GB: Pilot scheme

The Germans call it Englandschlacht, but to the rest of the world it is better known as the Battle of Britain – unique in the history of warfare in that it was fought entirely in the air.

The campaign which followed the fall of France in June 1940 was simply for control of the skies over England.

If it won, the German war machine would be able to press home its advantage with an attempted invasion.

From the summer into winter, Britain suffered bombing on a scale never experienced by any country before, as Coventry, Clydebank, Southampton, Sheffield, Bristol, Birmingham, Liverpool and London were subjected to an aerial bombardment in which 23,081 were killed.

But Hitler’s Luftwaffe failed to defeat the Royal Air Force, which defended itself well and shot down increasing number of enemy planes.

It was hardly a decisive victory. In fact, when the statistics of aircraft downed on both sides were revealed many years later it was apparent how close Britain had come to defeat. Nevertheless, it was a watershed in the war. Although the bombing
continued, Hitler was forced to abandon the invasion plans and turn his attention to Russia in 1941.

In a speech made in the House of Commons on August 20, 1940, Prime Minister Winston Churchill anticipated the gratitude of the British people when he said: ‘Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.’

The following day, the RAF destroyed 200 enemy aircraft, and within a few weeks Britain’s air supremacy was assured. Later, the second Sunday in September became Battle of Britain Day.

On the 25th anniversary, September 13, 1965, a set of eight stamps was released, including a real novelty. Six of them were 4d designs, printed se-tenant, and it was the first time that British commemorative stamps had been produced in this way.

They featured Supermarine Spitfire fighters; a close-up of the cockpit of a Hawker Hurricane; the wings of a Spitfire and a Messerschmitt fighter showing the RAF roundel and the German cross; Spitfires attacking a Heinkel bomber; Hurricanes attacking a Stuka dive-bomber; and a formation of Hurricanes flying over a ditched Dornier bomber.

Designed by husband-and-wife team Rosalind Dease and David Gentleman, the stamps were predominantly olive-green and black on a white background.

The same couple also designed the 1s 3d, showing St Paul’s Cathedral rising above the ashes of the City of London during an air raid on December 29, 1940.

But with the Post Office still following its practice of farming out different parts of a set to various designers, the 9d stamp was by Andrew Restall, featuring an anti-aircraft gun battery in action.

Both the 9d and the 1s 3d exist with the watermark inverted.