A historian has claimed Fighter Command's finest - "The Few" who legendarily administered Goering's Luftwaffe a bloody nose during the Battle of Britain - were actually often woefully undertrained and incapable of hitting a barn door with a banjo.
That's the opinion of Dr Andrew Cumming, who analysed National Archive documents detailing the "kill/loss ratio" for the critical period of 24 August to 6 September 1940, and found the figures "unimpressive". He further claims the RAF's performance against the enemy during late 1940 was "ineffectual", and that Britain owes "far more to the Royal Navy and the Merchant Navy than we are prepared to acknowledge".
Dr Cumming told the Telegraph: "Whenever anybody criticises the RAF it seems to be taken as a slight against the pilots themselves, which of course is ridiculous. But for some reason - national identity - we are very proud of the original story and people can't tolerate any revisionism. That many could not shoot straight is a pretty important allegation. However, the evidence is that there was a lack of facilities, including not enough aircraft to tow practice targets."
To support his case, Cumming added: "Serious historians recognise that a lot of German bombers that were brought down were stragglers. This inadvertently exaggerated the British kill statistics. Five or six would have a go at the aircraft and then all claim a half-kill."
Indeed, as the official campaign diary records, Fighter Command on 15 September 1940 claimed: "Our fighters destroyed 176 enemy aircraft (124 bombers and 53 fighters) plus 41 probable and 72 damaged."
The BBC clarifies: "The actual number of planes lost is far lower than the RAF and Luftwaffe claimed at the time. In fact only 60 German aircraft were shot down on 15 September."
Regarding the battle as a whole, the BBC concludes: "In total the RAF claimed to have shot down 2,698 German planes. The actual figure was more like 1,294. The RAF lost 788 planes - far fewer than the 3,058 the Luftwaffe claimed."
Nonetheless, Dr Christina Goulter, a senior lecturer in defence studies at King's College, London, told the Telegraph: "There is a clear causal connection between the Luftwaffe's failure to achieve air superiority in 1940 and Hitler's decision to postpone indefinitely and then cancel Operation Sea Lion." ®