OF BRITAIN FILM
privileged to be involved in a very small way, first introduced to the team by
way of my father who was a WW2 air gunner, who served on 44 squadron flying
from Spilsby in Lincolnshire. He stayed on in the
Royal Air Force and continued in his pre-war trade as a coppersmith sheet metal
worker while he served at RAF Henlow he repaired
radiators for the non flyers in station workshops.
memorable time was the press day at RAF Henlow late
1967 where the ‘allied’ air force was unveiled and talking to Squadron Leader
Bob Stamford-Tuck who was a guest with other veteran of the battle I still have
a press cutting of showing Bob Stamford-Tuck with my late brother David who was
a 9 year old standing on the wing of a Hurricane chatting to
In June ‘68
I worked as an odd job boy with the stills team. Oh yes I was a boy then just 19
years old skinny with blonde hair.
the photographs taken at Henlow were originally sent
to Air Pictorial Magazine September in 1967 and photographs and this copy to Flight
International in 1969 but nothing was ever published; I have over the years
added and corrected some of the data, the core of the copy remains as first
Duxford in 1960’s was a very different
place to the Duxford we now know, grass and weeds covered over the concrete,
but the married quarters were still in use, the
hangars and other airfield buildings had been emptied and abandoned. The runway
and perimeter tracks were used at weekends to race cars and motorcycle’s and
the whole place had an air of disuse and abandonment. A vast contrast to 28
years previous when 19 squadron Spitfires under the command of 12 group took to the air to defend this island from the
onslaught of the Luftwaffe. All this was all about to change!
producers Harry Salzmann and Benjamin Fisz approached
the Ministry of Defence for permission from to use Duxford as one of the
locations for the film the Battle of Britain, the others being Kenley, Northolt and North Weald, the main reason Duxford
being selected was that the airfield still had much of its war-time
Secretary of State for Defence, Denis Healy agreed and in the spring of 1968 United
Artists moved in and set about restoration. Nearly £40,000 was spent on tidying
up the place, camouflage was reapplied to the hangars and other buildings, and
grass was cut roads swept and so on. When the crews finished you would not have
known it was 1968 there were slit trenches, revetments for aircraft dispersal
and sand bags every where.
of Britain was to be a widescreen production, shot on 70mm colour film, so
clips of flying from the actual Battle of Britain were unusable, the producers
had always wanted to re-create the air battles using the same aircraft and
simulating the same clashes which had been fought over the English Channel and
Thames 28 years earlier.
was obtaining the Spitfires, Hurricanes, Messerschmitt Bf.109’s and Heinkel He.111’s that were to feature in the film, was
contracted an Ex Second World War pathfinder bomber pilot Group Captain Hamish Mahaddie. His task was to track down the aircraft needed. Mahaddie now specialised in buying aircraft for film work.
From a total of over 20,000 Spitfires that had been built by the time
production ceased in the late 1940s, by the early 1960s just a handful remained
that were capable of flying.
Mahaddie managed to obtain for the film 6
Hurricanes 3 which were flight capable 2 that could taxi and 1 for static use,
There were only six complete Hurricanes left in the world and Mahaddie had them all! One of them was bought as scrap by
an ex-Canadian Air Force pilot Bob Diemart who
rebuilt it and later flew it across the Atlantic to appear in the film, sadly
this was later destroyed in hangar fire Hamilton Canada in 1993. The
Spitfire population had faired better since the end of production and Mahaddie obtained 32 varying marks with a dozen able to fly
and 7 in taxing condition the rest were used for set dressing and spares usage.
By the end
of 1967 all potential Spitfires and the 5 Hurricanes were readied at RAF Henlow, serviced and cared for by Simpson aero services.
Three Percival Proctors were to be modified to be look alike Junkers Ju-87,
after a brief test flight in G-AIEY the only fully converted ‘Proctuka’ Vivian Bellamy decide that the conversion was
deemed unsuitable for the film role and large scale radio controlled models
made by Pinewood Studio’s model shop were used instead.
Spitfire BM597 and Hurricane LF751 were firstly taken to the Battle of Britain
filming unit at RAF Henlow and then shipped to
Pinewood studios to be used as a mould model for replicas being built. Most of
these were subsequently destroyed during filming noticeable in one scene where
a Spitfire careered into a petrol browser both being engulfed in a fiery
aircraft of the Luftwaffe, Mahaddie turned to the
Spanish Air Force who were still using Messerschmitt Bf.109s(
Hispano HA.1112-M1L) and Heinkel 111s. (CASA 2-111D). These aircraft had been built under license
in Spain and had Rolls-Royce Merlin engines instead of Daimler-Benz engines.
