The Making of the film:
"Battle of Britain” – The film – Where are they now
The cameras can never lie; this well known saying is of course a complete fallacy. This is proven when looking behind the scenes on any major movie and Battle of Britain was no exception, the movie magic has proved to be a major stumbling block in compiling a definitive listing of the squadron codes that the aircraft wore during filming. For example, a shot of a Spitfire landing at North Weald and taxying back to the dispersal, more than likely uses two different Spitfires, a flyable example for the actual landing shot and one of the taxiable machines complete with actor in the cockpit is seen to taxi to the dispersal area, but with both Spitfires wearing the same squadron letter codes. Allowing actors to actually taxi aeroplanes compounded the problem. Michael Caine, playing Squadron Leader Canfield was known to be petrified when sitting in a Spitfire and was very reluctant to touch anything in the cockpit in case the aircraft took off with him at the controls. Robert Shaw, playing Squadron Leader Skipper was on one occasion a little too enthusiastic. Apparently, unbeknown to him, the mechanics had charged up the Spitfires brakes overnight. Leaping into the aircraft during the filming of the scramble scene, Shaw, with great zest taxied across the grass and, when out of shot, applied the brakes; the Spitfire promptly tipped onto its nose and smashed the propeller. A very red faced Robert Shaw climbed out of the aircraft, walked back to the dispersal, where another taxiable Spitfire was made ready, “Skipper’s” codes AI-A were placed on the fresh Spitfire and the scene re-shot. The actual aircraft that tipped onto its nose was TE384 and with different codes AI-Q, it was left on its nose to add a realistic background to the airfield attack sequences.
Spitfire L.F.XVIe TE384.
So as not to apportion any glory or blame to any particular squadron. Codes not used by actual RAF units involved in the real 1940 Battle were chosen. Spitfires wore AI, CD, DO and EI squadron codes (although aircraft wearing EI codes did not feature in the finished film), with the replica Spitfires wearing BO codes. Hurricanes in the French airfield scenes wore just the individual aircraft letter and when based in England they took up MI and KV codes. MI coded aircraft also had the Polish insignia on the cowlings.
A popular mistake when listing Battle of Britain Film aircraft is the inclusion of Spitfire T.8. G-AIDN. It has been confirmed by one time owner J.S.Fairey that the aircraft was never used in conjunction with the movie.
Other aircraft used in conjunction with the film included three Percival Proctor aircraft acquired by Hamish Mahaddie for conversion to “scale” Junkers Ju-87 Stukas. G-AIEY, G-ALOK and G-AIAE. Vivian Bellamy (the well known aircraft restorer and replica builder) was contracted to convert the Proctors to resemble Stuka aircraft. However only one aircraft (G-AIEY) was completed after it was decided not to use the “scale Stukas” in the film. G-AIEY did fly several times and was fully painted up in German markings as “W8-AE” and “W8-AR”. At the end of filming three Proctor’s were put up for disposal at RAF Bovingdon along with a number of Spitfires, Messerschmitts and the Canadian Hurricane. It is believed that the Proctors were not sold and were subsequently scrapped. This has never been confirmed and their true fate remains a mystery.
Along with all the other MoD owned Spitfires, several were allocated to Spitfire Productions but never used in the film, these being Mk Ia K9942, Mk XIVc NH904, Mk XIV RM694, Mk XIVe TB863, Mk XVIe TE184 and Mk F24 PK724. Some of these aircraft provided spare parts to rebuild the flyable and taxying Spitfires that were used in the actual filming. Also despatched to RAF Henlow but not used were: Junkers Ju87D-3 494083, Junkers Ju 88R-1 360043, Heinkel He IIIH-23 701152 and Messerschmitt Bf 109G-2 10639. Last but by no means least, the B-25 Mitchell camera plane N6568D returned to the USA and lapsed into a state of semi-dereliction at New Jersey, until moved to Florida by restorer To Reilly, who re-built the B-25 to pristine condition at his facility at Kissimmee, the aircraft emerging as a completely stock Mitchell, resplendent as Chapter XI N6578D remained airworthy until 1998.
Aircraft participating in the making of the Battle of Britain
F – Flying
T – Taxiing
S – Static
IS – In Storage
SP – Spare Parts
R – Under restoration
? – Not known
While the RAF contingent has been fairly easy to track down, a very different story prevails with the German/Spanish aircraft that were used in the film. The majority of the Spanish aircraft that came to the UK for filming were sold shortly after the film was completed and shipped to the USA, where several of them have gone to ground and not been seen for several years. There is however, no doubt that almost every surviving CASA 2111 in the world today must have at some stage been used in the film, either in Spain or in the UK.
CASA 2111's used as Heinkels in the UK
During filming in Spain, April 1968, six Buchons were restored to Taxying status at Tablada Airfield. After the Spanish location filming was completed all six taxying aircraft were purchased by the Victory Air Museum at Mundelin, Illinois, USA. All of which were subsequently sold on to new owners over a period of years.
All four static Buchons came to the UK during filming and were used for spares and cockpit shot's etc.
(Information for this article came from a number of sources primarily Robert J Rudhall who in turn received information and help from: Peter Arnold (Spitfire Historian), Adrian Balch, Steve Bond, Doug Champlin, Tony Clarke, Paul Coggan, Alan Johnson, John Luke, Hamish Mahaddie, Gerry Manning, Peter March, Steve Reglar, Steve Rickards, Mike Springett.)