back to article The Battle of Britain couldn't have been won without UK's homegrown tech innovations

Today marks the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, where Britain saw off Nazi Germany's air force and briefly stood alone against Hitler's military might. Yet while the occasion is marked by flypasts and parades, it's important to remember that tech also played a part in Britain's victory. Fought over the skies of …

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  1. Potemkine! Silver badge

    The Spitfire is maybe the most beautiful warplane of WW2.

    1. MJI Silver badge

      Remove maybe

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Remove "of WW2"

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The war is over, the empire is gone

    get over it.

    1. Danny 2 Silver badge

      Re: The war is over, the empire is gone

      "You started it"

    2. Blane Bramble

      Re: The war is over, the empire is gone

      Only a fool ignores history, good or bad.

    3. EvilDrSmith Bronze badge

      Re: The war is over, the empire is gone

      >the empire is gone

      And because Britain stood up to them, so are the Nazis

      1. tojb

        Re: The war is over, the empire is gone

        Nazis are everywhere... worldwide more and more people are held in camps under appalling conditions for the sake of the political capital to be made by abusing them, or the fortunes to be made (in some cases) by appropriating their territory and assets. Uighurs, Mexicans, Sirians, Rohinga, Palestinians, I can't even be bothered to list them. Tyrranical and racist police states never went away and are in resurgence right now.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: The war is over, the empire is gone

          Dammit! Two downvoters of six of Jury?

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The war is over, the empire is gone

        Nazis? Gone? For Crysake, where to? They are alive and kickin and hoping they have chances to break through.

        Empire? Calling Mothership.

    4. Cederic Silver badge

      Re: The war is over, the empire is gone

      The Empire is gone for two primary reasons:

      1 - We gave it back, because we support self-determination of well governed nations

      2 - We bankrupted the world's largest ever Empire to defeat the Nazis

      You don't have to thank us. We did it as a matter of principle.

      1. Adair Silver badge

        Re: The war is over, the empire is gone

        We did it as a matter of principle. - while it's nice to believe that, it was, in fact, done as a matter of necessity. The principled part was a comforting justification, but rest assured if circumstances had been otherwise hell could have frozen over and those motivated by greed, entitlement and arrogance would still have maintained their grip on the right to plunder and oppress, however dressed up in 'principles' it needed to be in order to salve the consciences of all those who benefited.

        Don't kid yourselves. An individual can be principled and willingly take the hit of being so, but make it two people, and keep adding to the group, and that willingness and ability to be truly principled, and to act accordingly, goes down in proportion. The temptation to greed and power grabbing is just too much for too many of us, and those of us who 'follow the money' as our highest aim in life are sure to gather where money, and power, are to be had. And fight tooth and nail to hang on to the entitlement for as long as possible.

        Don't imagine it has stopped. The UK is where it is now in large part because of the ongoing actions of the greed, entitlement and arrogance of 'the few'.

        1. DuncanLarge Silver badge

          Re: The war is over, the empire is gone

          > while it's nice to believe that

          :D "believe"

          :D

          Who needs to "believe"?

          1. Adair Silver badge

            Re: The war is over, the empire is gone

            All those who want to believe the the 'British Empire' was a nice cuddly thing implemented and sustained by people of high principles with a burning need to encourage the well being of their fellow human beings. Whereas, in fact, the BE grew largely out of: a. the rapacious greed of people who already had more than they needed, plus those whose burning desire was to become like them; and b. the geo-political needs of maintaining an island nation just off-shore from a huge continental political mass.

            Most of us don't generally like behaving like shits, so when we do we tend to try and find high-minded justifications for our shitty behaviour, whilst pursuing it. A few of us manage to step back and quite literally 'repent' of our shitty ways, and turn to leave them behind, hence John Newton's writing of 'Amazing Grace'.

      2. aki009

        Re: The war is over, the empire is gone

        If one looks at the costs of WW1 and WW2, it's pretty clear that Britain could have handled either one of the wars by itself, but not both. At the end of WW1, there were strong voices suggesting not to push all fault for the war, and massive war reparation payments on Germany, for various reasons, including to avoid the rise of characters like Hitler.

