinated by the Battle of Britain.
Now we're going to meet the real-life heroes who inspired us when we were kids.
These are the last of the 3,000 pilots who saved our country.
The men Winston Churchill called "the few".
We'll explore the technology that enabled the RAF to withstand the Nazi attack.
We'll find out about the dangers the fighter pilots faced.
And Colin will go through the same training as Battle of Britain airmen.
If he makes the grade, he'll fly one of the greatest fighter planes of all time -
Amazing machines, extraordinary characters.
Woo! Ha, ha, ha!
Let us share with you one of the most remarkable stories in our history.
The leader of Nazi Germany, Adolf Hitler, was on a victory tour.
Paris was the latest capital to fall to his invincible armies.
In less than a year, almost all of Europe had been overrun.
Only one small and isolated country was left in the war.
Hitler was convinced that Britain would have to surrender, and soon.
But the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, was determined to continue the fight, whatever the cost.
He rallied his countrymen with one of the few weapons he had - words.
'What General Weygand has called the Battle of France is over.
'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.
"Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties and so bear ourselves
"that if the British Empire and its commonwealth
"last for 1,000 years, men will still say this was their finest hour."
We did expect an invasion, when all the signposts had been
taken down and all the names on stations and things,
which gave you a sense that something serious could happen.
Only 20 miles away, there was the most powerful army and air force in the world.
So on one or two occasions,
it was suggested that the invasion bells were going to be rung.
Yes, it was a bit heart-stopping that it might be the last battle.
The German invasion was codenamed Operation Sea Lion.
It had to take place in September before the weather turned bad
and the English Channel became too rough to cross.
The first step was for the German Air Force, the Luftwaffe,
to destroy the RAF so they could land troops on the south coast.
Only a few fighter pilots could prevent this invasion.
The fate of our country depended on their skill and their courage.
They were fighting for us. We're all sitting here because of what they did.
We all owe them a great deal of gratitude for that.
I think in the RAF, there's a real camaraderie with the pilots
that's very like a brotherhood, a fraternal thing going on there.
So having a couple of brothers telling the story is maybe not such a bad idea.
I think we grew up with old planes and we were always making them,
we were always building Airfix models of Spitfires and Hurricanes
and we'd hang them from the ceiling on bits of fishing wire or something.
There was a complete romanticism about it.
A romantic aspect to the planes and the pilots.
And very kind of gung-ho and chocks away.
That kind of sowed the seed in my head, I guess, from about age nine or ten.
I used to read Commando comics as well.
They were just full of stories of Spitfire aces, and it kind of started from there, really.
20 years later, I'd become a pilot.
I flew one of the RAF's front-line fast jets, the Tornado GR4.
It was big, heavy, but really responsive.
Lots of power.
Very nice aeroplane to fly.
I was able to fly once with Colin in his Tornado.
They arranged for me to take a ride in the navigator's seat.
When we took off, the feeling of acceleration and the force,
you were pushed back into your seat flying at that speed, it was just unbelievable.
He was completely relaxed, completely in his zone.
I was so proud of him.
I've never felt such pride before.
I was able only to see the corner of his helmet
down at the side of the cockpit, but I'd never seen him at work before, flying this extraordinary aircraft.
This is where my RAF career began.
Cranwell in Lincolnshire.
It's the spiritual home of the Air Force.
The place where raw recruits have been turned into officers, almost since the RAF began.
When I arrived here 20 years ago, I was just the latest in a long line of airmen.
Many Battle of Britain pilots went to Cranwell too.
My brother's two years older than I am, and was always very academic, and he was sporting.
He was the captain of the cricket team.
Always had fantastic-looking girlfriends.
One of whom I'll always be slightly in love with.
I won't mention any names.
Then went off and learned to fly very early.
Like, when he was 16 or 17, he got a flight scholarship from the RAF.
Colin was always quite set on coming here, being in the RAF.
He learnt to fly and then went to university and then came here after that.
Colin at university was mainly just drunk all the time.
And then he came here, and was mainly drunk here instead.
He became more of a classy drunk here.
More of a kind of officer-type drunk here.
My picture's up here somewhere.
I think it's quite funny, if you read down... 127, 131.
Here it is, 131.
Is that you right at the end?
Oh, aye. Flight Officer CJ McGregor, BSc.
And you're right next to the bogs.
Prime place, prime position.
Well, everybody gets to see it.
'I spent 18 weeks at Cranwell before graduating as an RAF officer.
'But it was only then that my flying training began.
'It was another four years before I was sent to the front line.
'In my case, Iraq.
'70 years ago, it was very different.
'The RAF were so short of men that training was cut back.
'Inexperienced pilots had as little as ten hours of solo flying before being sent to the front line.'
I started flying in the autumn of 1938,
and in six months, I did eight hours of flying
because we only flew at weekends and the weather was dreadful in 1938,
so I didn't have much opportunity to fly.
I continued my flying training on the Hawker Harts and Hawker Furies,
still biplanes, and it was all First World War stuff.
There was no mention of Spitfires or Hurricanes or anything like that.
Then in the spring of 1940, I was sent to a fighter squadron.
I find it amazing that these men could be sent
into battle with only a few hours of solo flying under their belts.
It's impossible to fully understand what that was like.
But I want to get some sense of what they went through.
So I'm going to experience flying training as it was done back in 1940.
We're on our way to Duxford.
The start of three days of flying,
So I know that I've got to prove that I can fly these
two aircraft first before they let me loose on a Spitfire, so there's a bit of pressure.
I can definitely get a sense of that already.
You're always nervous about flying an aircraft for the first time,
and how you're going to get on.
But hopefully experience will take over.
The guy who'll be training me is Air Marshall Cliff Spink.
Cliff was a top RAF fighter pilot.
He's been flying classic planes for the last 20 years.
-Hey, Colin. Welcome.
-Pleased to meet you.
Yes, and you. Are you ready for this then?
I think I'm ready, yes.
-Getting pretty excited.
-Don't excite me too much.
-I'll try not to!
-If you get your kit on and we'll have a look at the operational machinery.
-Brilliant, can't wait.
-All right? There you go.
-Thank you very much indeed.
-Go and put your knickers on.
We're going to be flying dual all the time.
If we have an emergency...
'Colin is obviously an experienced jet pilot.
'But the techniques and skills, we've almost got to unlearn him
'to build him back up so that he can fly a prop aeroplane.'
And one of the biggest problems associated with prop aeroplanes
is the fact that you've got to manage the whole aeroplane.
You've got to understand the engine, you've got to manage the engine
in a way where prop speed, engine power, everything is mechanical.
There's no concession to computers at all.
-Right. The machinery.
We'll start with the Tiger Moth, which is entirely appropriate to what was going on in World War II.
