THE Battle of Britain was a major air campaign fought in the skies over Britain in 1940. Airmen and airfields of Pembrokeshire made a significant and gallant contribution to eventual victory.

It was the first decisive battle in history fought entirely in the air. The German objective was to destroy the Royal Air Force to obtain air superiority in advance of an invasion.

In this fight for survival, 67 Welsh aircrew served with distinction, a number of whom won gallantry awards for bravery and for the destruction of enemy aircraft. Among those aircrew were a number from Pembrokeshire.

Flying Officer Robert Voase Jeff DFC and Bar was a pilot from Tenby. He joined the RAF in October 1936 and flew Hurricanes with No 87 Squadron in the Battle of France. On 2 November 1939, he destroyed a HE 111, the first enemy aircraft to fall on French soil in the war, for which he was awarded the Croix de Guerre and the DFC. He went on to destroy four more enemy aircraft in France up to end of May, being awarded a Bar to his DFC. He fought with his Squadron in the Battle of Britain. Jeff was reported “Missing” on 11 August, last seen diving to attack enemy aircraft off Portland Bill. He has no known grave and is remembered on the Runnymede Memorial. Aged 27. His RAF Pilot brother, JEP Jeff, was killed in his Hampden aircraft on 2 May 1941 over Hamburg.

Experience was highly sought after in squadron commanders, due to the scale of casualties in 1940. Squadron Lea der Rodney Wilkinson from Angle was an officer of ten years’ experience when he took command of No. 226 Squadron in July 1940, including postings as an instructor and Fighter Controller. Sadly, the RAF lost this officer to the Battle, when his Spitfire collided in combat with a Bf 109 on 16 August 1940.

Sergeant John Anthony Hughes-Rees, of Newport, Pembrokeshire enlisted in the RAF in 1939 and joined 609 Squadron at RAF Middle Wallop on 22 September 1940. He claimed a Me110 fighter destroyed on the 25th and destroyed a Me109 fighter on 7 October. The Spitfire he flew during the Battle of Britain (serial number X4590) is preserved at the RAF Museum at Hendon.

Two pilots who were stationed at RAF’s gunnery camp at Flimstone in Pembrokeshire have special links with the county.

Flying Officer Cecil Halford Bull began his flying training in January 1936. After a flying tour at RAF Biggin Hill, the Londoner commanded RAF Flimstone where he met and married Miss Dorothy John from Hundleton. He then joined 25 Squadron at RAF Hawkinge flying the Blenheim. He was captain of a Blenheim that flew the RAF’s first attack of the war on German territory - the raid on Borkum 28th November 1939, receiving a Mention in Dispatches. He was killed in a shooting incident near Orielton in Pembrokeshire, close to his wife’s family home on 8 August 1940 whilst on leave. A verdict of accidental death was recorded. He was 24 years old. He is buried at St David’s Churchyard in Hundleton.

Sergeant Charles Albert Henry Ayling joined the RAF in 1927 as an aircraft apprentice, later training as a Pilot, gaining his Wings in April 1939. The Hampshire man was posted to Flimstone, where he met and married Miss Joan Briscoe, from Monkton. He flew Hurricanes with No 43 Squadron in both the Battle of France and Battle of Britain, shooting down or damaging three enemy aircraft. On 10 September, he went to 66 Sqn at RAF Kenley, flying Spitfires, later moving to 421 Flight at Gravesend. On 11 October, he was killed when he crashed at Newchurch, after combat with enemy aircraft over Hawkinge. He was 28 years old. Ayling is buried in St Nicholas’ Cemetery in Monkton.

There were many airfields in the county which supported the RAF's effort during the Battle of Britain.

While the Battle of Britain raged overhead, the RAF in Pembrokeshire was embroiled in a second critical struggle – the Battle of the Atlantic.

RAF Coastal Command was fighting to protect shipping and sea lanes bringing vital supplies to Britain from the menace of German U-boats.

RAF Pembroke Dock was one of eight Coastal Command stations in South Wales, which were on the frontline. In the summer of 1940, many squadrons were based there flying the Short Sunderland.

The Sunderland had a crew of thirteen, a range of nearly 3,000 miles, and could stay airborne for over 13 hours. They patrolled far into the Atlantic, the Bay of Biscay, and along the Western Approaches, attacking any U-boats that were sighted.

Squadrons at RAF Carew Cheriton also played their part in 1940, patrolling the Western Approaches and Irish Sea in Avro Anson and Bristol Beaufort aircraft. These patrols were extremely hazardous, with long missions and poor weather often being as dangerous as the enemy.

The presence of Coastal Command stations in South Wales made it a legitimate target. On 19 August 1940, the Admiralty oil tanks near Pembroke Dock at Llanreath were attacked from the air, causing a fire that burned for 18 days and destroyed 33 million gallons of oil. Five firefighters were killed.

Originally a First World War airfield, Carew Cheriton was reopened in the Summer of 1939. It had Henley and Tiger Moth aircraft of No. 1 Anti-Aircraft Co-operation Unit, towing targets for the gunnery schools at Manorbier, Aberporth and Tywyn.

RAF Manorbier also played a vital role in training anti-aircraft gunners. From 1937, Manorbier was home to No. 1 Anti-Aircraft Co-operation unit, operating the remote controlled de Haviland Queen Bees, used for gunnery practice.

Radar detection stations were at the heart of the forces defending Britain. Along with the Observer Corps, they gave Fighter Command controllers early warning of approaching enemy aircraft, enabling them to scramble RAF fighters to intercept the intruders.

By 1940, 40 radar stations stood sentry along the British coastline and gave the RAF up to thirty minutes warning of enemy aircraft approaching. It was a battle winning technology and there were four Chain Home Radar stations in Pembrokeshire protecting the Western Approaches.

In 1940, Wales had three Observer Corps Groups including 28 Group covering West Wales from Caernarfon to Carmarthen. About 700 volunteers, occupied dozens of observation posts, 24 hours a day. They lived true to their motto: ‘Forewarned is Forearmed.’

Air Commodore Adrian Williams, Wales’ most senior RAF Officer, said: “In this 80th year commemoration of the Battle, we remember the “Welsh Few”, 67 men from all corners of Wales, who served with distinction in the air and made a significant and gallant contribution to the Battle of Britain. They were part of the 2,947 aircrew from Britain, the Commonwealth and many other countries who fought in the battle. We remember too, the vital part played by RAF bases in Wales in supplying pilots and aircraft in that desperate struggle during the long hot Summer of 1940.

“That role played by the RAF in Wales in protecting the skies above Britain continues today. The crews of our Typhoon jets which defend our skies 24/7 are all trained at RAF Valley on Anglesey.”