Shooting at Men in Parachutes

I’m hoping we can put the script of this film I’m doing to bed this week, and so have been going through the rough cut and trying to make sure I’ve got as much as possible covered.  When you’re used to writing books of 200,000 words, reducing that to an hour of TV is pretty difficult and obviously there’s going to be a large amount that has to be left out.

But here’s one point I’ve been thinking about: what could the Luftwaffe have done differently?  If, as I still believe, (despite messages coming in claiming that Hurricane was the best Battle of Britain fighter), that the Germans had the best fighter plane, surely they should have made a larger impact on the outcome?  Well, obviously, shortage of fuel was one of the issues, and although they certainly had the technology, they chose not to use auxiliary fuel tanks that would have made life a great deal easier for them.  Second, they should have been given free rein all the time and not made to escort the bombers at ridiculously slow speeds.

Third, they could have used radar to help their air-rescue teams fish downed pilots out of the Channel, but fourth, they should have been shooting at any RAF pilot bailing out.  Fighter pilots will always tell you it was the machine not the pilot, but it was a shortage of pilots, not planes that was troubling Dowding and Park.  It was all very well Galland and Co. notching up record scores, but if the men if shot down were fit and able to fly again later the same day, then they were achieving very little.  Shooting down men in their parachutes would also have had a debilitating effect on British morale.

I agree that it’s all very distasteful, but it does seem ironic that the men of the Luftwaffe should have been so gentlemanly in this regard, adhering to a kind of chivalric knights of the sky code that made no sense whatsoever in terms of the total war being fought at the time.  They got very upset when RAF aircraft shot at air-sea rescue planes, an action authorised by Dowding on the basis that otherwise those rescued pilots could fight again.  And yet the Luftwaffe was the most Nazified of the German armed services and its army had no qualms about lining up Poles and Jews and even members of the BEF in France in May 1940 and shooting them in cold blood.

4 replies
  1. bilbo
    bilbo says:

    a little noted advantage was that the RAF used 100 octane fuel as opposed to the Luftwaffe s 87 octane.
    this gave improved engine performance and reduced engine wear.

    yes their tactics were faulty but so were ours.
    tight formation flying and fighting in “vics” of three aircraft both contributed to RAF losses as did the lower performing two bladed props our aircraft started out with and poor gunnery.

    despite this, supposedly inferior spitfires and the truly appalling hurricane (sarcasm) consistently out fought their opponent.

    slaughtering helpless pilots on parachutes can not be the answer, it has more to do with not getting shot down.
    something our chaps appear to have been a bit better at.

  2. mungee
    mungee says:

    I have recently completed reading a book on the Nuremburg Trials and in it, the point is made that Hermann Goering insisted that his pilots adhered to the chivalrous behaviour of the WWI fighter pilots eg you NEVER shoot an enemy pilot who’s in his parachute NOR when he’s landed on the ground (after parachuting out). Yes, it is odd given the fact that Goering was the founder of the Gestapo and the Nazi concentration camps! I also recently read that Nazi Germany (in the 1930’s) passed very strict animal anti-cruelty laws – amazing, but apparently true.
    Re the ‘drop-tanks’ – yes, that has always mystified me as to why the Germans never used those during their cross-Channel sorties – it’s really baffling!!

  3. mungee
    mungee says:

    Btw what is the film that you’re working on? Is a BBC film on the Battle of Britain? I’m a Bob “nut” – I’ve got your book on it, but haven’tstarted reading it yet. I live in South Africa and I’m holding a commemorative dinner here on 15 September (for the 70th anniversary of the BoB) – it’s DJ’s & long dresses, 1940,2 (Vera Lynn etc music), a few RAF flags and a Union Jack (two Luftwaffe flags as well – slipped in quietly!), and my two daughters to waitress in WAAF “uniform” (importing 2 relica WAAF caps from India for them and an RAF pilot officer’s cap), poty and cigars after dinner etc etc – my poor guests (4 other couples) will also have to endure about 4 short clips from the BoB (1969) movie (starring Michael Caine etc), just to “set the scene” and I’v asked one of my mates to propose the toast to “the Few” – it’s going “overboard” I know, but what the hell!!

  4. James Holland
    James Holland says:

    Sounds like you’re going to have a brilliant evening! The film is for the BBC – an hour long documentary for part of the Beeb’s Battle of Britain season on the TV.

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