Thousands of those guys
cut their teeth flying on the Tiger Moth.
Then we'll graduate to the Harvard, which was sort of the advanced flying training.
So we've got quite a tight programme.
In some ways, Colin, that's not unrealistic, because there's a time compression there
which was very much time compression in World War II.
-Those guys were so badly needed at the front line that they were really being pushed through.
It really will be, even the time compression in its own way is appropriate.
PLANE ENGINE OBSCURES SPEECH
-So we'll be doing that on Friday, yes?
With the RAF so short of pilots,
it needed to ease its trainees into
very fast and potentially dangerous fighter planes like the Spitfire.
Because they were very basic, Tiger Moths were perfect for teaching trainees how to fly.
The first thing to do was learn how to take off and land.
And it was a very different technique back then.
In modern planes, you have a third wheel at the front of the plane,
but in these old aircraft it's at the back.
Which is why they're known as taildraggers.
In a taildragger, you have to land with all three wheels touching down at the same time.
It's a tricky technique to master.
And I've only got one day to get it right.
Now, you take control. You've got everything.
'In these old aircraft, you have to use your feet to move the rudder.
'It's the rudder that helps steer the plane.
'I've got to get my feet moving to get the Tiger Moth going in the direction I want.
'It's not as easy as it sounds.'
That's it, that's right.
-OK, so we're clear to go. Let her ride up onto the main wheels.
OK? Keep her nice and straight.
OK. Now, that's it. A bit more power.
-Get her level, I think.
-Get a bit of speed, OK?
We're going a bit sideways at the moment.
-And I'm getting a draught in my right ear.
Got you, yes.
-So you've got to keep the instructor happy, by not making him cold!
-It just needs smooth and progressive use of the rudder.
-I'm freezing my nuts off so I'm going to wear my jacket next time.
-It's a bit chilly, yeah.
Tiger Moths were the ultimate planes.
You could do anything you liked with a Tiger Moth.
It was an absolute delight to fly.
Very light. You could loop the loop with it and do all sorts of things.
They were fragile and easy to damage but, touch wood, I never actually damaged one.
A Tornado has a top speed of 900mph.
In a Tiger Moth, it's just over 100.
It really is like travelling back in time, and I love the freedom you feel in this open cockpit.
After some practice, my feet are getting used to controlling the rudder,
but I've still got the most difficult part ahead.
I've got to land the Tiger Moth on all three wheels.
OK, nice speed, nice approach.
Power off now. Power off.
That's it. That's it. The speed is good. Keep it coming down.
Down a bit more. Keep that throttle closed.
That's it. OK, keep her straight.
-A couple of little hops.
-That will be acceptable, son.
Right, that's good. OK.
Just bring her to a halt now.
It's at this point you understand you've got no brakes!
It's like going back to school again. But it was good.
I told him he's got to keep the wind out of the instructor's ear.
He also owes me a beer
for bouncing the aeroplane!
The RAF was on a steep learning curve in 1940. Most of its fighter pilots
had never been in action before.
Facing them was a truly formidable enemy. The Luftwaffe had been battle-hardened by years of war.
It had fought campaign after campaign across Europe.
Every enemy it encountered it had destroyed.
Key to its success was one of the best fighter planes of all time - the Messerschmitt 109.
The 109 could cruise at 350mph, and was armed with two cannon,
which could blast enemy planes out of the skies.
On the eve of battle, the German High Command was super-confident.
They outnumbered the RAF by four to one.
This campaign would be like all the others.
They would crush the Royal Air Force in a matter of weeks.
The RAF faced almost overwhelming odds, but it did have
one secret weapon which helped level the playing field - radar.
These masts outside Dover are the last survivors of what was, in 1940,
the most sophisticated air defence system in the world.
Radar worked by sending out a radio beam.
If the beams hit enemy aircraft, they bounced back.
Radar gave the RAF 20 minutes' warning of a German attack.
It allowed Fighter Command to send the right amount of aircraft to the right place at the right time.
In 1940, Britain had a chain of these masts all along the coast.
But they were just the front line of the air defence system.
Inland, there was also the Observer Corps, 30,000 plane spotters
who tracked each enemy raid.
Information from radar and the Observer Corps
was sent to Fighter Command headquarters.
They then alerted the fighter groups, who would scramble their planes.
The mastermind behind this system was the head of Fighter Command.
He's a hero of the Battle of Britain,
though few nowadays would know his name.
To find out more about him, I've dragged Colin away from his training
to meet Stephen Bungay, a Battle of Britain expert.
So who was this guy who was in charge of Fighter Command at that time?
He was a teetotaller,
who lives with his sister,
who talks to the dead, believes in fairies,
and thinks that he's the reincarnation of a 13th-century Mongol chieftain.
So this is the guy in charge of Fighter Command in 1940.
-And this was Dowding?
-Hugh Caswall Tremenheere Dowding.
Tremenheere Dowding, what a name!
However, he had two characteristics along with this eccentricity,
that above all others were needed then, which was great imagination and great attention to detail.
You often found those in different people, he brought them together.
He constructed, between the time he took over Fighter Command in 1936
and when war broke out, what is by far the most formidable air defence system
in the world. It's one of the most extraordinary
intellectual and technological feats of the 20th century.
It's in fact so far forward looking, what he created in fact was an internet,
except that it was analogue so you didn't send e-mails.
You'd send something on the teleprinter, and you didn't grab
your BlackBerry or whatever, it was the telephone.
The same principle, a network.
A command and control system, which didn't only mean everybody
could talk to everybody, but it was extremely robust.
Amazingly, an updated version of Dowding's system still protects us today.
I've come to RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire, a modern radar station, to see how it works.
So, Mark, what are we looking at on the screen here?
Primarily looking at the UK airspace,
and the number of aircraft flying within it at one time.
So every line on the screen there represents a flight?
Absolutely, and every plot represents a radar return.
OK, and you're looking at civilian aircraft and military aircraft?
-The whole raft of them.
-Absolutely, all of it.
-How big an area are we looking at?
Basically a million square miles.
A million square miles?
My goodness, wow.
The technology is light years ahead of what they had in 1940, but the system is pretty much the same.
If rogue aircraft are spotted, then fighters are scrambled.
It's something they train for time and time again.
SD, I've two unidentified aircraft coming in from the north.
OK, we've got two aircraft that have entered UK airspace.
They've not met the rules and procedures of recognition, so what we're doing now is
getting everyone in, including the master controller, to look at these aircraft
and see what threat they present to us and, if necessary, he'll take tactical action.
Operations in QRA, this is the Scampton master controller, acknowledge?
Climb flight level 4-0-0, set speed mach one decimal two.
So he's scrambling aircraft in response to the two unknown aircraft in the airspace.
For QRA, call signs Q1 and Q2.
