Towards the end of the film, a British Spitfire flyer shoots down a German bomber, which then falls over central London before crashing into a railway station. This actually happened, (although the fighter used in the real incident was a Hurricane, not a Spitfire and the bomber was a Dornier Do17 rather than a Heinkel 111). The RAF pilot didn't shoot the bomber down, though; he had run out of ammo when he spotted the bomber apparently trying to attack Buckingham Palace. In desperation, he rammed the bomber, taking off the tailplane. The fuselage then crashed into Victoria Station. Incredibly, he managed to parachute to safety. His own plane rammed into the ground at 350 mph. It was buried so deep that the authorities just left it there. In May 2004 the former RAF pilot was on hand as the remains of his aircraft were unearthed to make way for a new water main. Remarkably, part of the incident was captured on film, the tailplane fluttering down and the fuselage section (minus the wings outboard of the engines, which were torn off by aerodynamic forces) plummeting towards the ground.
27 Spitfires in various degrees of repair were found for the film, 12 of which could be made airworthy. Only six Hurricanes where found, three of which were made flyable. The Messerschmitt 109 where all retired from the Spanish Air Force. The production company bought them all, about 50 of them, and put 17 of them back in flying condition. They are in the movie flown by Spanish Air Force pilots, and members of the Confederate Air Force. The 32 Heinkels, with crews, were on loan for free from the Spanish Air Force, where they still were used for transport and target towing. Two of them were eventually bought by the production company and flown together with the 17 Messerschmitts to England for further shooting. The two Junkers 52 were also on loan from the Portuguese Air Force.
According to the book written about the making of the movie the production crew used more ammunition (blanks of course) to film the movie - due to the fact that directors re-shoot scenes numerous times - than were actually used in the real battle.
When Air Marshal Göring asks what the two German officers needed to win the battle, the second officer says, "A squadron of Spitfires." That scene was based on Adolf Galland's request to Hermann Göring during the actual event.
Actor W.G. Foxley, who plays Squadron Leader Evans, was an RAF navigator whose face and hands were badly burned attempting to rescue a fellow crew member after a bomber crash in 1944. Due to his injuries he lost an eye and several fingers, as well as his other facial injuries.
Over 60% of RAF Fighter Command aircraft during the Battle of Britain were Hawker Hurricanes. Due to the lack of Hurricanes in flying condition when the movie was filmed, the bulk of the air-to-air combat scenes use the more famous (and better fighter) Supermarine Spitfire. During the actual battle, whenever possible squadrons flying the Spitfire would engage the German fighters escorting bomber formations while the lower-performance (but better gun platform) Hurricanes engaged the bombers. Shooting down German bombers was the critical key since the bombers were attacking RAF airfields in the first phase of the battle and cities after the Luftwaffe changed target priorities. The film accurately depicts the British need (and desire) to destroy bombers to protect their air defense infrastructure and later protect civilian targets. For similar reasons (the lack of working aircraft of the right type) Spitfires and Hurricanes are shown flying together in tactical formations whereas in reality RAF squadrons flew one or the other type of fighter exclusively. Due to different performance characteristics, the two aircraft would not fly and fight together.
During filming, the by then closed but largely intact RAF Hawkinge was refurbished to a degree, grass was tidied up, brickwork was cleaned and re-pointed. Most of the site is now a housing estate, but a few buildings and gun emplacements, some now housing a museum are still intact.
Sir William Walton was first hired to write the score, which would have been his last. Because of his advanced age, he turned to friend Sir Malcolm Arnold for assistance with the orchestrations (which Arnold supplied, as well as writing additional cues). Producer Harry Saltzman rejected the score, stating it wasn't long enough. Ron Goodwin was hired to write a new score, but when told he would be replacing one of Walton's, his first reaction was, "Why?" Goodwin eventually wrote the replacement score, but Laurence Olivier threatened to have his name removed from the credits if none of Walton's original was used. For this reason, Walton's original music was kept for the "Battle in the Air" sequence towards the end of the film.
It is widely believed there was no chance of an invasion of the UK in 1940, and that Operation Sea Lion was a deliberate bluff to put pressure on the UK government to come to terms with the Axis Powers after the Fall of France. Adolf Hitler offered to end the war on 6 October 1939 following the German-Soviet conquest of Poland, and again in July 1940. On 14 August 1940 he told the General Staff that he would not attempt an invasion if the task seemed too difficult.
