Battle of Britain Bunker on 15 Sept 1940
A while ago I visited the Battle of Britain, and spent a very interesting afternoon there. During the Second World War, Britain built many bunkers for defence and evacuation purposes. One of them was located at a place called Uxbridge just outside of London. It played a very important role during the Battle of Britain. In the summer of 1940, Hitler wanted to invade Britain and to do so he had to gain air superiority. This was a battle between the two air forces, our Royal Air Force RAF and their Luftwaffe, and came to be known as the Battle of Britain. The RAF command center was based out of the Bunker at Uxbridge, and this is where I went, the Battle of Britain Bunker.
MARSHALL KEITH PARK
Before I show you the bunker, I want to pay tribute to the allies who supported Britian during the war. Most notably, a kiwi Air Chief Marshall Keith Park. He was the Commander for No. 11 Group, the area that covers London and the south east of England where most of the Battle of Britain took place. This is his statue in the car park. The other allies were the Polish, their pilots stepped up and made a significant contribution when many of our own pilots were wounded or killed.
THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN BUNKER
The highlight of the visit was to the underground bunker. I don’t know how deep down it was, but there was over 70 steps, so I’m guess at least 3 or 4 floors deep. Here’s the entrance. During wartime, it was well concealed so it wouldn’t be discovered by hostile planes flying over.
The bunker itself was massive, too bad I forgot to ask Andy our tour guide the size. I was fascinated with the tour and the stories he told us about how we fought in air. This is the RAF Fighter Command operations and is where all the strategic decisions were made during the war. The massive table is a map of the south east England and its purpose is to plot the locations of the planes.
Around 20 plotters like this mannequin would work around the table. Their responsibility is to receive constant intel and move the blocks to the correct location on the map. Each of those blocks with a yellow flag denotes one of our own planes so at any moment in time, the commander in control would know exactly where our flights are in the air. We would also get sightings on where hostile plans where, they would also be plotted on the map.
Knowing the location of the planes was just one side of the battle. The most crucial thing is to decide which plane we would send out to fight the enemy. This board shows all the RAF air base in this region, for example, Hornchurch, Kenley, Biggin Hill are different air bases. And the numbers are the squadrons. Put simply, the Commanders would match the best air fighters with the enemy’s invasion. The whole system works a bit more complex than this and if you’re interested you can read more about the Dowding System here. Basically, in the absence of modern day advance technology, we had a sophisticated air defence network and that gave us a massive advantage in the battle.
This is the command room where the commanders would sit and make all the strategic decisions. It looks down to the operations. Let’s head up there now.
This is the view from the command room. If you notice, the window is curved out giving the commanders a much better view of the operations. The set up here and in the operations center is exactly as it was on 15th September 1940 at 1130. This was a moment of time during the height of the battle. Whilst we were there, they played a clip of the dialogue between the commanders and how they directed fighters etc. It was played by actors based on actual transcripts from the battle and not original recordings. I noticed the dialogue sounded very calm almost as if it was a few men talking in a business meeting. Andy said they had to be calm, as panic was the last thing you needed when you’re commanding a battle. Makes perfect sense.
Once the bunker tour was over, we went back into the main building and looked around the interactive area. If you’re the type of visitor who wants to really understand things, this is the perfect place for you. There was a lot more information on the Dowding System, a room dedicated to the Polish fighters and their contribution, and other interesting artefacts.
You can even have a go at plotting just like the plotters did during the war. You have to put the head phones on like the plotters, then you will hear instructions, or codes which you have to translate to the locations. And then you have to move the block to the correct location. I had a go at it, and I can tell you it wasn’t easy. In fact, I felt a bit like a casino hostess on a roulette table with the stick moving blocks around!!! Sorry about the joke, I couldn’t resist.
War is no fun as we all know, but I definitely had a great afternoon learning more about the past, and I hope you did as well.
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