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Story of an Air Communiqué, The (1940)

Courtesy of Royal Mail Group Ltd

Main image of Story of an Air Communiqué, The (1940)
35mm, black and white, 7 mins
DirectorRalph Elton
Production CompanyGPO Film Unit
SponsorMinistry Of Information
ProducerHarry Watt
MusicMischa Spoliansky

How figures for destroyed enemy aircraft are compiled and released to the press.

Show full synopsis

One of a number of propaganda 'shorts' sponsored by the Ministry of Information and shown as part of cinema programmes throughout the Second World War. The action depicted takes place halfway through the Battle of Britain and at the beginning of the Blitz, the sustained bombing raids on UK cities.

RAF Fighter Command had spent two months holding off Luftwaffe attacks on their own airfields. The German air force had tried to destroy their British counterpart as a precursor to invasion by sea. The German plan, Operation Sea Lion, was predicated on achieving prior superiority in the air; otherwise they would face both the Royal Navy and the RAF as they crossed the channel. Fighter Command had proved a stronger adversary than expected, however, and in September 1940 the Luftwaffe switched its bombing targets to the cities in an effort to crush British morale. This move seems to have allowed an overstretched RAF breathing space and an opportunity to regroup.

The date of the eponymous communiqué, 15 September 1940, is recognised as marking a turning point in the air battle. After a week of heavy bombing over London, the RAF launched a determined counterattack, making a sizeable impact on the German planes. The Luftwaffe moved to making night-time raids only, in an effort to avoid further losses, and two days later the German plans for invasion were abandoned.

A contemporary review noted: "It is a pity that the day chosen is that on which 185 Germans were shot down; today, the computation of a more average bag might be more effective." In fact, despite the claims to accuracy made by the film, contemporary analyses suggest that the number of planes downed was probably considerably fewer.

James Piers Taylor

*This film is included in the BFI DVD compilation 'If War Should Come: The GPO Film Unit Collection Volume 3'.

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Video Clips
Complete film (6:07)
The GPO Film Unit: 1940