Scramble, scramble, scramble, acknowledge?
These Typhoons are doing the same job as Spitfires 70 years ago,
but back then there were no training exercises.
Every scramble was for real.
By July 1940, the Luftwaffe was ready to launch its air onslaught.
More than 1,000 fighters and 1,800 bombers were poised to strike.
The Battle of Britain was about to begin.
For Hitler's invasion to take place, the Nazis had to drive the Royal Navy out of the Channel,
then they could ferry tens of thousands of troops across to the south coast.
It was the job of the Luftwaffe's bombers to destroy the British ships.
One of these attacks was recorded by the BBC.
BBC NARRATOR: '1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, there are about ten German machines
'dive-bombing a British convoy which is just out to sea in the Channel.
'There's one going down on its target now.'
On bases across the country, airmen waited for the order to intercept the bombers.
Tom Neil was a 20-year-old Hurricane pilot.
On his radio, he could hear the build-up of each German attack.
This information would be relayed to us and we'd be sitting there,
and the information could involve 20, 40, 60, 80, 100, 200, 300...
Oh, my God! You know, 300, 400.
You knew they were coming towards you and you looked round and there were just 12 of you.
Where do you start?
Guarding the bombers were the Messerschmitt 109s.
Tackling these fighters was an almost impossible task for rookie pilots.
They would rush up behind us 100mph faster than us, fire their guns
from very close range, then disappear either upwards or downwards.
We could never catch them.
They used to watch us attacking the bombers and they used to come down and attack us from behind.
Surviving the first few dogfights was a lottery for inexperienced pilots.
Tony Iveson had only ten hours in a Spitfire before he was sent to his fighter squadron.
The first few trips were the most dangerous.
You just had to be lucky, and I mean that.
I don't know why one was selected to be lucky, but you had to be.
Despite the lack of experienced pilots, the RAF put up a good fight.
German planes were shot down at a rate of two to one.
But the Nazis still sunk so many ships that, within two weeks,
the Royal Navy stopped sailing through the Channel.
In the Battle of Britain, it was round one to the Germans.
It's the second stage of my 1940s training regime.
Having learned the basics of flying on the Tiger Moth,
trainee pilots transferred to a much more sophisticated American-built plane called the Harvard.
I'm a bit more nervous this morning.
I can't really work out why but I've found myself pacing around a bit more. I'm quite conscious of it.
Whereas yesterday it was kind of...
Rock up and just go flying in a pretty basic little Tiger Moth, you know?
But today is the real crunch day.
I've just got to calm down a little bit.
The Harvard was the next step up from the Tiger Moth and, because
it's a monoplane, and has just one wing, it handles much more like one of the RAF's frontline fighters.
-Are you ready for this?
-I'm ready as I'll ever be, yes.
I'm the one who gets nervous when you nervously laugh, OK?
'The Harvard is a very good trainer.'
The historical context for this is that there were literally thousands
and thousands of these built
and they were the standard advanced trainer in the Second World War.
It's got 600 horsepower, but it's a pretty heavy aeroplane.
It weighs almost as much as a Spitfire so it plods a bit, the Harvard, but it does its job.
The most nerve-jangling moments are always the takeoffs and landings.
In the year leading up to the Battle of Britain, more than 200 pilots died in training alone.
I had an enormous crash
on my first solo night flight.
I got into a steep turn as I took off, and that was it.
I simply went up in the air and down again,
and crashed at 200mph with such force that the engine
jumped off and finished 200 yards away from the plane.
That's what saved me. If the engine had still been there, it would have caught fire.
All that was left of the plane was a little bit of seating where I was sitting!
I walked back to the aerodrome, walked into the crew room,
and everybody thought they were seeing a ghost
because they had sent out an ambulance to bring back the body!
OK, off you go then.
That's enough power. That's good.
Rolling off the wheels.
-Nice takeoff, Colin.
-Very nice takeoff.
The Harvard was a wonderful aircraft.
It was so advanced for its age.
And being American, it had a lot of power and a nice snappy engine
and automatic undercarriage, which we weren't used to.
You're looking like a real fighter pilot up there.
No RAF aircraft I heard of had been blessed with such modern sanitation.
It had a little tube which fixed to a clip under the seat, so if you got caught short
on an hour or two's trip, you could use this tube, you see.
The trouble was, if you were doing aerobatics and you did a roll and it wasn't properly clipped,
this thing would drop itself and dangle in front of your face. You don't know who'd used it last!
-OK, that's very good. How are you feeling?
-Yes, I feel good, yes.
Absolutely, and you're keeping it nicely balanced as well.
The closed cockpit and modern controls make me feel much more at home than in the Tiger Moth.
The Harvard can cruise at 200mph.
It's powerful and sturdy.
A really comfortable plane to fly.
Now that's a nice speed now.
Just a little tad fast.
Get the power back.
That's it. Now as she comes down, really get the power and ready for the flare.
I hate you, young man!
-Very nice landing.
-Very nice landing.
'I think it's been a pretty successful trip, but it's up to
'Cliff to decide if I've done enough to fly the Spitfire.'
-We're now going from something which is lively, but not overly lively...
You're going to a real thoroughbred.
It's definitely chocks away tomorrow.
-If that's the right saying.
So, have a good sleep.
I'll go and check my insurance policy.
I still can't believe that it's actually going to happen. It's just...
one of your wildest dreams as a pilot and as a kid,
growing up watching airshows and what have you.
I've got less than 24 hours and I'm actually going to be doing it so it's just fantastic.
Everyone's heard of the Spitfire.
It's one of the most famous aircraft of all time.
But there were two British fighters in 1940.
The other, often overlooked aircraft is the Hurricane.
There were 1,700 Hurricanes and less than 400 Spitfires.
The Hurricane was the workhorse of the Battle of Britain.
The Hurricane was never as eye-catching as its rival.
It was lumpier and bumpier.
Based on a much older aircraft design.
Chop the top wing off a biplane and you see how the Hurricane evolved.
Only the front end had a metal skin.
The rear section was built out of a wooden frame covered in canvas.
It sounds primitive, but this made the Hurricane easy to repair.
The Hurricane had the same Merlin engine as the Spitfire,
but it was less aerodynamic so it was never as fast.
To find out more about both of these planes, we're meeting up with Flight Lieutenant Antony Parkinson
from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.
The BBMF has a unique collection of historic planes.
Parky, we're here with the two leading players in the British side, the Hurricane and the Spitfire.
As I've been thinking about this, I've always fancied myself as a Hurricane pilot.
More of a Hurricane man. And Colin...
I've always thought of myself as a Spitfire guy.
And standing here, I realise I am, I prefer it. What's the difference?
What's the difference in them? Because you fly them both.
I do. They're actually both beautiful to fly.
They're not that different.
