The Battle of Britain

Period 5

After the fall of France in 1940, Hitler turned his attention to Germany’s sole remaining enemy, Great Britain. His plans to invade Britain depended on crippling Britain\'s Royal Air Force. In July the Luftwaffe, the German air force, began its attempt to bomb Britain into submission. The resulting conflict was known as the Battle of Britain.

Much of the Battle of Britain was fought in the skies over southern England in what became known as the \'Spitfire summer\'. In June and July, German bombers began attacking convoys off the south coast and making raids on the ports of Dover and Plymouth. The RAF’s 700 or so Spitfire and Hurricane fighters were outnumbered at the start but Britain had several advantages. Its radar was then the most advanced early warning system in the world, the Spitfire was a very effective fighter plane and British industry had the ability to manufacture more planes at an astonishing rate.

In August the terrifying aerial battles intensified. The Luftwaffe began launching attacks of more than 1,000 aircraft in one day. They focused on Britain’s airfield and radar installations, which were vital in warning of the approach of the German aircraft. By the end of the first week in August, the RAF had lost nearly 100 fighters and the Germans more than 190 planes. A few days of bad weather in mid August gave exhausted pilots on both sides a much-needed reprieve, but soon the attacks began again.

During the last two weeks of August the RAF sustained heavy losses but the German losses were greater. By the end of the month the Germans had lost more than 600 aircraft and the RAF about half that number. But the loss of experienced RAF pilots and the bombing damage done to the radar stations had left Britain very vulnerable. If the attacks on air installations had continued then the eventual outcome could have been very different, but Hitler soon shifted the focus of his attacks.

At the beginning of September Britain launched air attacks on some of Germany’s industrial areas and Berlin itself. The air raids on Germany are said to have angered Hitler so much that on 7th September he ordered the Luftwaffe to bomb British cities. Whatever the reason, the Luftwaffe changed tactics and shifted their attacks away from Britain’s air defense installations. Under attack instead were major population centers, especially London and its docks. It was the beginning of the blitz.

On the 15th September more than 1,000 enemy aircraft carried out a day and night attack on London. It was a day of very heavy fighting and later became commemorated as Battle of Britain day. The RAF announced that they had shot down 175 enemy aircraft. The figure was wildly inaccurate. The real number that the Germans had lost was closer to 56. But, the inflated numbers were accepted at the time as both sides fought a propaganda battle as well as a military war. The Spitfire summer was nearing its end.

The attacks on British cities caused widespread damage and loss of life. If German forces had continued to concentrate their attacks on British air bases they might soon have overwhelmed Fighter Command. But, as it was, German air chiefs overestimated the number of British casualties and their bombers were being shot down faster than they could be manufactured. Hitler needed summer weather for his channel invasion. As winter approached with no breakthrough, the threat of invasion receded.

Hitler had failed to establish air superiority and his fleet of invasion barges assembled in French ports had also suffered heavy losses in RAF bomber attacks. In mid October he ordered his invasion fleet dispersed. The battle was over and Britain was safe. About 1,700 Luftwaffe bombers and fighters had been shot down in just a few months and Britain had lost more than 900 fighter planes. Nearly 500 British pilots and aircrew had also been killed. The British Prime Minister Winston Churchill memorably said: "Never... was so much owed by so many to so few."


-The Great Battles of World War Two by Henry Maule

Book Source

-1941 by William Klingaman

Harper & Row Publishers 1988

Book Source by Nigel Harrison