Voices from the Battle of Britain I


Aitken with his wife after receiving his DFC at Buckingham Palace in 1940.


LMF [Lack of Moral Fibre] was a very unfortunate situation, a horrible thing which was that a pilot really packed it in and said I can’t go on. They all said may I go to training. Well, no – if a fellow said I don’t want to do any more fighting there was only one thing to do and it was done with absolutely no thought at all. He was taken away from his squadron that day, he was taken away from the Air Force that day, if he was an officer he was stripped of his rank and he was put into another service or into the Home Guard or something. We could never keep on anybody who faltered for one moment, because you know faltering is a very catching business and if that had happened in any way it would have been quite wrong. Therefore there was this horrible thing LMF – it became a bit of a joke, you know people saying I think I’m suffering from it, but the fact of the matter was that it could have become a disease unless it was stopped. Sometimes you could tell a fellow was going to get killed. Yes, you could – he sort of lost it. When you’re tremendously keen on something you’re much better than when you’re rather holding back, and the fellows who were tremendously keen generally came through.


We didn’t know at the time why he changed to London: we had only to obey orders. I believe today that Hitler and Goring wanted to make use of their advantage of having the capital of the enemy in the range of their fighters, which could therefore escort the bombers. On the other side Berlin was far out of the effective range of the RAF at this time and in addition the effect of an air raid against a big town has been overestimated. Nobody knew at the time how much was needed to destroy a great part of the town. Perhaps Hitler and Goring hoped that they would force England to negotiate after these attacks. It is difficult to decide which motive really had priority, but it is a matter of fact that this switch to London from military targets changed the situation of Great Britain and Fighter Command considerably.


After your first attack if you’re lucky enough to see one or two that you can go for, and if you’ve broken them up then that’s what happened, you chase them and if they turn for home you let them go because our strict instruction was that we mustn’t chase anybody over the Channel because if we came down in the Channel there’s a pilot and an aircraft gone. The main thing was to break up the raids and save our own aircraft. And so thirty-six Dorniers very quickly became two or three on which you’re focusing your attention. I followed two or three and made attacks on each one of them and ultimately used up all my ammunition. Then I hit the tail of the last one and he came down on Victoria Station and I came down on a rooftop in Chelsea.


The Battle of Britain during daytime became more disorganised and finally it was stopped. After a short time the Luftwaffe Command changed over to night attacks by the bombers only and the fighters were ordered to carry a bomb, and about a third of our fighters had to drop bombs in daylight, while the other two-thirds were escorting the bombers. Both fighter bombing and night bombing had never been practised, and therefore the effects were very low.

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