I guess the Spitfire has the edge on performance. It's faster.
The Hurricane probably turns slightly better but they're both
fabulous aircraft to fly. They're easy.
Once you get them airborne, they're not difficult and you can see why the guys would have loved flying
them in the war in terms of their handling qualities,
their performance - pretty awesome for their time.
-This one was earlier, it was around before the Spitfire, the Hurricane, right?
-Physically it was.
It was an earlier generation. You can see the canvas on it.
The Spitfire is all metal design.
It's got a much thinner, elliptical, beautiful wing.
The Spitfire really was state-of-the-art.
An all-metal construction and it would have been like looking
at the space shuttle in 1940. It was a 400mph performance aircraft.
-It was breathtaking.
Wow. I didn't know it went that fast.
What were their roles? What were the different roles for them?
I think they tended if possible for the Spitfires
to go more for the fighters and the Hurricanes more for the bombers.
-And that was purely based on turning performance, that a Spitfire could out-turn a 109?
I think the Hurricane could actually out-turn a 109 as well,
but it was more the top speed, the performance of the Spitfire.
It was more on parity with the 109.
You were saying about the pilots themselves,
we're going to meet some of the men that flew these aircraft,
that they downplay it a little bit.
They do, yes.
It's one of the joys of the job.
You've almost got something in common with these heroes, to chat about flying a Spit.
But for us, the landing's the scary bit.
For them, that's just something that you did between re-arming.
Keep it down! We're doing an interview for the BBC over here!
Yes, without them and without these planes, we'd be goose-stepping around, wouldn't we?
-Drinking schnapps. It would be a nightmare!
-I don't think the BBC will like that one.
That's for all my German friends.
If there was one man who confirmed some of those Nazi stereotypes,
then it was the super-sized head of the Luftwaffe, Hermann Goering.
Goering was vain and arrogant.
He was so confident of success that he bought himself a new white suit and a shiny gold baton
just to celebrate victory in the Battle of Britain.
Goering exuded confidence but he had a dark secret
and one that affected his leadership during the Battle of Britain.
Goering was a junkie.
He got wounded in the groin and as a result was treated with morphine
and became a morphine addict
which has a rather strange effect on people's moods.
It can make them very pessimistic and then over-optimistic.
It can cloud their judgment.
He had no understanding of technology.
He had no understanding of how to organise a complex, modern military organisation
and there he was in charge of the most sophisticated of Germany's armed forces.
Goering put his faith in the German warrior spirit
as well as the Luftwaffe's superior numbers of planes and men.
After a month of fighting over the Channel, he was ready for the next step.
Goering would take the war to the British mainland.
The German plan was codenamed Eagle Attack.
It would be the biggest air campaign seen so far in history.
Eagle Attack began on 12th August 1940 with a raid along the south coast.
Three radar stations were bombed and put out of action.
Without the RAF's eyes and ears,
a huge stretch of southern England
was wide open to attack.
Emergency work began to repair the system.
Partial radar coverage was eventually restored.
The masts had been difficult targets for the Luftwaffe to hit
and even when they had been bombed, the RAF had got them up and running again.
Goering concluded that the attacks had been a waste of time.
He cancelled further systematic bombing of the radar network.
Leaving Britain's air defence system in place
was Goering's first great error.
Whenever the Luftwaffe attacked, radar would be watching and the RAF would be waiting.
Three days later on 15th August, the Germans launched the second phase
of Eagle Attack with a massive raid on the Midlands and north.
Goering believed the RAF was so short of pilots and planes
that every one of its fighter squadrons had been sent to defend the south east.
He sent more than 100 bombers to attack northern England,
with no fighters to protect them.
When they arrived over the Yorkshire coast, they had a nasty surprise.
We were having lunch and the whole squadron suddenly heard
on the RT616, "Squadron, scramble, scramble!"
And we dashed out and got in our planes and took off
in all directions and we were sort of formed up.
We were vectored on to about 80 Junkers 88s.
They were unescorted and though they were flying in formation,
you couldn't miss them!
The Luftwaffe had underestimated the strength of the RAF
and they were severely punished for it.
75 German aircraft were shot down.
Luftwaffe pilots called it Black Thursday.
One day later, the Luftwaffe attacked again.
More than 400 aircraft
pounded targets along the south coast.
Keith Park was the commander of 11 Group, which covered the south east...
the front line in the Battle of Britain.
Park was scrambling squadron after squadron to repel the German attack,
when in the heat of battle, the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, suddenly showed up.
Churchill decided to visit Fighter Command's 11 Group headquarters in Uxbridge.
He turned up unannounced, as so often, and watched events.
And he said that when he realised that Park had got all his fighters into the sky,
he felt sick with fear.
"The margins", he said, "were so small".
One of the pilots Keith Park scrambled was Nigel Rose.
He was only 22 and had never been in combat before.
We saw this enormous gaggle of aircraft coming in and for one
who'd never seen one single German aircraft before, to see, my squadron commander said there were 100,
about 50 bombers and 50 fighters...
When you see all of these in one huge great gaggle of various heights and so on...
That was quite impressive.
So one thought, you know, turn the gun button to "fire"
and the squadron commander said, "Well, pick your man."
So we came round firing eight Browning machine guns at once.
And some smoke came out
of the aircraft.
This was a Messerschmitt 110.
And one thought, "Gosh. I must have hit him!"
He turned over on his back and went absolutely vertically downwards.
I thought, "Gosh".
Being in a fighter squadron and...
Surely that's one I can claim?
Some planes were fitted with cameras to film these battles in the skies.
Amazingly, a few frames survive
of the moment Nigel Rose fixed a German plane in his gun sights.
For Winston Churchill, 16th August had been a deeply moving day.
He'd seen for himself the almost impossible odds the RAF fighter pilots faced.
Churchill drove away in the afternoon and he turned round
to General Ismay, one of his aides in the car, as they were driving back to London and said,
"Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few."
A few days later of course, Churchill wove them into the speech
that he gave in the House of Commons.
"The great air battle which has been in progress over this island
"for the last few weeks has recently attained a high intensity.
"The gratitude of every home in our island,
"in our Empire and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty,
"goes out to be British airmen...
CHURCHILL: "..who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger
"are turning the tide of the World War by their prowess and by their devotion.
"Never in the field of human conflict
"was so much owed by so many to so few."
At the height of the Battle of Britain, there were around 1,300 fighter pilots.
It really is the case that our country's fate depended on... the few.
70 years on, their ranks have thinned.
Now only 100 or so remain.
So for us it's a privilege to meet two of them.
I don't think I know the meaning of the word instinct!
Geoffrey Wellum was 17 years old when he joined up.
He recounted his experiences as a Spitfire pilot in an autobiography called First Light.
'It's a classic account of the Battle of Britain.'
