Winston Churchill: "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few."
The Battle of Britain took place between August and September 1940. After the success of Blitzkrieg, the evacuation of Dunkirk and the surrender of France, Britain was by herself. The Battle of Britain remains one of the most famous battles of World War Two.
The Germans needed to control the English Channel to launch her invasion of Britain (which the Germans code-named Operation Sealion). To control the Channel the Germans needed control of the air. The main fighter planes of the RAF were the Spitfire and the Hurricane. The Germans relied primarily on their Messcherschmitt fighters and their Junkers dive bombers - the famed Stukas.
At the start of the war, Germany had 4,000 aircraft compared to Britain's front-line strength of 1,660. By the time of the fall of France, the Luftwaffe (the German air force) had 3,000 planes based in north-west Europe alone including 1,400 bombers, 300 dive bombers, 800 single engine fighter planes and 240 twin engine fighter bombers. At the start of the battle, the Luftwaffe had 2,500 planes that were serviceable and in any normal day, the Luftwaffe could put up over 1,600 planes. The RAF had 1,200 planes on the eve of the battle which included 800 Spitfires and Hurricanes - but only 660 of these were serviceable. The rate of British plane production was good - the only weakness of the RAF was the fact that they lacked sufficient trained and experienced pilots. Trained pilots had been killed in the war in France and they had not been replaced.
Britain had a number of advantages over the Luftwaffe. Britain had RADAR which gave us early warning of the approach of the German planes. By the Spring of 1940, fifty-one radar bases had been built around the coast of southern Britain.
British fighter planes could spend more time in the air over Kent and Sussex as we could easily land for fuel whereas the German fighters could not. German bombers could fly for longer distances than their fighter planes could cover and therefore, the bombers could not always count on fighter cover for protection. The German fighters were also limited in that they could not reload their guns if they ran out of ammunition while over Kent etc. British fighters could. Without sufficient fighter cover, the German bombers were very open to attack from British fighter planes.
One event did greatly aid the British. The head of the Luftwaffe - Herman Goering - ordered an end to the raids on radar bases as he believed that they were too unimportant to matter.
The change to bombing the cities also gave Fighter Command time to recover from its losses and for pilots to recover from the many hours a day they operated which took many to the brink of exhaustion.
On September 15th came the last major engagement of the battle. On that day, the Luftwaffe lost 60 planes while the RAF lost 28. On September 17th, Hitler postponed indefinitely the invasion of Britain though the night time raids - the Blitz - continued. London, Plymouth and Coventry were all badly hit by these raids.
Recent research indicates that Hitler’s heart was not in an attack on Britain but that he wanted to concentrate his country’s strength on an attack on communist Russia. However, no-one in Britain in the autumn of 1940 would have known about this and all indications from April 1940 onwards, were that Hitler did intend to invade Britain, especially after his boast to the German people - "he's coming, he's coming!"
In a continuation of the propaganda war, the British government claimed that the RAF had shot down 2,698 German planes. The actual figure was 1,100. The RAF lost 650 planes - not the 3,058 planes that the Luftwaffe claimed to have shot down - more than the entire RAF!