The Spitfires, Hurricanes, Messerschmitts and Heinkels were repainted into authentic 1940 colors, but were so perfectly camouflaged that they could not be seen against the ground or sky. Most of the aerial scenes were filmed with cloud in the background so the aircraft could be seen.
Most of the extras in the scenes filmed in East London and Aldwich underground station were survivors of the Blitz. Some of the extras pulled out because the scenes were "too real" and brought back painful memories.
A B-25 Mitchell bomber, owned and piloted by Jeff Hawke and his co-pilot Duane Egli, was converted into a camera plane. Cameras were fitted into the nose, tail, dorsal and belly turrets, the nose being fitted with an optically perfect dome. The plane was painted in many bright colors so it would look different from all angles and would be easily seen by other planes. It was nicknamed the "Psychedelic Monster". Eventually flown back to USA it sat derelict for many years in New Jersey before being restored back to flying condition in Florida. Flown in air shows for many years as "Chapter XI", referring to the high cost of flying, but later repainted as "Lucky Lady".
The scene of Göring accusing Kesselring of betrayal as his train departed was based on a real event. In the actual event Göring had left in such a hurry that electrical and telephone wires between train and the station building were left connected. These were broken and left trailing from the carriage when the train departed. Director Guy Hamilton had wanted to include this in the scene but thought it would look too comic.
The character of Section Officer Maggie Harvey is based on Air Commodore Dame Felicity Peake, who was a young section officer at RAF Biggin Hill in 1940. The scene of Harvey being ordered to put her cigarette out, and Harvey yelling back Warrant Officer Warrick, was based on a real event.
This film became regarded as a patriotic tribute to "the few," that many of those involved in the production, actors and technicians, reduced their normal fees to work on this film. Much of the large budget went toward the acquisition, restoration, modification, maintenance and operation of the vintage aircraft.
Majors Foehn and Falke, the two German squadron commanders, are based on Adolf Galland and Werner Molders, two of the most famous German fighter aces of the war. Galland was on the film set as an adviser; he almost walked out at one point because he was angry at how the Germans were being portrayed in a stereotypical manner. Many scenes were re-written and re-shot at his insistence.
In the real Battle of Britain, there were other German airplanes used, mainly Messerschmitt 110 fighters, Dornier 17 bombers and Junkers 88 bombers. At the time of making the film, there were no flying examples of these aircraft.
The Heinkel 111 bombers were in fact Spanish built CASA 2111 bombers, Heinkel 111 H constructed under license, but with Rolls-Royce Merlin engines and many other modifications. The Rolls engines were more powerful than the original Junkers Jumo and so the planes had more performance. In fact, all the real airplanes used on the film, except the Junkers Ju 52 (also Spanish built CASA 352) had British-built Rolls Royce Merlin engines.
The Junkers 87 Stuka dive bombers used in the film are model airplanes filmed in Malta, the only ones not real (the Percival Proctor aircraft which had been modified to represent Junkers 87 aircraft were found to be too dangerous to use). Their dive-bombing technique is not very real: Stukas will usually dive to 60-90º and release their bombs while diving (not pulling up).
The scenes at Fighter Command were filmed on location at RAF Bentley Priory, the actual headquarters of Fighter Command during WW2. Air Chief Marshall Dowding's original office complete with the original furniture were used.
The scene featuring the Polish pilots first taste of combat is based on a real event: The Polish 303 "Kosciuszko" Squadron was on a training flight with their English commander Ronald Kellett when one of his pilots, Flying Officer Ludwik Paszkiewicz, noticed a German Dornier bomber and wanted to attack. Kellett turned him down but Paszkiewicz attacked anyways and brought the bomber down. Afterwards he was reprimanded by Kellett in front of the squadron but in private he was (unofficially) commended by Kellett who also told him the 303 was now operational. Paszkiewicz became KIA on 27th September 1940.
Many mock-ups of Spitfires and Hurricanes were made in the months prior to filming. Some had lawn mower engines fitted and could be taxied around the airfield, but if they braked too hard they would flip up onto their nose. This happened several times in front of the cameras and some of the footage was eventually used in the film.
The Heinkel 111 as shown in the movie had only three 7.92 machine guns total, placed to the rear, front, and belly. A common criticism of the HE111 during the actual battle of Britain was that it was inadequately armed to deal with the enemy fighters. Later models added left and right machine-guns.
