The Battle of Britain, fought between July and October 1940, lives on in infamy as one of the most decisive Allied victories of World War II. For the British, the stakes could not have been higher. Had the Royal Air force (RAF) failed to push back the advancing Luftwaffe, the outcome of WW2 would have undoubtedly been very different. Let’s break down the historic battle and look at some of the key events of our nation’s greatest hour.
The advancing Nazi war machine
By July 1940, Hitler had successfully invaded much of Europe, taking control of the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and, of course, France. The next target? Great Britain.
Once Britain had fallen and was under Nazi power, the conquest of Western Europe would be realised. Fortunately for the British, the Nazis would need air and sea superiority to launch a successful land invasion on the United Kingdom.
The lead up to the Battle of Britain
In early July 1940, the first phase of the German air attack focused on shipping in the English Channel. British ships were targeted ruthlessly until the Nazis had complete control of the narrow stretch of water between England and France.
Radar for the win… literally
Phase two, in August 1940, involved an attack on coastal areas around the south of England. The Luftwaffe bombed Britain’s newly invented and highly secretive radar stations, desperately trying to weaken the British’s ability to see them coming. Although successful in temporarily neutralizing many radar stations, Hitler’s intelligence failed to report back how quickly the bombed sites were put back into action. Within days, a bombed radar station was working again, giving the RAF real-time information on the location of the Luftwaffe bombers.
Keep calm and carry on
Phase three involved repeated attacks on key British airfields. German intelligence reported to Hitler that the RAF was at its breaking point, but, astonishingly, the defences withheld. British grit was showing its face once again. Frustrated and angry at the lack of progression, Hitler ordered the heavy bombing of British towns to put pressure on the UK to sue for peace. It failed.
Aircraft made famous in the Battle of Britain
The Allies had two main fighter aircraft, the most famous being the Spitfire. Although synonymous with the Battle of Britain, it was actually the Hurricane which shot down more German planes. The two German fighters to see the most action over England were the 109 and 110 Messerschmitt. These planes were said to have more firepower – a reluctance to push them as hard may have contributed to their comparative ineffectiveness in battle.
Efficiency on the battlefield
The RAF had the major advantage of fighting over home turf. This meant if a pilot was shot down, he could potentially bail out and jump straight into another plane. German pilots, on the other hand, would be captured or killed on site. British planes could also return to base for repairs and refuelling more quickly than the Germans, meaning a lower turnaround time between flights.
A victory for the Commonwealth
The Battle of Britain should possibly be remembered as The Battle of the Commonwealth because although the battle took place above England, a considerable number of the brave souls who fought and died in the battle weren’t British. Many were from Commonwealth countries such as Canada, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. In addition, many of the pilots were expatriate pilots from Poland and the Czech Republic. Defeating the Nazis in the Battle of Britain was truly a team effort.