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Battle of Britain (United Artists 1968)                                                           Page 1 of 2 (Go to Page 2)

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From mid-1961, decay set in at Duxford, the grass grew and the weeds advanced. The married quarters and Officers' quarters were still in use, but the hangars and other airfield buildings had been emptied and left. There was no real security, so anyone could enter the site, local people used the runway and perimeter track for car and motorcycle racing and the place started to look shabby.

In 1967, the producers Harry Saltzman and S Benjamin Fisz sought permission from the Ministry of Defence to use Duxford as a location for the film the Battle of Britain, the main reason being that the airfield still had much of its war-time constitution. The then Secretary of State for Defence, Denis Healy, was sympathetic and agreed and in the spring of 1968 United Artists moved in and set about restoration. At a cost of £38,000, the place was tidied up, camouflage was painted on the hangars and other buildings, and within a few weeks Duxford looked ready for the RAF to return.

Since Battle of Britain was to be a widescreen production shot in colour, clips of flying from the actual Battle of Britain were unusable; in any case the producers had always planned to re-create the air battles using the same aircraft and simulating the same clashes which had been fought over the English Channel and Thames Estuary. The problem was obtaining the Spitfires, Hurricanes, Messerschmitt Bf109s and Heinkel He111s that it was planned to feature heavily in the film.

The producers contracted Group Captain Hamish Mahaddie to track down the aircraft. Mahaddie, who was a highly decorated bomber pilot from the Second World War, now specialised in buying aircraft for film work. Despite the fact that a total of 20,351 Spitfires had been built by the time production ceased in the late 1940s, by the early 1960s just a handful remained that were capable of flying. The making of the Battle of Britain was probably the greatest single factor in turning the tide on the almost total extinction of airworthy Spitfires. Mahaddie scoured the world for all potential Spitfires and those that were capable of looking like operational aircraft were either bought or hired. By the end of 1967, Mahaddie had rounded up 27 (about two squadrons-worth) of Spitfires that could be used for active filming, and a number of others that would provide spares for those capable of flying and which could be used for static shots. Some of the Spitfires had been gradually deteriorating and were given attention: some were made capable of taxiing, while a number were brought back to airworthy condition. Mahaddie tracked down four Hurricanes of which two could fly. There were only six Hurricanes left in the world and one of them was bought as a job lot off a scrap heap in Edmonton by an ex-Canadian Air Force pilot who rebuilt it and flew it across the Atlantic to appear in the film.
Before filming began at Duxford in the spring of 1968, some of the aircraft flew in to Marshall's airfield in Cambridge one Saturday morning. This Spitfire is approaching Marshall's from the south-west over Coldham's Lane.
Battle of Britain Spitfire approaching Marshall's airfield. Interestingly, the first ever public outing of the Spitfire, some two months after it entered operational service at Duxford in August 1938, was at this very same airfield. 
The Spitfire on the right hand side has the code AI....A, and was flown in the film by Sqn. Ldr. Skipper (played by Robert Shaw and based on Sqn. Ldr. A G "Sailor" Malan). 
 The CD coded Spitfires were flown in the film by a fictitious 188 Squadron of 11 Group, under the command of Sqn. Ldr. Canfield (Michael Caine).

For the aircraft of the Luftwaffe, Mahaddie turned to the Spanish Air Force who were still using Messerschmitt 109s and Heinkel 111s. These aircraft had been built under license in Spain and had Rolls-Royce engines instead of Daimler-Benz (Merlins in the Messerschmitts, Mermaids in the Heinkels). Some 50 Heinkels were loaned to United Artists by the Spanish Air Force and Mahaddie bought 28 Messerschmitts that were being de-commissioned.
Battle of Britain Messerschmitt 109s, over Marshall's airfield in Cambridge. These aircraft were bought from the Spanish Air Force and were fitted with Rolls-Royce Merlin engines, hence the non-Bf109 shaped cowlings.

Nearly all the pilots were Spanish, and a few weeks after shooting the films opening credit sequence at Tablada airfield in the suburbs of Seville, two Heinkel 111s and 17 Messerschmitts flew to England to join up with the Spitfires and Hurricanes for UK filming. Filming was carried out at three airfields, Duxford, Debden and North Weald, all of which were operational RAF stations during the actual Battle of Britain and whose names crop up on these web pages.

Filming at Duxford took place on the main airfield itself and in the south-west corner of the airfield where there is grass instead of concrete. Scenes shot in this area of the airfield included the opening shots of the film where Sqn. Ldrs. Harvey and Skipper (Christopher Plummer and Robert Shaw respectively) evacuate their Hurricane squadrons from Northern France.
Northern France is in fact the south west corner of Duxford airfield. Two of the Belfast hangars are just visible in the background. In the far left of the picture behind the orange windsock is the original 1918 single-bay hangar which was blown up during later filming (see page 2).
Northern France again, plus dispersal hut. Duxford control tower is just visible in the background, between the two camouflaged Belfast hangars.
Another picture of filming the Northern France sequences. Note the bowser, which featured in one scene in this sequence of the film, and the VW Beetle that didn't. 
(right) A still from the Northern France sequence in the Battle of Britain. The Chateau in the background was constructed in the south west corner of the airfield; the structure had front and sides only (below)

Another still from the film showing the Chateau (below left). Note the tree line behind the Chateau. This field was used to shoot the scene of the Polish pilot being "captured" by farmers (below right).

Click Here for page 2 of Battle of Britain filming


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    *in association with Duxford Aviation Society and Cambridgeshire County Council. The contents of this UNOFFICIAL website does not in any way reflect the opinions or ideas of any owner or operator present or past involved with the location popularly known as Duxford Airfield.