Bob Foster was 20 and flew Hurricanes in the summer of 1940.
He was a crack fighter pilot who shot down seven German planes.
When you first stepped into your Hurricane and you into your Spitfire, and you
landed it successfully and stepped out and kind of survived that first experience, were you really elated?
-You felt, I'm now a fighter pilot.
-In my case, a little bit thankful.
I looked down. There was the grass.
I must have landed. A Spitfire has landed with Geoff Wellum in it.
How much training on the aircraft did you get before you were expected to go up and use it in anger?
We were posted up to begin on September 7th, when the battle was at its height.
We replaced 87 Squadron that had been shot up
and knocked about a bit.
The first time I ever went into real combat was there.
I had about 30 hours on a Spit.
-I was lucky to get that.
-To have that much.
A lot of pilots had less, I take it.
Did you have a real sense you were in a battle for Britain's survival at that time?
Were you just going up there to do your job?
Yes. There were invasion alerts.
The church bells rang - it meant they were invading.
Everybody in the south of England was aware it was possible.
Whether we really knew that we were in a battle for the survival...
A battle for personal survival.
The implications of the thing.
I suppose we did. It was the least of our worries, put it that way.
It never really registered to me until the first day we were sent off from Biggin.
We were vectored on to 150 plus coming in over Dungeness
and I saw this mass of aeroplanes,
looked like a lot of gnats on a summer evening.
I thought, these chaps mean it.
This is serious.
That's the first reaction I really had.
There was a dreadful thing - where do we start on this lot?
Was there any particular day or occasion when you felt,
we're going to lose it, we're going to lose the battle?
One day I do remember and this must be mid-September, I suppose.
Where we were told to be in the cockpits an hour before dawn, which is pretty early.
Something like that. We thought, OK, the invasion's on.
That was the thought of it.
We got in our planes an hour before dawn, sat there and I remember sitting on the airfield
at Croydon, which was a big grass airfield with hares running around
and the odd airman sitting on the starter axles.
I was thinking to myself, with 12 little Hurricanes sitting there,
if this is the invasion, then God help us.
Can I ask a sensitive question about your job then?
In terms of what it was like to engage with an enemy for the first time
and, if you were successful
and you take down an aircraft, then how must that have felt?
-I don't know what it may have felt like.
Yeah. I don't think we ever thought about pilots in the other aeroplane.
-No, nor did I.
-These chaps were coming over bombing us.
Dropping bombs all over the place.
-They started it.
-What were they doing over here...
dropping these bombs on villages and just...
-I personally didn't have any...
-No, nor did I.
They started this bloody nonsense.
Obviously, this was going on day after day.
You must have been bloody knackered, having to go up three or four times a day, maybe more.
We were young, we were 20.
We were enthusiastic.
Yes, and we had some beer at night.
If you got to five o'clock, you think, the day thou gavest, Lord, is ended.
-And then straight off to the White Hart at Brasted...
Rubbing shoulders with local people, perhaps a game of darts,
suppressing thoughts of mates who haven't turned up.
And generally knocking back the pints.
If there were pretty ladies around,
try your luck.
It's the same with our own people, too.
People say, "Did you miss your colleagues?"
Well, you did. On the other hand, I've always said, in July, I'd never met these chaps before.
They were not close friends.
They were squadron... They were great chaps and so on.
-You couldn't allow it to get you down.
You had to put it behind you.
I had one close chap and he went fairly quickly.
It hit me.
We went down to the pub that night and I thought, "That's it.
"He's gone, bear up."
-"Bear up, my soul."
Did it affect you when you got in the cockpit the next day?
-You couldn't think about it then, could you?
In fact it was better. The waiting was the problem with me.
I don't know about you. I hated it.
The moment I got in that aeroplane and felt
the vibration of the engine through the seat of my pants
and I was strapped in, the ground crew got off the wing, and waved me,
I felt, "OK, it's up to me."
'For me, there's one extra treat.
'Bob knows I've got a thing for Hurricanes so he took me off to meet
'an old comrade in arms -'
not a person, but a plane.
The actual Hurricane he flew during the Battle of Britain.
This is the only surviving Hurricane which fought in the Battle of Britain that is still flying today.
That's fantastic. Amazing sight, isn't it?
-When it's coming straight at you, you do feel like you want to run.
That's an amazing sound.
-It must take you right back now.
-You can't miss it, can you? You can't mistake it.
Bob's Hurricane came into service at a crucial moment.
Just a day after it joined his squadron,
the Luftwaffe launched the bloodiest attack of the Battle of Britain.
A month into the Battle of Britain and Goering was under pressure.
His strategy for the destruction of Fighter Command was not going to plan.
Goering had assumed the Luftwaffe would crush the RAF,
just as it had crashed every other enemy, by shooting its planes out of the skies.
But the radar network and the RAF's pilots and planes
had proved a match for the Germans.
After weeks of air combat, the RAF was holding its own.
Goering's new strategy was to destroy the RAF,
not in the air, but on the ground.
If fighter stations were bombed, it would be difficult to take off and land.
Exhausted pilots would be unable to rest.
A key target was the RAF base
which covered the main attack route to London - Biggin Hill.
In its heyday, Biggin Hill was the most famous
and important air base in the country.
Its Spitfires and Hurricanes shot down 1,600 Luftwaffe planes.
Those glory days are long gone now.
The Air Force left Biggin Hill 20 years ago.
I visited the base just before it shut down.
I came here in 1987. This was my first experience of the RAF.
This is where I went through my selection to join the air force.
This was before Cranwell.
I had no concept at the time as to how important a base this was in the overall campaign during 1940.
Walking round these buildings now,
we get a real sense of the past and of the ghosts.
This place took a real pounding by the Luftwaffe.
It was right on the frontline.
To find out more about what happened on 18th August,
I joined Patrick Bishop, who is a writer and historian.
He showed me the woods which have swallowed up much of the old fighter base.
I wanted to show you this, Colin.
-This is a pillbox, built in 1940.
It gives you an indication of how serious the fears were of an invasion.
This was put here to protect the airfield against paratroopers or an invading force.
There was a real feeling at this point that an invasion was inevitable.
Biggin Hill was right on the front line.
It took a real pounding on 18th August 1940.
That's right. This was the day when they launched attacks on these big, significant bases.
Biggin Hill, of course, being one of them.
It was a Sunday morning. You can sort of picture the scene.
We know what was going on. This was a rural area.
You'd have people going off to church locally.
The cooks in the canteen would be making Sunday lunch.
The first reports come through that Kenley is being bombed and then Croydon's being bombed
so it's natural to assume that Biggin Hill was going to be next, which indeed it was.
So, everyone around here would have seen it. They would have been looking up at what was going on.
They would have been hearing the crump of the bombs.
