A variety of tributes and commemorations will take place in the UK on Tuesday to mark the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, despite restrictions due to the coronavirus crisis.
Special exhibits from the Imperial War Museum, a radar-based light show, and the addition of several new “unusual” sites to the National Heritage List, will all celebrate the contributions of those involved.
The Battle of Britain was a major air campaign fought in the skies over the UK in 1940 and was the first battle in history to be fought entirely in the air.
Although the battle took place between July and October 1940, September 15 saw the British Royal Air Force (RAF) take a decisive victory over the Luftwaffe in what was Nazi Germany’s largest daylight raid.
About 1,120 Luftwaffe planes were sent to attack London, but were repelled by only 630 RAF fighters and two days later Hitler postponed his plans to invade Britain.
About 544 RAF pilots and 312 RAF ground personnel were killed in combat and the pilots became known as “The Few” after a tribute from then Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who said, “Never in the field of human conflict was so owed much by so much to so little ”.
Only one member of The Few, John Hemingway, is still alive, at the age of 101.
Commemorations are limited this year due to limitations of the coronavirus, although Union and RAF Ensign flags will be flown alternately at The Mall, in Buckingham Palace, Sept. 15-20, the Department of Defense (MoD) said.
The annual Westminster Abbey Battle of Britain service will still take place on September 20, although the number of visitors will decrease significantly.
The Ministry of Defense has also produced a special episode of the On The Record podcast, called Untold Battle of Britain, in collaboration with the National Archives and the RAF Museum.
The episode focuses on lesser-known figures from the battle, including two pilots who served from abroad, to highlight the broader efforts of those who contributed to the military campaign.
Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said, “The Battle of Britain is one of the country’s greatest and most significant victories.
“The Royal Air Force has defended the United Kingdom for over 100 years, and 80 years ago, along with our allies, they experienced one of their toughest efforts.
“The strength displayed in the Battle of Britain is a testament to the British armed forces and everything they continue to do at home and abroad.
“This anniversary provides an opportunity for all of us to honor those involved and reflect on their courage and the unimaginable sacrifices they have made to ensure freedom for future generations.
“I am incredibly proud of our Greatest Generation and everything they accomplished in that heroic endeavor 80 years ago.
“Unless we forget.”
Elsewhere, an aircraft hangar has been transformed into part of an exhibition at the Imperial War Museum Duxford, The Ops Block: Battle of Britain, on the site of a Sector Station that was active during the conflict.
The museum highlights Duxford’s specific stories through interactive displays and even allows visitors to get up close to World War II planes, including a German Messerschmitt Bf 109.
But the annual Duxford air show to commemorate the battle has been canceled this year due to safety concerns.
A special radar tribute highlighting the achievements of women and other “unsung heroes” will be the centerpiece of the celebrations hosted by the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund (RAFBF).
The “emotional” light show will take place at two locations, RAF Bawdsey, a former radar station in Suffolk, and RAF Buchan in Scotland.
It will include archive footage and photography to “bring to life” the stories of those who served on the ground during the Battle of Britain.
“It’s important for us this year to draw attention to those men and women, and especially women, who served in the Battle of Britain,” said Chris Elliot, the fund’s controller.
“The women who served at the RAF airfields came under fire, those airfields were sometimes bombed daily by the Luftwaffe.
“So they are not the heroes we might think of, but these are the people we should recognize too, especially on this important anniversary.”
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has also listed four new heritage sites and upgraded three others in tribute to the generation who fought for the freedom of the country.
The new sites, now under special protection for their historical significance, include a colorful air-raid shelter in Surrey and a cleverly disguised bunker in Northumberland.
Heritage Secretary Nigel Huddleston said: “ The Battle of Britain hit every corner of our country and it is good that as we celebrate its 80th anniversary, we are protecting the sites, memorials and buildings in tribute to those who fought and those who perished. . . “