Finest Hour 185, Third Quarter 2019
By David Freeman, July 2019
This issue completes a triptych that we started two years ago about Winston Churchill’s relationship with the armed forces. We began with the Royal Navy, the “senior service,” in 2017 and continued with the British Army last year. Now we examine Churchill’s association with the Royal Air Force, and we are honored to have Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Graydon introduce this issue.
Churchill was one of the first major office holders in any nation to recognize the importance of air power. As First Lord of the Admiralty before the First World War, he routinely inspected the Fleet for which he was responsible and to this end had an airplane custom built for his use. Fred Glueckstein tells the little-known story of the “Sopwith Churchill.”
Between the two world wars, Churchill worked in and out of office to preserve the RAF, define its mission, and strengthen its capabilities. John Maurer explains how Churchill’s support helped to ensure the RAF was in place and prepared to face Hitler’s Luftwaffe.
When the war came, the RAF combined with the Royal Navy to form Britain’s first line of defense against invasion. The ensuing Battle of Britain saved the day, and Air Commodore A. P. N. Lambert takes us through Churchill’s dealings with the “Dowding System.” Churchill’s famous “Few,” however, referred not only to the crew of Fighter Command but also to the courageous men of Bomber Command, who suffered unimaginably high casualties in pursuit of Allied victory. Roddy MacKenzie helps set the record straight about the crucial importance of the Strategic Bombing Offensive.
Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir Charles Portal may be the most overlooked high-ranking officer of the Second World War. Wing Commander Rich Milburn, however, shows that Churchill himself thought Portal the most capable. Air Chief Marshal Sir Robert Brooke-Popham, by contrast, is now all but forgotten due to his mixed record, which W. Mark Hamilton surveys in a review of a new biography.
Did Churchill really use a Walt Disney film to win over President Roosevelt on a major air-policy initiative? Perhaps. Paul F. Anderson sifts through the evidence. Finally, Paul H. Courtenay explains that RAF uniform Churchill was so frequently photographed wearing. Fasten your seatbelts. It’s time for take off.