The Battle of Britain


  The Battle of France is over.  The Battle of Britain is about to begin.  Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization…  The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us.  Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war…  Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duty, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth lasts for a thousand years, men will still say, 'This was their finest hour'.

Winston Churchill, speaking in the House of Common (11 June 1940.


Map (bitmap)

The 'HistoryLearning' site - basic info 

The 'Battle of Britain' site - very detailed


This alternative history site argues that Operation Sealion was doomed to fail



•    by Blake Harrison  ppt.  swf.



Contemporary film footage

Need to Know account

Battle of Britain - 15 Sept 1940; clip from the 1969 movie


And also:

  - Spitfire  

SpitCrazy - good collection



   Could Britain have repulsed a Nazi invasion in September 1940?


Hitler wanted to invade Britain.   He called his plan ‘Operation Sealion   .  He had detailed plans of who would rule Britain after it was conquered.   His propaganda machine had already made a newsreel of the ‘victorious’ German soldiers and the British they had ‘captured’.   

      But Britain was defended by the Royal Navy, which was much stronger than the German Navy.   If Hitler was going to mount an invasion of Britain, he would have to find a way to defend his invasion barges from attack.  The German airforce – the Luftwaffe – could defend the invasion, but, to do that, Hitler would first have to knock out the Royal Air Force (RAF).   That is how the Battle of Britain came about.  The Battle of Britain was really the first part of Hitler’s invasion of Britain.

      Four developments laid the foundations of Britain’s survival:

  1. Firstly, Britain had built a series of radar stations (July 1935).   British radar was superior because, not only could it tell where the enemy planes were coming from, but it had a way to telling the fighters so that they could go and attack them.

  2. Secondly, in July 1937, Air Chief Marshall Dowding was appointed Commander-in-Chief of Fighter Command.   He was a brilliant commander who – on a small budget – was able to reorganise the RAF into four Groups, each divided into a number of sectors (each with a main sector airfield with a number of supporting airfields).

  3. Thirdly, the British developed two brilliant planes – the Hurricane (Nov 1935) which was reliable and was used to shoot down the Luftwaffe bombers; and the Spitfire (March 1936), the fastest plane in the world, which was used to destroy the Nazi fighters which protected the bombers.

  4. Fourthly, in May 1940, Churchill put Lord Beaverbrook (owner of the Daily Express) in charge of aircraft production.   He ran one appeal for aluminium  – ‘We will turn your pots and pans into Spitfires and Hurricanes’ – and another scheme where towns, groups or individuals could ‘buy’ a Spitfire (for £5000) and send it off the fight the Nazis.   He also set up a Civilian Repair Organisation, which made new planes from the left-over pieces of planes which had been shot down.   Beaverbrook cut through government red tape, and increased the production by 250%; in 1940, British factories produced 4,283 fighters, compared to Germany’s 3,000.


The Battle of Britain

The Battle of Britain started officially on 10 June 1940, when the Luftwaffe attacked a convoy of ships off Dover.   But the real air war started on 12 August (when the Luftwaffe attacked the RAF), and lasted until 31 October.  

      At first the Luftwaffe attacked radar stations and airfields.   Although the Luftwaffe lost more planes than the RAF, by the 31 August the RAF was at its last gasp – in the previous fortnight the RAF had lost 295 planes destroyed and 170 damaged, 103 pilots killed and 128 wounded.  Flying five or more ‘sorties’ a day, the young British fighter pilots (nicknamed ‘Dowding’s chicks’) were becoming exhausted; more importantly, the RAF was not training new pilots as fast the pilots were being killed.   The weekend 30-31 August was the worst weekend of the battle for the RAF, with 65 fighters destroyed and 6 of the seven sector stations in the vital south-east Group out of action.  


Just as Fighter Command was about to collapse, however, a miracle happened.   On 24 August, by accident, some Luftwaffe bombers had dropped their bombs on London.   The next few nights, the RAF replied by bombing Berlin.   Hitler was angry.   On 2 September he ordered his bombers to attack London.   On 7 September the Nazi bombing raid was so huge that a false alarm went round the south-east of England: code-word ‘Cromwell’ – invasion imminent.   Church bells rang and the Home Guard mobilised.   It was not known at the time but one section of coast identified by the Nazis as a landing ground was defended by a Home Guard platoon with just one machine-gun!

      Hitler’s decision to stop attacking the RAF gave it time to recover.   On 15 September, the Luftwaffe came by day in huge numbers.   It expected to sweep the RAF from the skies.   But the RAF fought them off.   At one point every British plane was in the sky – soon, some would have to come in to refuel and there were no reserves to protect them.   But the Luftwaffe, too, was at the limit and – just in time – it turned back.  


15 September is celebrated as ‘Battle of Britain day’. 


Source B

Headline from 16 Sept.  In fact, only about 69 enemy planes were destroyed.   Does this mean that this newspaper is a useless source to historians?


In the meantime, the RAF had been bombing the Nazi invasion fleet.   On 17 September, Hitler ordered the postponement of Operation Sealion.  Instead, the Luftwaffe concentrated on night-bombing London (the ‘blitz’).


In all, the RAF lost 1,173 planes and 510 pilots and gunners killed in the Battle of Britain.   The Luftwaffe lost 1,733 planes and 3,368 airmen killed or captured.   If the Luftwaffe had succeeded, Britain would have been invaded and conquered.   But the RAF held out, and Britain survived.  


Source A

Poster published by the government during the war.


Did You Know?

Dowding, a Scot was a dull, boring character nicknamed ‘Stuffy’.



Did You Know?

The Spitfire was designed by Reginald Mitchell, who was dying of cancer.   He worked round the clock on the plane, and finished it just before his death.







Hurricanes of 601 squadron


Did You Know?

I have been contacted by a student on the History Help forum who told me that 'the British pilots were joined by many pilots from Poland, the Czech republic, Canada or New Zealand.  12% of all German planes destroyed in the Battle of Britain were destroyed by Polish pilots.  Also, foreign pilots helped modify the way that British pilots were flying; the British were flying in tight formations which meant that they were spending more time on looking at themselves in order not to collide rather than searching the sky for enemies.'



  Source C

The gratitude of every home… goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the world war by their prowess and by their devotion. Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.

Winston Churchill, in the House of Commons, 20 August 1940

Explanation: ‘Never in the field of human conflict [= war] was so much [= freedom] owed by so many [= the people of Britain] to so few [= the pilots of the RAF].

It is absolutely critical - if you are evaluating this source - to note the date: only a week after the beginning of the real fighting, and well before the darkest period of the battle during the first week-or-so in September.



1.  Study Source A.   Find the four qualities of British airmen which - according to Churchill - helped them to win the Battle of Britain.

2.   Churchill (Source A) praised the pilots for winning the Battle of Britain.   Do you agree?   Can you find SIX other reasons why Hitler failed to invade Britain?