The Welsh pilots who played a key role in the Battle of Britain as UK marks 80th anniversary

A variety of tributes and commemorations are taking place across the UK to mark the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.

Eighty years ago today, Britain won a major air campaign in the skies above the UK in what was the first battle in history fought entirely in the air.

The Battle of Britain saw the British Royal Air Force (RAF) gain a decisive victory over the Luftwaffe on 15 September 1940 after months of fighting the Nazis.

A variety of tributes and commemorations will take place across Wales and the rest of the UK to mark the 80th anniversary, despite limitations brought by the pandemic.

Some 1,120 Luftwaffe aircraft were sent to attack London but were repelled by just 630 RAF fighters and two days later Hitler postponed his plans to invade Britain.

Some 544 RAF aviators and 312 RAF ground personnel lost their lives during the battle.

The airmen became known as 'the Few' following a tribute by then prime minister Winston Churchill, who said: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few”.

Among the Few were 67 Welshmen - a number of whom won gallantry awards for bravery and for the destruction of enemy aircraft.

Prestatyn pilot Flying Officer Harold Bird-Wilson helped form the Red Arrows.
  • Who were some of the Welsh Few?

On 3 September, Prestatyn pilot Flying Officer Harold Bird-Wilson of 17 Squadron shot down a Dornier 17 bomber over South Malden in London.

He went on to become Commandant of the RAF Central Flying School in 1964 and formed the RAF’s Red Arrows, one of the finest aerobatic teams in the world.

On 5 September, Sergeant Glyn Griffiths from Llandudno, flying Hurricanes with 17 Squadron, shot down a Heinkel 111 bomber over Chatham.

He had attended John Bright School in Llandudno before joining the RAF as a pilot in 1938.

The medals and flying logbook of Llandudno-born Sergeant Glyn Griffiths are on display in the National Museum of Wales.

Griffiths became a Battle of Britain ‘ace’ - a pilot with five confirmed victories - shooting down ten enemy aircraft during the battle, for which he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal.

His medals and flying logbook are now on display in the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff.

On 6 September, Cardiff-born Flight Lieutenant Thomas Dalton-Morgan was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) for having already shot down eight enemy aircraft.

Flying Hurricanes with 43 Squadron, he was a fighter pilot of great repute and was a Battle of Britain ace.

Dalton-Morgan gave prominent wartime service, rising to Group Captain rank and being awarded a Distinguished Service Order (DSO).

Pilot Officer Hubert Allen, from Loughor, shot down over London a Heinkel 111 bomber aircraft on 15 September.

The next day, St Asaph Pilot Officer Denis Crowley-Milling, flying Spitfires with 242 Squadron, shot down a Messerschmitt 110 fighter bomber over east London.

Later in the war, he shot down a number of enemy aircraft and was awarded the DSO, the DFC and Bar.

In August 1941, he was shot down over France but evaded capture and, with the help of the French underground, managed to escape back to Britain and re-join his squadron.

In the years after the war, Crowley-Milling had a distinguished RAF career, rising to the rank of Air Marshal and also being knighted to become Sir Denis Crowley-Milling.

On 14 September, Pilot Officer Bryan Draper, from Barry, flying Spitfires with 74 Squadron, shot down a Junkers 88 bomber over the Yarmouth area. He shot down a total of nine enemy aircraft in the war and was awarded the DFC. He was killed in Burma in 1945 while flying missions against the Japanese.

Pilot Officer William Frederick Higginson, from Gorseinon near Swansea, had originally joined the RAF as an apprentice.

Pilot Officer William Frederick Higginson from Gorseinon, flying Hurricanes with 56 Squadron, shot down a Dornier 17 bomber over Bournemouth.

Higginson had originally joined the RAF as an apprentice in 1929, before being selected for pilot training in 1935. By the time of the Battle of Britain, he had already been awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal for having shot down four enemy aircraft over France and Dunkirk.

On 15 September, as the fighting reached its peak, another Welsh pilot saw success. Pilot Officer Hubert Allen from Loughor shot down over London a Heinkel 111 bomber aircraft and damaged another bomber aircraft, a Dornier 17.

Only one member of the Few, Irishman John Hemingway, is still alive today, aged 101.

Pilot Officer Hubert Allen from Loughor saw success when the fighting reached its peak on 15 September.
  • How else did Wales contribute towards the victory?

It was not just aircrew from Wales who played a vital part in the victory.

RAF Pembrey was the only Fighter Command station in Wales in 1940 and had the job of defending south Wales from air attack and to protect vital shipping convoys.

Earlier in the summer, fighters based there destroyed three Heinkel 111 bombers flying to bomb Cardiff Docks.

RAF Pembrey was the only Fighter Command station in Wales in 1940 and was tasked with defending south Wales from air attack.

Many fighter pilots who flew in the Battle of Britain were trained at RAF Sealand in Flintshire.

Before joining the frontline, they would travel to nearbt RAF Hawarden and fly Spitfires to convert to the fighter.

Part-time airmen, who were based at the only RAF Reserve unit from Wales, No 614 (County of Glamorgan) Squadron, began serving full-time at the start of the war.

The pilots from south Wales rescued Battle of Britain aircrew who had crashed in the sea.

A memorial flight to commemorate the Battle of Britain took place in the sky on National Armed Forces Day in Llandudno in 2018. Credit: PA Images

Commemorations are limited this year due to coronavirus restrictions. Alternating Union and RAF Ensign flags will fly on The Mall, at Buckingham Palace, from 15 to 20 September.

Special exhibitions from the Imperial War Museum, a radar-based lightshow and the addition of several new "unusual" sites to the National Heritage List, will all celebrate the contributions of those involved.

Marking the anniversary, Wales’ most senior RAF Officer Air Commodore Adrian Williams said: "In this 80th year commemoration of the Battle, we remember the 'Welsh Few', 67 men from all corners of Wales, who served with distinction in the air and made a significant and gallant contribution to the Battle of Britain.

"They were among the 2,947 aircrew from Britain, the Commonwealth and many other countries who fought in the battle. We remember too, the vital part played by RAF training bases in Wales in supplying pilots in that desperate struggle during the long hot Summer of 1940.

"That role played by the RAF in Wales in protecting the skies above Britain continues today. The crews of our Typhoon jets which defend our skies 24/7 are all trained at RAF Valley on Anglesey and the latest F35 Lightning jets used by the RAF are maintained at Sealand."