Why we must thank the Turks, not the RAF, for stopping Hitler
John Ezard, arts correspondent
Monday October 1, 2007
For sixty years, the gallant "few" in their Spitfires, Hurricanes and Typhoons have symbolised British nonchalance and cunning in the face of danger. First, according to the legend drummed into every pupil, they beat the Luftwaffe over the Kentish coast in the critical summer months of 1940, as the Wehrmacht gathered in the Pas de Calais. Then in 1944 they despatched the enemy tanks, trains and supply convoys in Normandy with little more than a few rockets and their trusty Browning machine guns.
But yesterday, it was claimed that George VI's 'island race' was saved by a less celebrated ally: the Turkish air force.Jerry Brotton, a lecturer at Royal Holloway College, London, told the Guardian Hay literary festival that a hitherto unnoticed letter from George's war chief and Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, to his ambassador in Istanbul showed that it was Turkish air power rather than the RAF's swashbuckling pilots which delivered the fatal blow to the Nazi invasion plans.
The letter, which ordered the ambassador, Hughe Knatchbull-Hugessen, to incite the Turks to declare war on Hitler, was written in 1940 and has been buried in archives ever since because it did not apparently relate to any major historical event.
But Mr Brotton told the festival: "Churchill's plan was ultimately successful. Turkish air movements in the eastern Mediterranean fatally split Hitler's Luftwaffe. So alongside all the stories we're told at school about why Hitler failed to conquer Britain and destroy county cricket, we should add another reason: the Anglo-Turkish alliance brokered by George VI, Churchill [and others]."
In his letter to Knatchbull-Hugessen, Churchill wrote: "We do not wish to leave you in any doubt of what our own opinion and your instructions are. We want Turkey to come into the war as soon as possible."
Churchill hoped that Islamic forces might keep the German forces "thoroughly occupied" by "some incursions into Bulgaria and Hungary", or by attacking his Italian satellites from the sea.
The German air force was eventually defeated over the summer and autumn of 1940 as it tried to clear a passage for the rest of the invasion force from Calais. At the battle of Britain, the RAF used radar before closing in on the confused Germans.
Asked about his previous discovery that the Turks stopped the Armada, Dr Brotton said "It's amazing really. The evidence for the Turks defeating Hitler is just as strong as it is for them defeating the Armada".
Next week - how Mongol archers helped win the battle of Agincourt.