        While it's debatable if a Hitler would have emerged had the Versailles Treaty been less harsh, and while one can't "blame" WW2 on those who penned the Treaty's key provisions -- i.e. France and England -- they certainly had a hand in forging one of the key links that made WW2 possible.

        So perhaps one might say, "You don't have to thank us. We broke it, so we did our best to fix it as a matter of principle."

        1. EvilDrSmith Bronze badge

          Re: The war is over, the empire is gone

          Reference to reparations after WW1 almost always ignore the historical precedent - that Germany forced reparations on France after the Franco-Prussian war.

          They also tend to ignore that the Nazis were politically insignificant in the 1920's, despite the problems caused by reparations (particularly in the early part of the decade).

          It was the Wall Street Crash that triggered the economic crisis in Germany that enabled the Nazis to achieve some degree of power, and then internal German politicking that brought the Nazis fully to power in the early 1930's.

        2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

          Re: The war is over, the empire is gone

          While it's debatable if a Hitler would have emerged had the Versailles Treaty been less harsh, and while one can't "blame" WW2 on those who penned the Treaty's key provisions -- i.e. France and England -- they certainly had a hand in forging one of the key links that made WW2 possible.

          Who can say? The psychological damage done by the defeat of WWI was also pretty heavy. Versailles didn't help, but as someone else has said - it's what Germany did to France in 1870.

          Also Versailles was far less punishing than what Germany imposed on Russia in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in 1918, and is also far less punishing than the settlement Germany was planning to impose on France in 1914 if they'd won.

          Versailles cause the early 20s inflation crisis - that lead to all the stories of people taking money round in wheelbarrows. But that was more-or-less sorted by 1924, and most of the Versailles debt had been forgiven or inflated away rather than paid back under the Dawes Plan.

          It was the Great Depression that directly led to the Nazis achieving power. And the fact that German society was so polarised. Between them the Nazis and the Communists could block legislation, so one side or t'other had to be brought in to cooperation. But maybe if the politicians in the centre had stopped political parties with violent military wings from being allowed to stand in democratic elections - they'd have had less of a problem.

          Also if Britain and France had been more willing to fight, they may not have had to. But to be fair to their leadership, having just been through the horrors of World War I - they really didn't want a war. So they did what they saw as the moral thing to avoid one. But that morality was useless in the face of the immorality of the Axis powers. Even as late as 1938 - going to war for Czechoslovakia may have brought Hitler down. Or not of course... Both sides would have been much less prepared for war, but the Germans weren't then in a position to blitz there way to Paris in a few weeks.

      3. Stoneshop Silver badge
        Headmaster

        Re: The war is over, the empire is gone

        We gave it back

        For rather loose values of 'give', as that verb is not commonly associated with armed conflict against independence movements.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: The war is over, the empire is gone

          "For rather loose values of 'give', as that verb is not commonly associated with armed conflict against independence movements."

          You're right, it wasn't given back. Nor was it taken away. It was both. And other reasons too. There was also huge pressure from the USA too as they were feeling a bit adventurous after WW2 and didn't want the competition.

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The war is over, the empire is gone

        Cederic...

      5. Keythong
        Big Brother

        Re: The war is over, the empire is gone

        The Empire is gone because

        1. Vain and earlier bankrupt Churchill, stupidly sought the gory, glory of war, and because he was told to make war by the 'elite' great game masters funding him.

        2. The gangster USA government demanded massive rip-off prices for supplies, to intentionally dry up the funds of the British Empire and enrich the USA, then demanded that valuable Imperial assets were sold to them at heavy discounts. Only later did that idiot glory-seeker Churchill realise and admit this mistake!

        Anyone who starts an offensive war, without the clear intention of significant net gains, to offset the cost of the war, is an blithering idiot, who will, at best, get a Pyrrhic victory, which is an effectively a defeat; as the UK and some other allies discovered!

        It was the USA which actually won the war, with both Britain and the Axis losing, as was intended by this deadly game of the 'elite'. The USA because it became very wealthy from weapons/supplies trade and graft, allowing it to pillage/replace the British Empire with the USA Empire, so replaced the UK Pound with the US Dollar as the global reserve currency.