Some 30 odd Heinkel’s were loaned to United Artists
by the Spanish Air Force later United Artists donated £1000 to the Spanish air
force widows fund, Mahaddie bought 28 Messerschmitt’s (17 flyers) that were being
de-commissioned. Nearly all the pilots were Spanish, although 4 has been
seconded from the Confederate air force in exchange for their participation the
pilots insisted that the aircraft they flew in the film were to be part payment
for the time on set. On March 13 1968 the cameras rolled and the Battle of
Britain began. Tablada airfield in the suburbs of
Seville was the location for the opening scenes where General Milch inspects the Luftwaffe.
around 23rd March that General Adolf Galland made a visit to the set as the military advisor for
the German side of the story accompanied by Bob Stamford-Tuck. Here he met with
Pedro Santa Cruz an old friend from the Spanish civil war, who was currently the
chief Spanish pilot for the film. It was reported that Santa Cruz whilst
chatting with Galland pointed to a Messerschmitt how
long is it since you flew one of those he enquired? Galland
paused for a moment 26 six years replied the General, OK lets see what you can
do as he ushered him over to a twin seat fighter. The entire crew apparently witnessed
a display from the legendary Galland culminating in
the famous victory roll. A few weeks after shooting the films opening credit
sequence at Tablada, two Heinkel
111s and 17 Messerschmitt’s flew to Duxford England
to join up with the Spitfires and Hurricanes for UK filming.
incident happened after the formation left Manston on
14 May 1968 en route Duxford the formation was due to land at Duxford, suddenly
they disappeared out of the pattern and after a call to Duxford from Coltishall radar were spotted orbiting Cambridge’s historic
university, as some one in the tower said “their bloody site seeing” A little
later they were all safely on the ground. The following day Hispano G-AWHF was
written off having ground looped on landing a common occurrence for narrow
tracked aircraft such as the Hispano and Spitfire.
carried out at three airfields, Duxford, Kenley and
North Weald, all of which were operational RAF stations during the actual
Battle of Britain. Filming at Duxford took place on the main airfield itself
and in the south-west corner of the airfield the props department built a 1/3
size château where it was used for the French evacuation scenes, this area was
chosen because there is grass instead of concrete. Scenes shot in this area of
the airfield included the opening shots of the film where the Hurricane
squadrons evacuate from Northern France, the Luftwaffe at Pas de Calais and the
one scene where a Polish airman is shot down and parachutes into a field to be
captured by farm workers.
filming for the Battle of Britain was carried out using a B-25 Mitchell,
belonging to and piloted by Ex RAF pilot John R Hawke. The B-25 had where
cannon and machine-guns had been, camera positions. The front fuselage had been
replaced by an optically pure plexiglass moulding big
enough to allow a 70mm widescreen colour camera to shoot through. The end of
the tail had been taken out completely and a camera rigged up in the
rear-gunner's position. There were also places for cameras to shoot through the
optically pure side windows; and when the bomb-bay doors were opened a
stabilised camera could be lowered capable of shooting over a 360 degree field,
controlled by a cameraman sitting just above it. A Sud
Alouette G-AWAP two of the fighters one Spitfire and
Hispano twin seater had cameras fitted as did CASA G-AWHB.
the weather in 1968 was atrocious and aerial filming was sporadic the decision
was made to deploy 9 Spitfires and 3 Hispano HA.1112’s accompanied by the B-25
to Montpellier to take advantage of the clear blue skies to complete the aerial
sequences. The final aerial shots were completed at Duxford in late
1968, I was worked mainly as a ‘gofer’ with the team, whilst on leave from the
army. A couple of days before the destruction of the hanger at Duxford on the
22nd I had the opportunity of getting up in the camera equipped CASA G-AWHB for
an air test for the bombing run rehearsal for the destruction of the RAF
airfield. It took two takes for that scene first to be filmed on the 21st
they merely blew out the windows and dislodged the doors, the second take the
next day made sure the hanger was truly destroyed. I can be see running with a group of Erks
towards the damaged hanger around 3 seconds don’t blink or you will miss me.
I can say
without fear of contradiction that without Ben Fitz’s persistence and the
dogged determination of Hamish Mahaddie in tracking
down the aircraft the world would have been deprived of these historic items
for good. The ‘60’s was and still is remembered as the time of peace and love
and it is quite astounding that an epic war film was conceived and produced
during those years, a true testament to those involved in the project.
filming was completed in 1968 the aircraft were returned to their respective
owners or in the case of the Hispano HA.1112’s simply sold so started the ‘warbird’ movement 8 of the Hispano HA.1112’s and one
Spitfire ended up with Wilson “Connie” Edwards at Edwards ranch in Big Spring
Texas (allegedly some are still stored there) rest of then being bought by individuals
in the US and Europe.