Everyone knew they were on the front line at this point.
Biggin Hill was attacked twice on the hardest day.
80 tons of bombs fell on the base.
The runways are peppered with craters.
The hardest day was just the beginning of weeks of bombing.
12 days later, 40 people died
when their air raid shelter took a direct hit.
This is one of the places where fighter pilots lived out those days of fear and uncertainty.
So, this is a sleeping shelter.
This is where
the ground crews and the pilots, if they were on an early start, if they were on a dawn detail,
they'd come up the night before and spend the night here.
Yeah. It must have been horrendous conditions to live in day after day.
I suppose it's that feeling that there's no line that you can retreat behind, where you're going
to be safe, which must have had a pretty wearing effect on the nerves.
There was no just, you know, you've done your fighting,
you land and then that's basically you done for the day.
I think that began to tell very much in that period when
reading the memoirs, you get a very strong sense of people getting to the end of their tether.
Yeah. They're kind of living it 24 hours a day.
That constant fear, not only when they're flying but on the ground as well
they're going to get caught out. It must have been pretty horrendous.
Seeing these sleeping quarters and dispersal areas at Biggin Hill,
it's really brought it home to me just how intense that period was.
The guys weren't just fighting for their lives in the air, four or five sorties a day,
but they were fighting for their lives on the ground as well.
They were living under the constant threat of bombings.
I'm used to combat sorties where you can come back at the end of a day,
and albeit it's to an air-conditioned tent somewhere in the desert but at least it's home.
You've got good food and you can sleep undisturbed.
For these guys, it was just constant.
The stress must have been incredible.
They must have wondered just how long they could keep that up - how much more they could take.
With the Battle of Britain now in its seventh week,
combat stress was beginning to tell.
Many pilots were being scrambled into action
four or five times a day.
I found the waiting period difficult.
It's probably the most difficult.
You almost felt like going outside and throwing up.
Sitting around, waiting for that telephone -
always had a certain ring.
The corporal would pick it up,
stick his head out of the window and say, "Scramble."
You'd be on your feet, racing to the aeroplane.
Waiting for that to happen, I think, many people would say,
I found it very unsettling, as it were.
You couldn't... You were apprehensive.
Let's face it, probably scared stiff, really.
The strain of weeks of intense fighting
wasn't just affecting the pilots.
It had also begun to tear the leadership of Fighter Command apart.
War had broken out amongst the RAF top brass,
about the way the battle was being fought.
It pitted Keith Park, the Commander of 11 Group,
which covered the south east, against one of the RAF's rising stars.
Douglas Bader was already a legend when war began.
He had lost his legs in a plane crash but went back to flying.
In 1940, he led 12 Group, which defended the Midlands
and the east coast - an area which was less involved in the battle.
He was itching to get into action.
He's the sort of guy who wanted to be out there, leading the pack.
He wanted to be number one.
And the back seat role that 12 Group seemed to be playing in the battle
didn't really appeal to him.
Bader had his own theory on how the Battle of Britain should be fought,
which he called the Big Wing.
The idea was to get dozens of planes in the air at once.
In one huge battle, the Big Wing
would deal the Luftwaffe a killer blow.
But there were practical problems with the Big Wing.
Getting 50 fighters in the air took time.
The Luftwaffe was often halfway home by the time Douglas Bader arrived.
For Keith Park, who knew just how short of men the RAF was,
the Big Wing was a dangerous gamble -
risking dozens of pilots in a single battle
threatened to fatally weaken Fighter Command.
This shortage of pilots was the critical issue
as the Battle of Britain reached a decisive point.
Airmen weren't just being shot at by the Luftwaffe,
many were falling prey to a merciless killer.
In less than a month,
the RAF lost more than 200 airmen, almost all over the sea.
'As I know from my RAF training, if you ditch into the ocean these days,
'you're pretty confident you'll survive.
'We've immersion suits, lifeboats, and emergency supplies.'
So I want to know what was so different in 1940.
What made the sea such a killing zone?
Oh, my God, that's so cold!
It really takes your breath away, the shock.
'I'm only wearing a simple flying suit, just as pilots would have done in 1940.
'What I'm experiencing is known as cold shock.'
I've been in a few minutes now
and my hands are getting really cold, my toes are cold, and I've...
I'm really breathing hard. I can feel myself hyperventilating.
'Hyperventilating was one of the signs of cold shock.
'Breathing became more frantic
'and pilots would swallow more and more water.
'Most died from cold shock within five minutes.
'Anyone who did survive the first few minutes
'still had little chance of getting out alive because,
'during the Battle of Britain, there was no system to rescue pilots lost at sea.'
I'm just kind of looking around me and...
it's quite choppy and I can't see anything. I can't see any...
I can see the odd ship now and again when I'm bobbing up and down,
but apart from that... it's just...it's just nothing.
It must have been absolutely hell to think you've managed to survive getting out
of your burning Spitfire, and this will be your final resting place.
It's just horrendous.
To be honest, I think you'd probably just want to drown,
get it over with,
because there's just no...
no hope really of anybody coming to see you.
It must be horrible.
If you're lost at sea or stuck up on a mountain, you'll be lucky that these guys come and get you.
They save up to 2,000 people a year, but it's because of the people, the pilots that ditched at sea
during the Battle of Britain, that we have Search and Rescue today.
'With so many experienced airmen being lost, Search and Rescue began.
'Its main task was to pick up airmen lost at sea.'
That's him up ahead now, he's over here, up to our right!
All right, Colin!
Are you freezing?
When you can see that yellow helicopter coming, it's just the most fantastic sight, you know?
-"My God, they're here."
-I've found a new job.
I'm going to do this, yeah.
I'm trading in my rouge and my lipstick.
I'm going to be a winchman!
'Search and Rescue was set up in August 1940.
'In the years to come, it would save thousands of lives,
'but it came too late to stem the losses which were seriously weakening Fighter Command.'
By early September, the RAF had reached its lowest ebb.
They were losing far more pilots than they could replace.
It was a war of attrition and Fighter Command was bleeding men.
It seemed that only a miracle could save the RAF from extinction...
..and Britain from invasion.
Then, on 7th September, something remarkable happened.
The Germans launched another huge attack.
750 Luftwaffe planes flew towards the RAF's fighter stations,
just as they had done for the last few weeks.
But this time they passed right over the airfields
and carried on towards London.
The game had changed.
It was now no longer about two air forces confronting each other,
but it was about two nations confronting each other
because they came back to lop London that night.
And the night of September 7th
can be counted as the first day in what we now call the Blitz.
A week earlier, the RAF had bombed Berlin.
Goering had publicly declared that the German capital was safe from attack,
so the bombing was a personal humiliation.
He ordered a revenge raid on London.