        The Spitfire was apparently a vanity project, not a great aircraft; other UK and US aircraft were better value and more effective.

        Radar was apparently more widely known about and used than just by the UK and allies.

        Even Bletchley park was only successful, and give the time to develop, because of astonishing 'mistakes' by the Nazis, which were not surprising when you discover that the Nazi elite were also game pawns directed by the same 'elite' game masters.

        Did you know that the "James Bond" story concept was formed as a result of a top secret, compartmentalised British operation executed to covertly sneak out Hitler and Martin Borman out of German by river in mini-subs and boats at the end of WW2, because the same 'elite' game masters told them too!

        1. Death_Ninja

          Re: The war is over, the empire is gone

          The wealth of the Old Empires of Europe had already ended up in the USA by 1918.

          WW2 just finished off what had already started, but it was certainly *by design*.

          American superpower post WW2 industrial and military dominance wasn't by accident and those behind it saw it as a continuation of the founding of the USA, to have come full circle and finally crushed the "enemy" of a free America - the old Empires - without having to fight them!

          1. Jaybus

            Re: The war is over, the empire is gone

            ...you mean without having to fight SOME of them.

        2. vogon00

          Re: The war is over, the empire is gone

          At time of writing you have 0 up and 14 down votes, which I find interesting....so...

          "The Spitfire was apparently a vanity project, not a great aircraft" - Bull. At the time, it was absolutely a great aircraft. Apart from looking good, it worked very well and actually intimidated Luftwaffe pilots as, at that point in time, it could at the very least compete with Luftwaffe fighter aircraft performance wise, and usually bested them. OK, the Hurricane may have been a slightly better gun platform and doesn't get anywhere near the recognition it deserves, but there was damn all wrong with the Spit. My source? A very elderly ex-neighbour, who was a WW2 fighter command *and* bomber command pilot (I've seen hist original logbooks), and who had more marbles and humility left when he died than you and I have together now. Not to mention much bigger balls.

          "because of astonishing 'mistakes' by the Nazis". You are correct, however how is that different from today? So many times, encryption failure is down to failure of the implementation rather than the design. They say 'don't roll your own encryption' for a reason. Also, you didn't mention that BP was also successful due to the knowledge/experience of those who had come before us, especially our Polish allies, who gave us a head start with the techniques necessary to 'break' the Enigma and Lorenz traffic. My source? Less impressive than above, but based on several books published 1950-1990 i.e. before revisionism and distortion took serious hold. BP was bloody good at what it did, but like everything else it learnt, and then improved on, someone else's preceding work. Remember, they didn't have the resources we do now - no published CVE info, or POC code available..

          "James Bond story concept was formed". Come on, then - I've cited sources...care to explain how you came about that startling piece of 'knowledge'?

        3. macjules Silver badge

          Re: The war is over, the empire is gone

          What a remarkably inflammatory and idiotic comment to write.

          Troll icon: because I simply can not believe you are that ignorant.

    5. steviebuk Silver badge

      Re: The war is over, the empire is gone

      You never forget or it will happen again.

  3. Danny 2 Silver badge

    Lets hear it for the girls

    The schoolgirl who helped design the Spitfire

    The Woman Whose Invention Helped Win a War — and Still Baffles Weathermen

    My dad still hates the Germans, I had to ask a German girlfriend to claim she was Swiss. But it means I've been seeped in war documentaries. The tech invention I think had the greatest effect on the outcome was the proximity fuse.

    1. tony2heads

      AND the our Polish allies working on Enigma

      Rejewski, Zygalski, Różycki and their 'Bomba' - known in the UK as a 'bombe'

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: AND the our Polish allies working on Enigma

        Ha, I remember Kwinto, "Ucho od śledzia", a remarkable fillm, one of my favourite ones. Thanks. tony2h

    2. swm Silver badge

      Re: Lets hear it for the girls

      I don't see any mention of the magnetron which was another British invention. The early RADAR frequency was in the OH (water) band and didn't perform as well as it could have. This is perfect for a microwave oven though. The Germans captured some magnetrons but couldn't get them to work very well because they made them perfectly symmetrical.

