Best Defense

The eternal BS of higher headquarters: An example from German pilots in 1940

One of the eternals of combat is that frontline fighters will always feel betrayed by the BS being peddled by top leaders. I thought of this when I read that during the summer of 1940, the German leaders kept saying that the Royal Air Force was on the verge of collapse. It didn’t feel that ...

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One of the eternals of combat is that frontline fighters will always feel betrayed by the BS being peddled by top leaders. I thought of this when I read that during the summer of 1940, the German leaders kept saying that the Royal Air Force was on the verge of collapse. It didn’t feel that way to Luftwaffe pilots, who supposedly would radio each other sarcastically as they crossed the British coast, "Here they come again, the last fifty British fighters."

The RAF did take a beating that summer, of course. I was surprised to see that the majority of Australian pilots flying for the RAF were killed — that is, 14 of 22, according to Len Deighton’s Battle of Britain. (Other sources offer different numbers.) By contrast, Deighton’s chart shows that 418 of the 2,543 British-born aircrew members were lost.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com.

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