THE NEXT BIG THING
"If any one man won the Battle of Britain, he did"
Above: Sir Keith in Malta in 1942. In addition to his astonishing feats during the Battle of Britain, Sir Keith's brilliant command near-instantly turned the crucial Battle of Malta in favor of the Allies.
Air Chief Marshal
Sir Keith Park
"The Defender of London"
Sir Keith is the forgotten hero of the Battle of Britain. A New Zealander, who Ace pilot 'Johnnie' Johnson quite rightly said, was the only man who could have lost the Second World War "In a day, or even an afternoon"; thankfully for us all, he didn't!
The five months of battle remain 'Their Finest Hour'. 'The Few' of the British Empire, at its weakest, stood alone against Hitler's Third Reich at it's peak.
Sir Keith command of The Few in their defense of Britain was decisive and flawless.
His talents later proved equally decisive in the Allied victory in the crucial Battle of Malta.
Before all of that, he was a highly decorated WWI officer; fighting on land, and going on to become an ace fighter pilot.
Above all else, he was humble and an extraordinarily decent, kind man.
the battle of Britain
The Nazis had swept through Europe with astonishing speed. They had never been defeated in a major battle.
The historical importance of the battle may best be understood as a "What if..." scenario.
Hitler was always going to attack Russia. If not for British victory in the Battle of Britain, he might have won. A horrifying possibility.
Or Stalin's Soviet Empire may have defeated the Axis alone. It would have taken far longer; the horrors inflicted by both sides would have been prolonged. Most of Europe would have ended up under Stalin's control. This too is frightening to even contemplate.
Thankfully, the Battle of Britain was fought, and it was won by the Allies.
As Air Chief Marshal Lord Tedder said, if any one man had won the Battle of Britain, it was Sir Keith Park.
“If any one man won the Battle of Britain, he did. I don't believe it is recognised how much this one man, with his leadership, his calm judgment and his skill, did to save not only this country, but the world.”
Air Chief Marshal Lord Tedder, assessment of Sir Keith in 1947
Sir Keith was born in Thames, New Zealand. He grew up in New Zealand, attending school in Auckland and Southland. He was by all accounts fairly unremarkable. Though he was a keen horseman and hunter.
Before WW1, Sir Keith worked on merchant ships. This earned him the nickname 'Skipper'.
Like so many young ANZAC men, Sir Keith found himself in the army. He fought at Gallipoli. There, he demonstrated his bravery and dedication. Later in the war he fought on the Somme. Again with valor. He transferred to the British Army. By this point, he had served as an artilleryman and a cavalry officer.
After being wounded in action, Sir Keith retrained as a pilot.
Sir Keith was a First World War ace. In this war, he was decorated multiple times for bravery - both as a soldier and a pilot.
He remained with the British between wars. First with the Army, and later Royal Air Force. He steadily rose through the ranks.
In 1938, he was appointed Staff Officer to Air Chief Marshal Dowding. Preparations for war were well underway... When the Battle of Britain came, it was a battle that the RAF; ACM Dowding; and AVM Park were well prepared for.
Dowding placed Sir Keith in command of Number 11 Group of RAF Fighter Command. This was the vital airspace above London and South East England. It was Britain's population centre, capital city, and industrial centre. It was also perilously close to France, and to the bulk of the Luftwaffe.
Sir Keith, 15th of September 1941.
This day was the climax of the battle, now celebrated as 'Battle of Britain Day'. That day, as on all days of the battle, the RAF resoundingly defeated the Luftwaffe.
Sir Keith is in his personalised Hurricane Mk1, OK1. Behind his shoulder (lower left of image) is his nose art - 'Cerberus' - the three-headed hound of Hades.
Note: Sir Keith did not fly as a combatant during the Battle of Britain. He flew his personalised Hurricane around the ten aerodromes under his command.