Battle of Britain (1969)

Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few. (Winston Churchill)

Battle of Britain is one of the great war movie classics. It’s the favourite movie of many people and certainly the favourite air combat movie of many more. I have watched it for the second time on the week-end and I’m glad I did so, because now I know better what worked for me and what didn’t. The strength of this movie is – funny enough – also its weakness.

The depiction of this crucial moment in British history is done with great detail and accuracy. The director tried to get everything right, down to the cloud formations. An incredible amount of original planes was gathered from different collectors all over the world to make the battles look authentic. And yes, the battle scenes look very convincing.

The Battle of Britain was Göring’s idea. He had been a fighter pilot in WWI and the whole strategy of gaining the air supremacy over England was his. Only he miscalculated the whole thing and they made crucial mistakes.

The idea was to bomb all the air fields, hangars, docks and the like. Starting on November 14 1940 they dropped huge loads of bombs and also destroyed, among other things, the city of Coventry on November 15. Unfortunately they also bombed London which led to the bombing of Berlin and was ultimately the beginning of the Blitz.

The movie shows all these elements and changes constantly from the British HQ to the German side, from there to the air fields and the pilots. Unlike most other movies of the time they did cast Germans for the German roles and French actors for the French which adds another layer of authenticity.

What looks at first like a desperate and hopeless case, later becomes one of those incredible tales of heroism and courage.

Not only did the Germans make the capital mistake to bomb London, they also underestimated their enemy. The British pilots, later helped by Free French, Polish, Czech and others, were the far superior pilots and their fighter planes were superior as well.

When Göring asked one of his commanders what they needed in order to win the answer was “Spitfires”.

The tactics, the battles, the details, all this is incredibly well done but,  due to the epic nature of the movie, there are a lot of characters in this movie and one doesn’t really warm to any of them. Sure Michael Caine is great as Squadron Leader and there is a mini love story at the heart of which is Christopher Plummer but the characters are not very well developed. This was clearly not the focus. Battle of Britain is much more a documentary style movie and, as I already said, this is its strength and its weakness and that is why I will always prefer The Dam Busters. I like my movies to be a bit more emotionally engaging than Battle of Britain.

Still, despite all the criticism, this is one of the great epic war movies and an absolute must-see that one cannot rate less than 5/5. I would say it’s  a great companion to the US Pearl Harbor movie Tora!Tora!Tora!, another great and very authentic air combat movie.

Sorry for this lousy looking trailer but it was the only one I could find.

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Danger UXB (1979) A Clever British TV Series about a Bomb Squad During the Blitz

I would say that this British TV series is one of the most realistic stories ever told about London during the Blitz and the dangerous duty of defusing the numerous unexploded bombs that hit the country. Danger UXB focuses on a young lieutenant, Brian Ash (Anthony Andrews), appointed to a bomb squad. His squad defuses all sorts of unexploded German bombs. This is highly stressful and very difficult. There are so many different types of bombs with different types of fuses. Magnetic, movement detectors, chemical reaction, clock work and time delay fuses. The bombs are found in many different places such as  schools, gardens, back yards, living rooms,  a night club, a factory  which gives ample opportunity to tell side stories and show the lives of ordinary people during this time. It is hard to imagine what it must have been like to be bombed every single night. The series manages to give a very good feel for the danger of this line of work.  I would say Danger UXB provides a rare combination of instruction and entertainment, combining historical accuracy with tales of everyday lives and the story of one young officer, his work , his dealings with fellow officers and commanders and  his love life. British TV is a great source for realistic historical series and movies. I haven’t seen Piece of Cake yet but it is sitting here, waiting to be watched. Danger UXB is far less known. I highly recommend it. I think it is also interesting to compare it to the ubiquitous The Hurt Locker (see my post on The Hurt Locker) and see the difference between a bomb squad now and then.

I attached a video for you, where you can see that each episode initiates with original footage to enhance accuracy. Unfortunately this video has an addition to it but it is the best I could come up with. I couldn’t find any trailer only some fan videos but they had insufferable music.