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Sunday, 2 June 2013

Battle Of Britain

It was a World War II air battle between German and British air forces over Britain from July 10, 1940 to October 31, 1940. The height of the battle occurred 30–31 August.

The name arose from Sir Winston Churchill’s “this was their finest hour” speech on June 18, 1940: "What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin."

At the outset the Germans had the advantage because they had seized airfields in the Netherlands, Belgium, and France, which were basically safe from attack and from which southeast England was within easy range. On August 1, 1940 the Luftwaffe had about 2,800 aircraft in France, Belgium, Holland, and Norway, outnumbering the RAF by four to one.

The Battle of Britain had been intended as a preliminary to the German invasion plan Seelöwe (Sea Lion), which Hitler indefinitely postponed on September 17th and abandoned on October 10th , choosing instead to invade the USSR.

German Heinkel He 111 bombers over the English Channel 1940

After being promoted by Vice Marshal Trafford Leigh-Mallory, Douglas Bader was given command of 242 Squadron. The squadron's first sortie during the Battle of Britain on August, 30, 1940, resulted in the shooting down of 12 German planes over the Channel in just over an hour. Bader himself was responsible for downing two Messerschmitt 110. 

Bader sitting on his Hurricane, as commanding officer of No.242 Squadron 

At first Germany's Luftwaffe aircraft was successful in destroying Britain's air force. It appeared the British RAF was about to be destroyed. In early September, King George VI called the nation to prayer, and many flocked to the churches. On September 15, 1940, two massive waves of German attacks were decisively repulsed by the RAF by deploying every aircraft in 11 Group. Sixty German aircraft were shot down in total.

Victoria Embankment, London. By Beata May - Wikipedia Commons

Mysteriously, despite the fact the RAF were down to their last legs with no reserves left, the Luftwaffe started to retreat and flew home. In retaliation for a RAF raid on Berlin, Hitler ordered a change of strategy of blitzing London and other British cities with night time raids. Even though there were many fatal British civilian casualties, this unexpected change of tactics allowed the RAF to build up again their stock of planes and trained pilots. The prayers had been answered and Britain was saved from invasion.

Hutchinson Encyclopedia © RM 2013. Helicon Publishing is division of RM.

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