The Few

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File:Dowding and The Few.jpg
Dowding with some of "The Few"

The Few were the Allied airmen of the Royal Air Force (RAF) who fought the Battle of Britain in the Second World War. The term comes from Winston Churchill's phrase "Never, in the field of human conflict, was so much owed by so many to so few." It also alludes to Shakespeare's famous speech in his play, Henry V: "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers..."[1]


Nearly 3,000 men were awarded the "Battle of Britain" clasp. As of 2009, there were fewer than 90 alive.

By one tally, British RAF aircrew numbered 2,353 (80%) of the total of 2,927 flyers involved, with 407 Britons killed from a total of 510 losses. The remainder were not British, many coming from parts of the British Empire (particularly New Zealand, Canada, Australia, and South Africa), as well as exiles from many conquered European nations, particularly from Poland and Czechoslovakia. Other countries supplying smaller numbers included Belgium, France, Ireland, and the US.[2][3][4][5]


The Battle of Britain was considered officially by the RAF[6] to have been fought between 10 July and 31 October 1940.

  • RAF pilots claimed to have shot down about 2,600 German aircraft, but figures compiled later suggest that Luftwaffe losses were more likely nearer 2,300.
  • Of 2,332 Allied pilots who flew fighters in the Battle, 38.90 percent could claim some success in terms of enemy aircraft shot down.
  • The number of pilots claiming more than one victory amounted to no more than 15 per cent of the total RAF pilots involved.
  • To be proclaimed an "ace" a pilot had to have five confirmed victories. During the Battle of Britain just 188 RAF pilots achieved that distinction – eight per cent of the total involved. A further 237 of those RAF pilots claiming successes during the Battle became "aces" later in the war.
  • There were four pilots who were "ace in a day" in the Battle of Britain: Archie McKellar, a British pilot, Antoni Głowacki, a Polish pilot, Ronald Fairfax Hamlyn and Brian Carbury, a New Zealand pilot.

Leading aces

The leading aces of the Battle of Britain (between 10 July and 31 October 1940) were: [7]

Rank Pilot Nationality Squadron Aircraft Kills Notes
Plt Off Eric Lock United Kingdom United Kingdom
Total 26 kills. KIA 3 August 1941.
Sq/Ldr Archie McKellar United Kingdom United Kingdom
Total 21 (possibly 22) three probable and three damaged. 5 Bf-109's on 7 Oct, 1940. KIA 1 November 1940.
Sgt James Lacey United Kingdom United Kingdom
(23 by end of November)
Total 28 kills.
Sgt Josef František Czech Republic Czechoslovakia
Killed 8 October 1940.
Fg Off Brian Carbury New Zealand New Zealand
15 + ⅓
Fg Off Witold Urbanowicz Poland Poland
145 and 303
Total 18 (possibly 20) kills.
Plt Off Colin Gray New Zealand New Zealand
14 + ½
Total 27.7 kills.
Plt Off Bob Doe United Kingdom United Kingdom
234 and 238
Spitfire / Hurricane
14 (+ 2 shared)
Flt Lt Paterson Hughes Australia Australia
14 + ⅚
KIA 7 Sep 1940.
Sqn Ldr Michael Crossley United Kingdom United Kingdom
Wartime total 22 victories.


...which faces towards the English Channel

The pilots are remembered on the Battle of Britain Memorial, Capel-le-Ferne, Kent, and their names are listed on the Battle of Britain Monument in London. The Battle of Britain Roll of Honour is held in Westminster Abbey in the RAF Chapel, and is paraded annually during the Service of Thanksgiving and Re-dedication on Battle of Britain Sunday.[8]

There is a preserved Hawker Hurricane fighter aircraft known as "The Last of The Many"—which may be a play on words with "The Few"—that flies as part of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, along with a Supermarine Spitfire that flew in the Battle (one of five Spitfires in the Memorial Flight). As the Hurricane was the last production model of that type, it did not itself fly in the Battle.

Popular culture

Pink Floyd loosely refers to "the Few" on the track, "One of the Few", on their anti-war concept album The Final Cut. The heavy metal band Iron Maiden released a single named "Aces High", telling the story of a pilot flying in the Battle of Britain. In 2010 the Swedish power metal band Sabaton recorded a song called "Aces in Exile" about the foreign contingent of the Few, on their album Coat of Arms.

The Few, a novel by Alex Kershaw, tells the stories of the men who flew in the Battle of Britain. As of 2003, a Hollywood film similarly named The Few was in preparation for release in 2008, based on the story of real-life US pilot Billy Fiske, who ignored his country's neutrality rules and volunteered for the RAF. A Variety magazine outline of the film's historical content[9] was said in The Independent to have been described by Bill Bond, who conceived the Battle of Britain Monument in London, as "Totally wrong. The whole bloody lot."[10]

See also



  1. "Visiting the Abbey: The Royal Air Force Chapel." Westminster Abbey. Retrieved: 13 May 2012.
  2. Bickers 1990, Appendix 24, p. 358. Note: Gives the numerical breakdown by nationalities.
  3. Bickers 1990, Appendix 25, pp. 359–376. Note: Gives a complete list of the Allied aircrew in the Battle.
  4. Wood and Dempster 1990, p. 187.
  5. Wood and Dempster 1990, pp. 194–203. Note: Gives a complete list of the Allied aircrew in the Battle.
  6. Crang, Jeremy A. "Identifying the 'Few': The Personalisation of a Heroic Military Elite." Names of the 'Few', via University of New South Wales, War & Society, Volume 24, Number 2, November 2005.
  7. Shores, Christopher and Clive Williams. Aces High. London: Grub Street, 1994. ISBN 1-898697-00-0.
  8. "Battle of Britain Memorial." . Retrieved: 7 September 2011.
  9. Fleming, Michael. "New flight plan for Cruise." Variety, 9 September 2003. Retrieved: 28 December 2007.
  10. Moreton, Cole. "Hollywood updates history of Battle of Britain: Tom Cruise won it all on his own." The Independent, 11 April 2004. Retrieved: 28 December 2007.


  • Bickers, Richard Townshend. The Battle of Britain. New York: Salamander, 1990. ISBN 0-13-083809-8.
  • Wood, Derek and Derek Dempster. The Narrow Margin. Washington: Smithsonian Institution, reprint 1990. ISBN 0-87474-929-8.

Further reading

  • McGlashan, Kenneth B. with Zupp, Owen P. Down to Earth: A Fighter Pilot Recounts His Experiences of Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain, Dieppe, D-Day and Beyond. London: Grub Street Publishing, 2007. ISBN 1-904943-84-5.

External links