Duxford Airfield, near Cambridge, agreed for one of it's hangars to be destroyed for the film. The hangar in question was considered unsafe for preservation. The other three hangars are still intact and are used as an air museum.
This film's closing epilogue is a famous quote from Winston Churchill. It states: "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few" 'Winston Spencer Churchill'. In some versions of the movie, the quotation differs from the above mentioned and instead reads, "This is not the end; it is not even the beginning of the end, but it may be the end of the beginning." Of course, this quote is also attributed to Churchill. However the second quotation actually referred to the Second Battle of El Alamein in 1942, not the Battle of Britain.
When Air Vice Marshal Park first visits Squadron Leader Harvey, a double was used in place of Trevor Howard for the shot of him jumping out of the Hurricane because, as Guy Hamilton said, "You don't have elderly actors jumping out of elderly planes". Howard was in fact only 55 at the time.
In the beginning of the movie there is a scene with a beach filled with abandoned equipment and weapons. This scene is meant to show the aftermath of the Allied retreat from Dunkirk and the French mainland.
The Jackdaw Inn, located in Denton near Canterbury, Kent, features in scenes based around the first on-screen meeting of Colin and Maggie Harvey - Christopher Plummer and Susannah York. It also serves to place the event in historical context of the story with a muster of the Local Defence Volunteers (LDV) outside.
When the Germans are marching into Dunkirk they are accompanied by several vehicles. These are actually American: M2 Half Track Car fitted with a German MG34 machine gun, and a M37 105mm Howitzer Motor Carriage fitted with a heavy anti-tank gun instead of the regular howitzer.
The recently closed St Katherine's Dock was used for some of the bombing scenes, the site of the warehouse now being a hotel. At the time of filming, only that dock had closed in London and it had been badly damaged during the blitz.
The number of German losses (i.e. killed in action (KIA)) during the Battle of Britain are tabled during this movie's closing credits. Bomber Crews KIA: 1176; Stuka Crews KIA: 85; Fighter Bomber Crews KIA: 212; Fighter Pilots KIA: 171; Missing Crews, believed to be KIA: 1445. Therefore, according to this movie, German losses from the Battle of Britain amounted to 3089.
When the film was released it received generally negative reviews. Its poor box office performance may have been partly due to recent revelations that Britain had bombed Germany first in World War II, and also because public feeling was generally extremely anti-war due to the Vietnam War.
At least two excerpts are used by Pink Floyd in their "The Wall" album: Audio from Stuka diving during the attack to the radio station is used at the end of the first track, "In the Flesh?". The scene in which Simon is shot can be heard at the transition between the songs "Nobody Home" to "Vera". The phrase "Where the hell are you, Simon?", for example, is clearly recognizable at this point.
Houses in Peckham Rye, South London, were used as some of the blitz scenes. These houses at the time were being cleared to make way for the North Peckham and Camden Estate housing projects that were completed during the 1970s. Many of the scenes were filmed in houses while they were being demolished.
This movie was made about twenty-six years after the Frank Capra 'Why We Fight' documentary, The Battle of Britain (1943), considered to have the same or similar title to this movie. The slight difference in wording of the titles is that the later picture drops the definite article (i.e. the "the") in its title.
Both Major Föehn and Major Falke are veterans of the Spanish Civil War judging by their wearing of the "Spanish Cross" badge, an award given to members of the German volunteer "Condor Legion" who fought in the Spanish Civil War on the side of Franco.
For propaganda reasons the British press greatly exaggerated the Rotterdam Blitz on 14 May 1940, even multiplying the casualty figures tenfold in some cases. The British had begun bombing German cities three days before the Luftwaffe bombed Rotterdam.
People in the UK were not told that the RAF began bombing German cities in May 1940. The government wanted people to think that the Germans had bombed Britain first. The truth did not emerge until some time after the war.
It is likely that Germany never had any chance of winning the Battle of Britain, and switching from bombing RAF fighter bases to cities made no difference to the outcome. In any case the Kriegsmarine was vastly outnumbered by the Royal Navy.
Although it has often been said that the UK was alone after the Fall of France, this was not actually true. Every country in the British Commonwealth, apart from Ireland, had declared war on Germany in September 1939, while every country in the British Empire was automatically committed by King George VI's declaration of war on 3rd September 1939.