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Maidstone author tells story of The Few who won battle of the skies

By Alan Smith

It’s 1940. The British Expeditionary Force has suffered the humiliation of the evacuation from Dunkirk.

France has surrendered. America remains aloof. Britain stands alone as Hitler unleashes the might of the German Luftwaffe. The aim is to destroy British airpower prior to a full-scale seaborne invasion in September.

The Battle of Britain is usually reckoned to have lasted 113 days, from July 10 to October 31. During that time, the RAF’s 700 fighters defeated a force that outnumbered them by more than four to one and changed the course of the war.

Vapour trails over Maidstone, September 1940
Vapour trails over Maidstone, September 1940

How did they do it? Was it simply that our pilots were more courageous and more skilled than the Jerries?

A new book, entitled Fight For The Skies – The Battle of Britain, 1940, tells the full story behind the legendary exploits of The Few. In simple, easy-to-understand language, the book outlines the events that led up to the battle, the crucial tactical decisions taken by the commanders, and the vital role played by RDF (radar) and by the Observer Corps.

It compares the merits of the different aircraft used by both sides and explains the organisation of the air defences into group commands and even tells a little about what happened to the key figures once the battle was won.

The lull before the storm: a pilot awaits the call to scramble
The lull before the storm: a pilot awaits the call to scramble

The 48-page book can be read in one sitting and afterwards you will be able to watch the Battle of Britain movie again with renewed understanding.

Fight For The Skies is written by local man Richard (Dick) Collinson and is based on lectures he has given to the University of the Third Age and elsewhere.

Yorkshire-born Mr Collinson of Anglesey Avenue, Loose, spent his entire working career in the avionics industry – although ironically he did his military service in the Royal Navy. He had been in the Air Training Corps in the early part of the war, but when in 1944 aged 18 he volunteered for the Fleet Air Arm, he failed the medical and found himself instead as an artificer aboard the frigate HMS Modeste.

Author Dick Collinson
Author Dick Collinson

His Navy training as an electrical engineer set his path for life and on leaving the Senior Service in August 1947, he took a first-class degree in electrical engineering at London University and then began a career that would see him work on the blue streak missile, on developing a guidance system for the Vulcan bomber, on developing an air data computer for the Lockheed C5, as well as working on the bloodhound missile.

He has been awarded the Silver Medal of the Royal Aeronautical Society for “his most significant contribution to research and development for advanced avionics equipment and systems and to their service in the UK and abroad”.

After retiring in 1991, he wrote the text book Introduction to Avionic Systems, now in its third edition, which is the bible for avionics students and has been translated into several languages including Arabic.

Fight For The Skies can be purchased at Loose Post Office, Maidstone Museum, The Swan pub, the Millbrook Garden Centre and at Ali Barbers hairdressers in Cripple Street, priced £5. Mr Collinson is donating half of the profits to service charities.

Fight For The skies, ISBN 978-0-9926371-0-1

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