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History - The Battle of Britain

In the summer of 1940, the German Luftwaffe (air forces) attempted to win air superiority over southern Britain and the English Channel by destroying the Royal Air Force and the British aircraft industry. This attempt came to be known as the Battle of Britain, from Winston Churchillís "The Battle of France is over. I expect the Battle of Britain is about to begin..." speech, served as crucial turning point in the war. The Battle of Britain was the first major campaign to be fought entirely by air forces. It was the largest and most sustained bombing campaign attempted up until that date.

Following the evacuation of the British forces that helped defend France, and the French surrender on 22 June 1940, Hitler believed the war was practically over and the British, defeated on the continent and without European allies, would quickly come to terms with Germany. On 16 July, in an effort to finish the war in the west, Hitler ordered the rapid preparation of a plan to invade Britain in hope to frighten Britain into peace by using the preparations as a means of applying pressure. Britainís failure to give into Hitlerís bluff put the invasion into action. Hitler was aware that the vast superiority of the British naval forces eliminated any grounds for an attack by sea. As a consequence, a German plan to neutralize the Royal Air Force (RAF) was put into action. The entire elimination of the RAF was the supposed to be followed with the strategic bombing of the British navy so that Germany would gain naval superiority and be able to proceed with an invasion. The execution of this plan wasnít as simple and rapid as the Germans though it would be and so it turned into the Battle of Britain.

In August the terrifying aerial battles started to escalate, the Luftwaffe began launching attacks of more than 1,000 aircraft in one day. They focused on Britainís airfield and radar installations, which were vital in warning of the approach of the German aircrafts. By the end of the first week in August, the RAF had lost nearly 100 fighters and the Germans more than 190 planes. During the last two weeks of August the RAF sustained heavy losses but the German losses were greater. The RAF roll of honor for the Battle of Britain recognizes 574 non-British pilots out of almost 3,000 in total, 84 of who were Czechoslovakians.


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 Hitlerís impatience soon shifted the focus of his attacks. On 7th September Hitler resorted to terror bombing tactics and ordered the Luftwaffe to bomb British cities. 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. On this day the RAF announced that they had shot down 175 enemy aircrafts.

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, so as winter approached with no breakthrough, the threat of invasion receded. Although the fear of a German invasion was real, it was perhaps unfounded, as German plans were in fact somewhat amateurish and although the Luftwaffe proved very competent in this role, it was not trained or equipped for the longer-range operations that became part of the Battle of Britain. The failure of Nazi Germany to reach its objectives, to destroy Britain's air defence or to force Britain out of the war by forcing a surrender, is considered the first major defeat of Nazi Germany.
 

Rudolf Kral
British International School of Bratislava

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Bratislava History Project
British International School of Bratislava
Peknikova 6, 841 02 Bratislava
+ 421 2 6930 7081 info@bisb.sk

 

Contact : Richard Jones-Nerzic