National Geographic : 1965 Aug
IHOMSON NEWSPAPERS LID, I A" Y CONTACTS with His Majesty's Government [Vl became more frequent and intimate with the mounting of the crisis." Grim-faced and thought ful, Churchill leaves a conference with Prime Min ister Neville Chamberlain on September 10, 1938. "Just to paint is great fun," he proclaimed in a short, bright book called Painting as a Pastime. "The colours are lovely to look at and delicious to squeeze out. Matching them, however crudely, with what you see is fas cinating and absolutely absorbing." Above all, the gifted Sunday artist doted on glowing pigments. "I cannot pretend to feel impartial about the colours," he wrote. "I rejoice with the brilliant ones, and am gen uinely sorry for the poor browns. When I get to heaven I mean to spend a considerable portion of my first million years in painting, and so get to the bottom of the subject." THREADING through the Strand, the procession wheeled past the church of St. Clement Danes, known in happier 182 times through the gay little nursery rhyme: Oranges and lemons Say the bells of St. Clement's.... But now St. Clement's is a monument to battle. Gutted by Luftwaffe bombs in 1941, it was reconsecrated17 years later as the Church of the Royal Air Force. A panel lists 56 battle honors won by the RAF in World War II. In the stunned aftermath of the French sur render in 1940, England stood alone, short of guns and aircraft. The new Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, addressed the nation: "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.... 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 a thousand years, men will still say, 'This was their finest hour.' " On July 2, German Gen. Wilhelm Keitel signed a directive: "The Fuehrer and Supreme Commander has decided... that a landing in England is possible, provided that air superi ority can be attained...." From their newly captured airfields in France, the fighters and bombers of the Luft waffe stormed across southern England. As high summer deepened into autumn, the con trails of the world's first decisive air battle latticed the blue British skies. Daily the heavy bombers, Dorniers and Heinkels, roared up the Thames estuary in successive waves, and daily the Hurricanes and Spitfires swarmed up the sky to meet them, harassing the bigger airplanes like en raged wasps. "God," one pilot recalls, "how I loved that Hurricane! It was like a flying gun platform!" Flaming tracers scorched the heavens, air craft exploded into dying comets, parachutes drifted down through the bright air like ran dom, unseasonal snowflakes. As loudspeakers all across the Reich blared a popular march of that year, "Bomben auf Engelland"-"Bombs on England"-the aer ial war mounted. The odds against the Royal Air Force were enormous. German aircraft outnumbered British aircraft by almost four to one. Yet in July the RAF shot down 164 enemy planes at a cost of 58 of their own. In August, they destroyed 662 German aircraft, losing 360. In September, they shot down 582, with a loss of 361.