US citizen William 'Billy' Fiske, copyright RAF Museum Hendon

Statistical summary, Week 4:

  • Total Fighter Command Establishment: 1558 planes
  • Strength: 1434 planes
  • Balance: understrength 124 planes
  • Losses: 4 Hurricanes, 4 Spitfires, 0 damaged
  • Aircraft Production: 3 Beaufighters, 13 Defiants, 68 Hurricanes, 48 Spitfires

Of the near 3000 pilots who flew in the Battle of Britain, roughly a fifth came from overseas to help the RAF win this encounter. Of these, about half came from British Dominions, of what was then the British Empire. The largest contingent came from New Zealand, but the man who turned out to be the best shot in Fighter Command came from South Africa. He was called “Sailor” Malan.

The rest of the contingents of overseas pilots came from countries already overrun by Hitler’s legions. Of these, the largest number came from Poland.

Meanwhile, it is worth noting an all-important fact. This is that the contribution of so many nationalities to the RAF’s efforts that summer led to the feeling that this was not just a battle, but a crusade, not just a purely national struggle, but something much more significant. The pilots who flew in this battle had come from half way round the globe. A pilot who typifies what might be called the ‘chivalry’ involved, was a young American, Billy Fiske.

America was not yet a participant in the War. That country was very much in the neutral camp. Furthermore, the American Ambassador in London, Joe Kennedy, father of John F. Kennedy the future President, was deeply sceptical about Britain’s chances of survival. Nevertheless, Fiske threw in his lot as a participant in the fight. He paid with his life in doing so.

Billy Fiske came from a banking family and was, in fact, a banker himself working for Dillon Read. He’d made his name heading the US bobsleigh team in the 30s representing his country in the Olympics. He was apparently a superb pilot. He was also very charming and had become an extremely popular member of 601 Squadron, nicknamed the ‘Millionaires Squadron’. Additionally, he was the owner of a 4.5 litre open racing Bentley. In action, flying his Hurricane on August 16th from Hornchurch, he took a hit from an Me 109 while chasing a pack of Stukas, a number of which were shot down. Instead of bailing out, he nursed his damaged plane back to his airfield and despite a substantial wound and burnt ankles and hands, landed his plane safely. But he had to be helped out of his cockpit and taken to hospital when he landed.

Later that day, when the Adjutant of the squadron visited him in hospital he appeared in great form, but the next day he died from surgical shock. There is a memorial plaque to him in the crypt of St. Paul’s Cathedral which reads “He died that England might live”. He tombstone in the graveyard of a small English country church reads simply ‘He died for England’.

There weren’t many Americans who flew in the Battle of Britain that summer – ten in all. On the other hand, the selfless sacrifice by this very attractive young man typified the spirit of the many young men who came from far and wide to join in the Battle.

William Meade Lindsley "Billy" Fiske III Stain Glass Window in St Mary and St Blaise in Boxgrove, Sussex. The inscription on his gravestone reads simply: 'He died for England'.