Editorial: War classics still a thrill

By Richard Moore

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A Spitfire plane will be among others to grace Tauranga's skies this weekend. Photo / Moore Media Services
A Spitfire plane will be among others to grace Tauranga's skies this weekend. Photo / Moore Media Services

One of my favourite movies is the classic war drama Battle of Britain.

It is a dramatic recreation of the battle for air superiority over Britain early in World War II.

A confident Adolf Hitler, fresh from conquering France, sent his veteran Air Force, or Luftwaffe, to give Britain a bit of a touch up to force it to the peace table or, if it didn't, clear the way to open up the English Channel for an invasion fleet.

In the summer of 1940 the Germans flew over Britain bombing airfields, cities and factories in a bid to weaken Britain. The Blitz, as it became known, killed more than 40,000 people and in London alone more than one million homes and buildings were damaged or destroyed.

They were desperate times for the Mother Country and its main shield, the Royal Air Force, buckled, bent but never broke.

There is just something about watching WWII fighters zooming around the sky that gets the adrenalin going.
Richard Moore

The young pilots from Britain and 16 other mainly Empire nations - including about 127 Kiwis - fought an unrelenting air battle against superior numbers and eventually triumphed. They had given the Germans such a bloody nose the Luftwaffe could no longer stand the losses.

The toll was horrendous. Both sides lost a great number of planes (Britain 1547, Germany 1887) but it was the loss of aircrew that crippled the Luftwaffe. Many British pilots were either rescued from the Channel or parachuted on to home soil. The Germans, in the main, could not.

RAF crewmen killed included 544 from Fighter Command, 718 from Bomber Command and 280 from Coastal Command.

Richard Moore, columnist for Bay of Plenty Times. Photo/file
Richard Moore, columnist for Bay of Plenty Times. Photo/file

The Luftwaffe had 2698 men killed, 967 captured and the British identified 638 bodies of missing men.

As British Prime Minister Winston Churchill said: "Never in the field of human conflict, has so much been owed by so many to so few."

Now I like the movie Battle of Britain for its aerial fight scenes, which I saw on the big screen. There is just something about watching WWII fighters zooming around the sky that gets the adrenalin going.

Interestingly, in 1969 the movie's producers had the 35th largest air force in the world after drafting in all the surviving WWII planes they could get their hands on.

Anyway, if you want to see one of the stars of the real Battle of Britain - a Spitfire - then you should head along to one of the great events on Tauranga's calendar - the Classics of the Sky airshow.

Run by Classic Flyers, the air show brings the thrill of flight to this city and, in the past, I have enjoyed photographing planes of all shapes and sizes as they fly by.

My favourites have to be the wonderful WWI planes from The Vintage Aviator at the 2014 air show.

They were amazing. So frail, so small and yet 100 years ago they were at the forefront of technological development.

Classic Flyers has this year changed the show's format and will have two one-day events rather than the usual two-day extravaganza.

The first is this Saturday and the theme is Spitfire at Sunset. The air displays begin at about 4pm.

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Focusing on piston-engined planes there will be a mix of classic aircraft, military planes and even aircraft without engines - better known as gliders.

Apart from the glamour boy of the sky, the Spitfire, I'm looking forward to seeing another famous WWII aircraft - a Grumman Avenger torpedo bomber.

They were important weapons in the Pacific War against Japan and are very big beasts indeed with a length of 12.5m and a wingspan of 16.5m.

My grandfather gave me a model of an Avenger when I was a youngster and I have seen the remains of one up in the Solomon Islands.

I cannot wait to see one powering overhead.

Which reminds me, Classic Flyers is rebuilding an Avenger at the moment with a team working hard in a hangar to restore it.

It must be exciting and very rewarding work to bring a broken machine back to life.

Anyway, see you at the show - I'll be the guy weighed down with cameras.

- richard@richardmoore.com

Richard Moore is an award-winning Western Bay journalist and photographer.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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