      England also set up several "fake" radio transmitters outside of London to try to mislead the Germans.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Lets hear it for the girls

      > My dad still hates the Germans

      I've been in bars in France in the 90s and early 2000s where they've "closed" early, the barman's handed me my "last drink" with a "drink it slowly - you can stay" in English, then once the crowd has thinned out things would get going again "Too many Germans in here". The staff were younger than I, so not veterans. Societies can have long memories.

  4. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    They haven't gone away, you know .... Immaculately Resourceful Assets

    Boffins haven't gone away today, they have just morphed into another intelligence norm/phorm and are still advising government leaders .... which/whom you are best served believing are not necessarily in the guise of any media hosted politician ..... with news of and proposals for novel developments/Great Game Changing Operations.

    The abiding initial difficulty that probably will always remain in the sub-prime human realm, by the very nature of the advanced information delivered advising leaders of Great Game Changing Operations, is an incredulous doubt that such be in any way possible, simply because they and/or their colleagues are neither able nor enabled to successfully achieve and deliver the proposals and matters under development discussions. Fortunately though, that is just a faux problem which has been resolved with solutions to be easily delivered by A.N.Others to those who and that which would require them ....... for to imagine that there be any choice to deny such developments or prevent their escape into future consciousness and universal presentation, is to suffer and confine oneself in a monumental delusion ........ which is a bitterly cold comfort blanket of zero great worth.

    1. Tail Up

      Re: They haven't gone away, you know .... Immaculately Resourceful Assets

      They haven't. See or, better say, remember the start of the Discussion @ #65. Not Anon.

  5. Death_Ninja

    Y Service

    You talk about BP, but not about the RAF's Y Service who actually provided the raw intel - plus did a lot of analysis themselves.

    In fact German speakers in Y were really crucial during the Battle of Britain. They listened to German chit chat and were able to provide a lot of useful tactical intelligence as raids built - given the way that the Luftwaffe spent ages assembling these massive formations of bombers before heading across the channel.

    Y also were the ones to report that the Germans were packing up their kit in France, Sealion was abandoned and the Battle of Britain was actually over.

    So lets hear it for the boys and girls of Y!

    1. Death_Ninja

      Re: Y Service

      I should have also mentioned Y's involvement in countering "Headache" - the Lorenz/Knickebein beam guidance for Luftwaffe night bombing.

      And then later the X-Gerät and Y-Gerät systems which improved on Knickebein.

      But its just another example of quite how high tech WW2 became vs WW1.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Y Service

        In order to hide the fact that they'd cracked it they couldn't take advantage of it all the time. Unfortunately one of the ones let go was the Coventry raid. To make matters worse it's possible that Dresden was seen as a reprisal.

        1. swm Silver badge

          Re: Y Service

          Dresden was a reprisal.

          1. Death_Ninja

            Re: Y Service

            Dresden reprisal?

            Hamburg maybe was a reprisal, Dresden was almost certainly a warning to Stalin.

          2. Danny 2 Silver badge

            Re: Y Service

            "Dresden was a reprisal."

            I was in Dresden before the GDR fell. Not nice. A surprising amount of neo-Nazis.

            A year ago I gave my Edinburgh flat to a female student from Dresden, free of charge. We didn't interact much but we had an awkward hour discussing the whole "SlaughterHouse 5" thing. We agreed I wasn't to blame for the firebombing, and she wasn't to blame for Nazism.

            She said she came to Edinburgh to study because there were too many nationalists in Dresden. I told her I was a nationalist, but not that sort.

            I am, or was, a peace protester. I'm also an antifascist. I am utterly torn about the bombing of Germany, but secretly I think they deserved it due to their failure to respect democracy, human rights and international laws. But Dresden was hellish.

        2. Dazed and Confused

          Re: Y Service

          > Unfortunately one of the ones let go was the Coventry raid.

