Show at IWM Duxford marks 80th anniversary of second world war air battle
The drama and tension inside an RAF operations room at the height of the Battle of Britain is to be recreated in an exhibition to mark the air battle’s 80th anniversary this year.
The role of one of the key fighter controllers, Group Captain Woody Woodhall, an unconventional and short-sighted station commander who sidestepped rules forbidding pilots to wear glasses beneath flying goggles by adopting a monocle, will be at the centre of an immersive re-enactment of Battle of Britain Day.
Based at RAF Duxford in Cambridgeshire, Woodhall was in control of the Big Wing, an alliance of several RAF fighter squadrons who flew as part of the air defence to take on incoming Luftwaffe bombing raids. Also known as the Duxford Wing, it was led by the fighter pilot ace Douglas Bader.
On 15 September 1940,Battle of Britain Day, the Luftwaffe mounted a huge raid that was repulsed by the Allies. “It’s a final throw of the dice by the Luftwaffe to try and destroy the RAF,” said Craig Murray, a curator at IWM Duxford. After failing to gain air supremacy, the Luftwaffe switched tactics and launched the blitz offensive on cities.
The exhibition includes archive footage and listening points telling the stories of some of those who took part in the battle. Visitors will see a mock-up of the operations room and hear a recreation of Woodhall in radio communication with pilots as he steers them into position to block the raid, while WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force) personnel plot the battle on map tables by moving blocks around with croupier sticks.
Among the exhibits will be Woodhall’s monocle and the logbook of George Unwin, another fighter ace, detailing the victories he achieved on this pivotal day of fighting.
“Teamwork was vital to winning the Battle of Britain and nowhere is this more apparent than in the operations room at RAF Duxford, the site of highly efficient communication between those on the ground and the pilots in the air,” said Murray.
“We want visitors to see and hear what it was like to work in such a highly pressurised environment on a day which saw the greatest activity of this phase of the second world war. Through first-hand accounts, archival film footage and displayed personal items, we want this new visitor experience to highlight the role RAF Duxford played in protecting England from the threat of German invasion.”
IWM Duxford’s commemorations also include a wider exhibition of second world war aircraft displayed in a hangar, including a German Messerschmitt Bf 109 shot down during the battle.
The commemorations will culminate on 19 and 20 September with the annual Battle of Britain air show. Spitfires, Hurricanes and other aircraft will take to the skies for dogfights and aerobatic displays while 1940s-themed events and experiences will take place on the ground.