Primarily of historical interest, but we can nevertheless still appreciate the skills of the filmmakers
The GPO Film Unit was originally set up to make short films publicising the work of the Post Office, but by the late thirties had widened their scope to include documentaries about other aspects of life in Britain. After the outbreak of war in 1939 it concentrated on making propaganda films about various aspects of the war effort, of which "Squadron 992" was one of the earliest.
The title relates to an RAF squadron, but 992 Squadron was not a formation of elite fighter pilots or bomber aircrew. In fact, it did not possess any aeroplanes of its own and its members never left the ground. It was part of the RAF's Balloon Barrage whose commanding officer had requested the unit to make a film publicising the role of his department. The balloon squadrons had been created to defend British cities against the dive-bombing attacks which the Luftwaffe had used to such devastating effect in Holland and Poland and during the Spanish Civil War.
The film's director Harry Watt quickly realised that it would be difficult to paint a heroic portrait of the job of the balloon squadrons, so decided to make the centrepiece of his film a recreation of a real-life attack on the Forth Bridge by German planes. The raid was unsuccessful, but it was foiled not by balloons but by British fighter aircraft. Nevertheless, it persuaded the government to redeploy the balloon squadrons to defend the bridge and other strategic targets on or near the coast. The opening scenes of the film show the men and women of the balloon service in training; it then moves to the re-enactment of the dogfight and ends with the title Squadron being moved north to Scotland to take up their new duties.
The film was intended as a morale-booster during the days of the 'phoney war', or 'Sitzkrieg' as it is referred to here. (A German pun on "Blitzkrieg" and "sitzen", meaning to sit). It was not, however, very successful as such and was soon withdrawn on the grounds that it was out- of-date. The reason was that German commanders had swiftly realised that dive-bombing was a suicidal tactic against the RAF's fighter squadrons, much better equipped than their Spanish, Polish or Dutch equivalents, and had switched to high-altitude bombing against which balloons provided no defence. (Later in the war, however, they were to afford some protection against the unmanned V1 missiles).
The aerial combat scenes, however, are as good as, if not better than, those in feature films of the period; certainly better than those in "The Lion Has Wings", a full-length government-backed propaganda film made in the closing months of 1939. There are some striking shots of the mighty Forth Bridge overshadowing the village beneath it and one remarkable sequence in which Watt intercuts shots of an aerial dogfight with shots of a whippet chasing a hare. Today, of course, films like this one are primarily of historical interest, but we can nevertheless still appreciate the skills of the filmmakers
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