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The Battle of Britain begins

Winston Churchill becomes Prime Minister

Battle of Britain

When the Western Front began to collapse, with Paris under the control of the Nazi war machine and the allies having made a desperate strategic retreat from the shell-ridden beaches of Dunkirk, Britain’s long-held invasion fears became a profound concern.
By the summer of 1940, The Second World War was gathering pace. The Third Reich’s plans for controlling Europe was seemingly irrepressible. France had fallen by the third week of June. Britain, guarded by her seas, was now ever more vulnerable to aerial attack. Memories of the Spanish Civil War loomed large on the country’s mind; the terror of sustained air attacks was something of a recent phenomenon in warfare. The German Air Force, the Luftwaffe, boasted over 4,000 aircraft in muster for an assault on the British mainland. Adolf Hitler’s Blitzkrieg lightning war was to take its guns to Blighty, and if the British yielded then, it is widely argued that the country would have been exposed to an overwhelming risk of defeat: victory above the skies would be decisive.
There was discussion in Commons as to the merit of peace negotiations. Prime minister Winston Churchill would have none of it. The nation’s determination to stand and fight would have to match that of Hitler’s to invade. Hitler’s aspirations for invasion, as outlined in Operation Sealion, would rely on both aerial and naval supremacy – amongst the German commanders, the latter was though to be dependent on the former. Armed with a fleet of Messerschmitt Bf 109E and Bf 110C fighter-bombers, the Luftwaffe’s campaign was to pound British morale through strategic bombing of the country’s manufacturing and maritime towns.
Glasgow , Clydebank , Coventry , Belfast , Greenock , London , Plymouth , Bristol and Portsmouth : all were the subject of brutal bombing campaigns, secreted against a night sky. From the summer of 1940 onwards, streetlights would be underemployed, extinguished to throw the Luftwaffe off-course. In some respects, Britain was well prepared for the attacks, having rearmed the Royal Air Force (RAF) and fortified cities with bomb shelters as early as 1939. Still, as civilian casualties mounted, with thousands of pounds worth of explosives landing on its cities, Britain’s resolve was tested to the fullest.
Spotters would scan the sky for enemy attacks. The German’s confidence in their Bf 109E and Bf 110C fighters was misplaced as the RAF scrambled their Hurricane and Spitfire fighters. Such was the drive to recruit men to the cockpit, the British skies were defended by men from as far away as Jamaica and New Zealand. Almost a fifth of the roll of honour would be non-British. The German attack was coordinated by Hermann Göring, but disagreements within his ranks were rife. Luftwaffe tactics would swing between the cavalier posturing of drawing RAF fighters into aerial combat, to the more pragmatic that favoured strategic bombing.
In the skies, the maneuverability of Britain’s Spitfire and Hurricane fighters was the bane of the Bf 110C fighters. The Luftwaffe never satisfactorily protected their heavy bombers, with the lack of range of the Bf 109 fighters meaning that for all their offensive’s occasional devastation, tactical hegemony was always the preserve of the RAF. Especially seeing as British intelligence was always more comprehensive – the Germans failed to penetrate our security forces. Britain, as Churchill surmised, did not yield. And for the first time since hostilities began, Hitler suffered defeat. The tide was turning in the fight for Europe.

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1 Response to Battle of Britain

From Mark Andrew on 27th August 2010
No record on the Battle of Britain is complete with out mentioning 1 The Ground Crews and the Radar / Operations controllers 2 Blenheim and Beaufighter crews, Pilots, Wireless Ops and Air Gunners, many who lost their lives in action As a brother of a Hurricane Pilot I acknowledge that Spitfires and Hurricanes appear to have won the battle but the above also should get a lot of credit

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Elegance is inferior to virtue. - Mary Shelley
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On this day:
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