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Bader's Big Wing Controversy - Duxford 1940

Bader's Big Wing Controversy - Duxford 1940

Dilip Sarkar MBE FRHistS
ARRSE Rating
4.5 Mushroom Heads
Dilip Sarkar has written prolifically on the Battle of Britain and its pilots, with over 30 books published.

Over the course of 15 chapters in this book, he explores one of the controversies of the Battle of Britain; whether the Big Wing, espoused principally by Bader and Leigh Mallory would have had any impact on the course of the Battle of Britain?


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To begin with, Sarkar takes us through some personalities in the RAF at that time. Understanding these characters is a huge benefit to what follows as the RAF in its early years takes on the inevitable effects of inherited manning policies. There was a system of patronage based on the type of commission and position among peers. This lead to some junior officers having the ear of senior officers who were able to aid advancement of both rank and ideas.

Sarkar then takes us through a meticulously researched account of the Battle of Britain. He pays particular attention to a number of squadrons, and stations, at the heart of the debate. He analyses the combat reports of the RAF and Luftwaffe, looking for evidence that the bigger formations were more successful in terms of aircraft shot down, as advocates of the Big Wing suggested.

Interestingly, it seems that the debate only reached the highest levels near the end of the Battle Of Britain. This appears to have been brought about by a realisation that there was a lot of top-down direction but very little feedback from squadrons and other formations, save some routine returns. It is also apparent at this stage in the book that technological deficiencies, as well as weather, had an impact on the way the battle was fought.

Then we get to the "Meeting of Infamy" on 17 October 1940 for this is the title of chapter 12. Sarkar takes the reader through the preceding events and the twists and turns of that day and includes material which has come to light in later years to supplement these primary sources. The fate of Dowding and Park owes much to this meeting and the personalities involved. Fittingly, he leaves the final words on whether the Big Wing was successful to those Battle of Britain pilots he has interviewed over the years.

The book is diligently researched and written well. It is logically laid out and very easy to follow the argument from both sides.

Overall a good book and one that deserves 4.5 Mr Mushroom Heads.

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