The Blitz would prove traumatic, but during the first week
in which London was targeted, no bombs fell on air bases.
Goering had eased the pressure on the RAF.
Squadrons were re-equipped with new Spitfires.
Fresh pilots were drafted in.
Fighter Command was overhauled in anticipation of the next great challenge.
AIR RAID SIRENS
'Finally my big day has arrived.
'I'm going to fly the Spitfire, and with this flight, my flying career comes full circle,
'because I'll sit in the same cockpit as the heroes who inspired me to become an RAF pilot.'
-I can't tell you how excited I am!
It's just like you've kind of dreamt about this moment
since you were a kid and suddenly the day has arrived, it's here, I'm going to do it.
It's a beautiful day and there's puffy white clouds around,
and blue sky. It just couldn't be any more perfect so...
I just can't really believe it's going to happen.
It's fantastic, absolutely amazing.
-Are you nervous?
-No, I'm not nervous, I'm not nervous.
I'm really not. I've sat in the cockpit and had a look around
and I've read through my notes.
Everything is there, and I think it's because
I've had a bit of training.
I've gone through the training. I've done the Tiger Moth and the Harvard,
and it's the logical next step, and I'm really not nervous. I'm just...
I'm just... Well, you can tell, can't you, really?
-OK, clear prop.
'Good start, well done.'
You'll need to kick her out
-almost straight away with a bit of left rudder.
Flying a Spitfire won't be easy.
At 350mph, she's really fast.
A Spitfire is a thoroughbred who needs handling with care.
We're pointing in the right direction, Colin.
Hatch closed. Just gradually inch the power up bit by bit.
-ENGINE REVS INCREASED
-That's it, that's good.
Keep her straight. A bit of left rudder.
We're riding on the wheels,
we've got nice power, very nice. Let her fly when she wants to.
That's it. Very good.
-You did that on your own.
Just sitting in the cockpit is an overwhelming experience.
The Merlin engines roaring away, and there's that unforgettable smell of leather and oil and grease.
OK, round to the right we go.
I'm amazed at how light and agile the Spitfire is,
it's really responsive to the touch.
Now I understand why so many pilots have fallen in love with her.
It was a real lady, the Spitfire,
a beautiful aircraft, not just to look at, but to fly.
You had a fairly small cockpit, so that when you were sitting in it, you were very much part of the plane.
You and the plane were together.
It was beautiful, so smooth and almost like a rhythm of it.
It had all the right characteristics.
It behaved so beautifully and it was beautiful to look at, so what more can you say!
The Spitfire is wonderful in the air, but down on the ground, it's a real beast to handle.
Landing is the most difficult part.
The Spitfire has a long nose, so it's hard to see over it to work out how close I am to the ground.
Just fly her down like you did the Harvard.
Just fly her down, keep her coming down, keep her coming down, keep her coming down, keep her coming down,
drop the power and hold her off.
Hold her off, hold her off, hold her off.
Very nice. Now watch that rudder.
The left rudder.
Left rudder! Left rudder, that's it.
Keep her straight.
Don't get a wiggle on, don't get a wiggle on, don't get a wiggle on.
That's it, well done. Well done.
A bit of brake, a bit of brake.
That's it, that's it. You have to work at it, don't you?
That was a lovely landing.
I'm happy about that.
I presume you were talking to the aeroplane and not your instructor.
I was definitely talking to the aeroplane!
-Oh, my God.
-Sorry, I'm just having a little moment.
-Are you all right in the front?
When the heartbeats come back to something which isn't on danger level...
That's amazing, amazing.
I can't believe I've just done that.
It's really incredible.
Oh, my God, that was...
I don't think I've ever had an experience like that in my life,
-it was just the most incredible thing to do.
-Quite emotional, really.
Yes, it is, it is.
Really emotional, yes.
I wasn't sure it would be, but it is.
There he was on a bright blue day
over the green fields of England doing aerobatics in a Spitfire.
Doesn't get much better than that.
A week of foul weather followed the first day of the Blitz.
Fighter Command pilots were confined to base.
Luftwaffe squadrons flying over Britain encountered very few RAF aircraft.
Their reports convinced Goering that Fighter Command was down to its last 200 planes.
Time was running out. He had only a few days left
to destroy the RAF before Hitler's invasion had to begin.
Goering believed that one more blow would crush Fighter Command,
and with the bad weather breaking, the day of reckoning had arrived.
So is this going down to the command centre?
Yes, this was the headquarters of 11 Group, their Ops Room.
Right. Top secret down here.
-I think it was secret, I don't think the Germans ever knew about this place.
It was just kept completely under wraps.
'RAF Uxbridge was the nerve centre on 15th September, the decisive day of the Battle of Britain.'
Wow. I've seen this room in so many movies, have you?
Yeah, it's weird, it's kind of...
Look at all this.
'70 years on, the room has been preserved
'just as Keith Park would have known it on the day he scrambled his squadrons
'to meet the great Luftwaffe attack.
'The first few hours were crucial for the outcome of the Battle of Britain.
'For the very first time, we've pieced together the records for each phase of the German attack.
'These RAF personnel will help us plot the raid moment by moment.
'They'll be doing exactly what their predecessors did 70 years ago.'
Four zero seven nine!
'And Stephen Bungay is on hand to take us through the key moments of 15th September 1940.'
The weather reports are good, the day is fine, there's a little bit
of haze on the ground, but visibility on the ground's about four miles.
It's about 14 degrees centigrade, it's a beautiful late summer day.
It's great weather for strolling to the pub,
reading the newspaper in the garden, and launching major air attacks.
-And guess what choice they made.
So on they come and Park here is waiting for them.
Keith Park didn't have to wait long.
At 10:10am, the Germans took off from their bases
on the French coast.
The bombers circled over the English Channel as they waited for their fighter escorts to arrive.
Then Goering's great air armada began its attack run.
Back in London, the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, had noticed the fine weather.
He sensed it would be another big day.
He drove to Uxbridge
and arrived at 10:30am as the drama began to unfold.
Park went up, met him, reminded him that he couldn't light his cigar
because the air conditioning here won't cope with that.
-He was in here?
-He was just up there with an unlit cigar clenched between his teeth throughout the day.
Stand by for a new raid.
Hostile zero four William X-ray, zero six six one...
'At 10:51am, the first marker went on the board.
'30 hostile aircraft had been detected by Britain's air defence system.
'It was the spearhead of the German attack.'
All squadrons come to readiness...
'At 11:03am, Park scrambled the first fighter squadron.'
He sent out the Biggin Hill wing of Spitfires,
two Spitfire squadrons, 72 and 92,
up high to patrol Canterbury, to hit them over the coast.
He sent them up to about 25,000 feet.
When they arrived, they were above the German top cover.
Park had laid an ambush.
