The Battle of Britain is the name given to the World War II air campaign waged by the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) against the United Kingdom during the summer and autumn of 1940. The Battle of Britain was the first major campaign to be fought entirely by air forces, and was also the largest and most sustained aerial bombing campaign to that date.
A significant turning point of World War II, the Battle of Britain ended when Germany’s Luftwaffe failed to gain air superiority over the Royal Air Force despite months of targeting Britain’s air bases, military posts and, ultimately, its civilian population. Britain’s decisive victory saved the country from a ground invasion and possible occupation by German forces while proving that air power alone could be used to win a major battle.
Eventually, all daylight bombing missions were cancelled, and Operation Sea Lion was indefinitely postponed. Night bombing raids would continue (The Blitz), but the Battle of Britain was over, the British had won. Thanks to one lone bomber, a successful "impossible" mission, and Hitler's ego, the last bastion of freedom in Europe had been saved.
The German bombers inflicted considerable damage and casualties. But they were also losing planes faster than they could repair or replace them and switched to night-time raids. As summer gave way to autumn and worsening weather conditions, the Germans realized the RAF could not be beaten in 1940 and as Germany was preparing to attack Russia, Operation Sealion was cancelled.
In retaliation, more than 80 British bombers raided Berlin. As the bombing of Berlin continued, a furious Hitler rescinded Directive 17, ordering “disruptive attacks on the population and air defences of major British cities, including London, by day and night”. The Blitz, which lasted for 57 nights, began on Sept. 7, and the Battle of Britain began to swing in favour of the British. “In a contradictory way, it was just what the British needed. London was like a vast sponge, and it absorbed damage as a sponge does water,” says Stokesbury.
Fate would then step in in favor of the British. In the very early morning hours of August 25, a lone He 111, who had veared off course, would accidently bomb central London against Hitler's standing orders not to do so. Little did this lost pilot know his actions would alter the course of the battle, and maybe even the war itself.
In fact, Britain's situation was more favorable than most of the world recognized at the time. Britain possessed an effective air defense system, first-rate fighter pilots, and a great military leader in Air Marshal Hugh Dowding. On the other hand, the Germans had major problems: they had no navy left, their army was unprepared for any form of amphibious operations, and the Luftwaffe had suffered heavy losses in the west. Even more serious, the Germans had poor intelligence and little idea of British vulnerabilities.
[Directive No. 16] also said that “the British Air Force must be eliminated to such an extent that it will be incapable of putting up any sustained opposition to the invading troops”. “For the Germans to invade, the [German] navy must dominate the Channel. But before it could do that the Luftwaffe must dominate the air over the channel.” explains Canadian historian Jim Stokesbury.
The Battle of Britain is the name given to the World War II air campaign waged by the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) against the United Kingdom during the summer and autumn of 1940... The name derives from a famous speech delivered by Prime Minister Winston Churchill in the House of Commons: "...the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin."
The story of the Battle of Britain is not about a single man. Though he was crucial to the survival of his nation, Winston Churchill would be the first to admit that the Battle of Britain was not about him, but rather about all the men and women of Fighter Command of the Royal Air Force (RAF).
One eminent scholar described the Battle of Britain as "the single greatest event in world political history." Or, as Winston Churchill said, in a quote that is as memorable as the story that it tells, "Never in the field of human combat has so much been owed by so many to so few."