The Battle of Britain
The Battle of Britain has been described as the first major military campaign fought entirely in the air. The Royal Air Force (RAF) defended Britain against large scale attacks by the Luftwaffe, Germany’s air force. The battle’s duration lasted from 10th July 1940 until the 30th October 1940 which was overlapped by the period of The Blitz. Lasting from the 7th September 1940 until the 11th May 1941 the Blitz was an attack of continued night-time bombing operations on Britain when daylight attacks proved to be unsustainable. The Battle of Britain and the Blitz marked the first major defeat of Germany’ military forces when their operations failed to give Germany air superiority over Britain. The planned land invasion of Britain, code-named Operation Sea Lion, was cancelled on 17th September 1940 and was never put into action.
With the fall of France in June 1940, German dictator Adolf Hitler wanted to humiliate France by having them sign the surrender document in the same carriage and the same siding that Germany had signed the Armistice in 1918. Hitler then turned his attention to Britain where he believed he could attain a swift victory to concentrate on territories to the east. He ordered the occupation of the Channel Islands. On the 28th June 1940 the Germans bombed the islands and full occupation was completed by the 4th July 1940. The Channel Islands were the only part of Britain to be occupied.
On the 2nd July 1940 Hitler ordered the German “High Command of the Armed Forces” to begin preliminary planning for the invasion of Britain code-named Operation Sea Lion. The Luftwaffe bombed the Welsh city of Cardiff on the 3rd, 10th and 12th July 1940 with the dock areas primarily the target as they were the largest coal-port in the world. Cardiff was confirmed as the capital of Wales in 1955.
Further bombing by the Luftwaffe targeting mainly coastal-shipping convoys and ports began on the 10th July1940. The Royal Air Force (RAF) defended the attacks on the south coast. The forthcoming battle took its name from Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s speech to the House of Commons on the 18th June 1940. Churchill’s speech was – “What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect the Battle of Britain is about to begin”.
Failure to achieve air superiority and bad weather over the Channel resulted in the postponement, on the 5th August 1940, of the invasion of Britain. The Battle of Britain began on the 13th August 1940 when the Luftwaffe began a two week assault which focussed their bombing raids on British airfields and radar stations in preparation for an invasion. German bombers, even though they had fighter escorts, took massive losses when British fighters were waiting for them owing to the information received from their radar stations. Downed RAF pilots on home soil could fight again while German pilots became prisoners of war. By the 15th August 1940 the Luftwaffe abandoned the air attacks on the radar stations to concentrate on RAF bases. They were hampered by poor aircraft range and the British extensive use of radar.
In a speech to the House of Commons on the 20th August 1940 Churchill gave his famous speech about “The Few” referring to the RAF crews who were fighting the Battle of Britain.
On the 25th August 1940 the Luftwaffe bombed St. Giles Cripplegate Church located in the City of London at Moorgate. Whether the bombing was deliberate or not will never be known but the target was well away from any industrial sites. On the 25th August 1940 Churchill ordered the bombing of Berlin as retaliation and on the 26th August 1940 British bombers flew over for the first time. Only superficial damage was done but the raid was a success. Inefficient use of searchlights and anti-aircraft guns enabled the British bombers to return
On the 3rd September 1940 having failed to gain control of the skies over Britain Hitler ordered a postponement of the invasion of Britain. By the 10th September 1940 Hitler agreed the invasion should begin on the 14th September 1940. The navy proposed a revised date of the 24th September 1940 as they did not have sufficient landing craft ready and were waiting for the correct tides in the Channel and hoping for decent weather. In the meantime, the Luftwaffe was instructed to intensify the air raids on Britain. By the 17th September 1940 Hitler was convinced Operation Sea Lion was not viable and therefore postponed the invasion of Britain indefinitely.
On the 10th September 1940 the Corpa Aereo Itataliano (CAI) was formed after Italian dictator Benito Mussolini insisted an element of the Italian Air Force should assist his German ally during the Battle of Britain and the Blitz.
On the night of the 24th /25th October 1940 the Italian Air Force conducted their first raid on Britain when they attacked Harwich and Felixstowe. Their next major operations on the 29th October 1940 when Italian bombers escorted by fighter aircraft bombed Ramsgate.
The Battle of Britain ended on the 31st October 1940 when just 3000 RAF pilots broke the will of the Luftwaffe. The bombing raids were changed from day-light to night-time attacks against London on the 7th September 1940 known as the Blitz.
BATTLE OF BRITAIN DAY
Battle of Britain Day is given to the day of the large-scale aerial battle that took place on the 15th September 1940. The climax of the Battle of Britain was when the Luftwaffe embarked on a large all-out attack against London where 1,500 aircraft took part in the air battles, which lasted until dusk. The designated annual commemoration of BATTLE OF BRITAIN DAY is therefore the 15th September.