When the German bombers and their fighter escorts
arrived over the south coast, the RAF was waiting, high above.
Park's strategy was to send out Spitfires to engage the Messerschmitt 109s.
The 109s would be forced to fight.
That would strip the bombers of their protective shield.
At 11:40am, the first dogfights began.
Park's strategy was going to plan.
While the dogfights raged, the German bombers pressed on for London.
But now another unforeseen problem arose.
A 90mph headwind had blown up, which cut the ground speed of the bombers in half.
It would take them twice as long to reach their target.
Raid hostile, zero four Robert seven three...
Goering had promised that Fighter Command was finished,
but German aircrew had endured a terrible ordeal.
They'd been attacked on all sides since they crossed the south coast.
And it was about to get even worse.
'Keith Park now delivered his master stroke.
'He'd always been sceptical about the Big Wing and the value of a risky all-out attack.
'But it was time for the RAF's hammer blow, so he summoned his great rival, Douglas Bader, to lead the charge.'
At 12:09pm, the German bombers arrived over London.
To their horror, 60 Big Wing fighters were waiting for them.
Bader launched an all-out attack.
There were so many British aircraft that they got in each other's way.
Only six German bombers and 12 fighters were shot down.
But the appearance of so many RAF planes shattered Luftwaffe morale.
The psychological impact of this on the German flyers, of course, was shock.
But on the commanders, it was a sudden realisation
of what had actually been going on for the previous month.
"We thought we'd got them on their knees and oh, my God, we've been getting nowhere.
"We've no time left, what can we do?"
When the Luftwaffe finally tallied up their losses, 15th September had cost them 56 planes.
They'd experienced far worse days.
'The real significance was what the battle revealed.
'After two months of fighting, the RAF was even stronger than before.
'With Fighter Command controlling the skies, the invasion couldn't take place.
'Two days later, Hitler postponed Operation Sea Lion.'
There's one more flight left and it's the most amazing flight of all.
There's a chance to go up in a Spitfire once more,
but this time I'd be flying in formation with
a Hurricane and Spitfire from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.
Flying alongside other Battle of Britain aircraft is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
But can I really take two trips in a Spitfire, when my brother Ewan has had none?
-Fancy a go?
-How do you mean, "fancy a go"?
-Do you fancy a go?
-How do you mean?
Am I going to get to go up in it with you?
-Not with me.
-Well, I'd love to have a go, yeah, of course.
I'm not going to go today, you're going.
-What do you mean, you're not going today?
-You're going to go in it?
-Cos you're going to go on it, I'm not.
-I thought you were going in it today.
I'm going up in the back of it?
-You're going up in the back of it?
-Where are you going to be?
-I'm going to be on the ground.
-But don't you feel like you'll miss out on your go?
-I've had my go.
You need to see what it's like.
-That's why you were telling me to bring a flying suit this morning, isn't it?
Here's me asking you how you'd parachute out of it!
-Which was quite relevant.
-OK question to ask.
Oh, my God, that's going to be amazing.
They're coming into formation here. That is amazing.
There's a Hurricane and a Spitfire and then, at the far side of the formation,
I'm in the back of the two-seat Spit.
They are so close, I feel like I could reach out and touch them.
Our wing tips are only feet apart.
I can't express, it's unbelievable
to see the Spitfire right off my wing like that. Woo-hoo!
We're retracing the route the Battle of Britain pilots would have taken as they patrolled the south coast.
We're all in formation. I've never been so close to another aircraft in the sky.
'The skill of the pilots is awesome, but flying in formation is just the start.'
They're going to show me what these war birds can really do.
One, two, three.
Oh, that is amazing.
The people in this city are getting the show of their life.
Absolutely. Absolutely right.
Break, break, go. One, two, three.
Look at that Hurricane go like that! Woo-hoo!
That is awesome.
I can't believe the pilots used to be able to do this after such little training,
maybe ten hours' training in this aircraft before they were expected to do this.
Listen to this noise!
Right, how big is his smile going to be?
-How was that?
-That was unbelievable.
I think you'll need one of them.
-Thanks a lot, mate.
-Cliff, that was amazing!
-I had more "Oh, wow's" and...
-What, more than me?
Oh, my God, you are so close together, you are so close.
That's the one thing that I hadn't,
I hadn't really...
fully entertained in my mind.
You're like literally on each other's wing and you're looking over there
at another aeroplane in the sky, and it's bumpy sometimes, you know?
Oh, yeah. And when it moves, I was like "... hell."
I didn't say it, cos I knew he'd hear me, but I loved the peel-offs.
And I wish I had a camera here looking, so you could see what I saw, cos it was nuts how close we were.
So the next trip, Ewan, scramble the McGregor Big Wing? How about that?
Yeah, nice one, dude. We'll do that then.
It's been wonderful to fly these planes,
but it's been an even greater privilege to meet the heroes that fought in them.
What we've learned about the Battle of Britain has brought home to us
the significance of their victory.
It was a battle that turned the tide of world history,
but it took place over our green fields.
That's what makes it unique to me, that it was happening right here, right above us.
And it involved everyone, it involved everybody.
So everybody had to pull together.
Yeah, I think it's almost incomprehensible.
-I don't think we can understand what it would have been like if it had gone the other way.
I think it's true.
I think that this war that happened in the skies here
has enabled us all to have the lives that we've had,
and will continue for our children and their children.
It's really extraordinary.
Our journey ends here, at Capel-le-Ferne on the Kent coast.
This is the memorial to the 3,000 airmen who fought in the Battle of Britain.
Here's Douglas Bader, look.
Oh, yeah, yeah.
'Most of them were British, but hundreds came from overseas to defend our shores.'
There's Czech and Polish pilots, wasn't there?
'There are those who died 70 years ago
'and those who survived, men we've been privileged to meet.'
-There's Geoffrey Wellum's down there.
-Oh, yeah, yeah.
That's what I like about it, that it's for the pilots who died
and the pilots that lived, it's not just a memorial of the dead pilots.
-It's for all the airmen that took part.
'544 RAF airmen were killed.
'Their average age was just 22.
'We'd like the last word to go to Spitfire pilot William Walker.
'At 97, he's one of the oldest survivors of the Battle of Britain.'
Remember those not here today and those unwell or far away
and those who never lived to see the end of war and victory
and every friend who passed our way remembered as of yesterday
It's absent friends we miss the most.
To all, let's drink a loving toast.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
Seventy years after the historic struggle, brothers Colin and Ewan McGregor take viewers through the key moments of the Battle of Britain, when 'the few' of the RAF faced the might of the Nazi Luftwaffe.
As they fly historic planes, meet the veterans, explore the tactics and technology, Colin and Ewan discover the importance of the battle and the surviving legacy of the 1940s campaign for the modern RAF.