          I'd be interested in any citations for that other than Winterbotham . Everything I've read makes it very clear that Coventry was one that got away not one was "let through". There is no way that anyone would have let through a raid like Coventry if there had been anyway to stop it. Never mind the scale of the raid, Coventry's position in the heartland of industrial Britain would have meant it was far to valuable to be allowed to act a decoy. Ultra, especially that early in the war wasn't perfect. They never knew everything. Neither were the electronic countermeasures. The night fighter force was in its infancy, Spitfires weren't good night fighters, Hurricanes were only marginally better.

          The Wiki has a good summary, the enumerable books on BP and Enigma as well as those on the RAF cover this in a lot more detail. RV Jones' Most Secret War covers the countermeasures aspect. Coventry was the one that got away.

          Dresden wasn't particularly "the" reprisal, in many ways the whole of Bomber Harris' campaign was the reprisal.

      2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Y Service

        "But its just another example of quite how high tech WW2 became vs WW1."

        Oh, I dunno. Think of the horse drawn vehicles, and mounted cavalry of the start of WWi compared to the tanks, fighter aircraft and heavy bombers by the end.

        1. Vometia Munro

          Re: Y Service

          Yeah; I've seen historians remark how the technical changes in WW1 were more profound than WW2. It surprised me at the time because I was thinking "but WW2 saw the beginnings of computers, radar, nuclear weapons, jets, rockets..." but the progression from what started in 1914 as basically Napoleonic-era warfare to modern, mechanised warfare over the course of just four years was a much bigger eye-opener.

        2. Death_Ninja

          Re: Y Service

          What most often fail to understand is that WW1 and WW2 are continuation wars.... and I don't mean from just 1 to 2....think of all of this as continuation wars from the break up of the Holy Roman Empire.

          And then look at the technical advances...

          When you see things massively shift though is in line with the arrival of the industrial revolution. It increases technology both civillian and military from the late 19th century. Even the technology of the 1870 Franco Prussian war is not the same as the Napoleonic war in many many ways.

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Y Service

      "So lets hear it for the boys and girls of Y!"

      I'm just imagining them singing and dancing :-)

  6. PhilipN Silver badge

    Poles

    Alongside other nationalities (as mentioned). There were a couple of kids at my school whose names ended in “...owski”. Good chance it was because their Dads stayed on. Thanks, guys.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Poles

      I remember an interview with a veteran from a documentary a few years ago. He was talking about killing and saying how he didn't like to think about it. "I was shooting at aeroplanes. That was my job, and it was how I preferred to think about it. A Polish pilot I was friends with was different. He was killing Germans." Which is of course understandable, having just fled from losing a war to defend their country.

    2. Man inna barrel

      Re: Poles

      A documentary about the war in the air (Battle of Britain) showed that a major problem for Britain was that it was running out of pilots. There were plenty of aircraft, but nobody to fly them. The Poles stepped in to save the day. As far as I know, before WW2, there was not much of a relationship between Britain and Poland.

      Now, at my place of work, there are many Polish workers. My Polish engineer colleague tells me that Polish workers tend to apply for jobs in clumps. So you do not get just one Polish production worker, you get half a dozen. I am not complaining. Good hardworking people, the Poles. Their beer is not bad, too.

      A Polish joke. Who do you hate most, the Germans or the Russians? Um, let me see, what day is it?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Poles

        I thought the Polish joke was "German or Russian, which do you fight first? German... business before pleasure" ;-)

  7. Chris Miller

    Polish Air Force War Memorial

    If you look left from the A40, travelling into London, just after passing Northolt, you can glimpse the eagle on top of the Polish Air Force War Memorial. At the end of the war, many settled in England, there's been a thriving Polish Club in Amersham since the 50s.

    1. Danny 2 Silver badge

      Re: Polish Air Force War Memorial

      There's a memorial to General Sikorski in St Andrews, Fife. A local man taught me some Polish, amusingly he had no respect for recent Polish immigrants. I asked him why he'd come here and he said, "The Nazis murdered our village and all my family, only my mother escaped".

      Weirdly in Scotland we also have a large Italian community that mostly came from prisoners of war that didn't want to return to Italy after the war. That left us a thriving network of ice cream cafes, and Paolo Nutini.

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