What: The Battle of Britain is the name given to the World War II air campaign waged by the German Air Force 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 the Battle of Britain is about to begin…”
When: Common opinion is that the Battle of Britain took place between 10 July and 31 October 1940. There are believed to have been four main phases to the battle: 10 – 11 August, 12 – 23 August, 24 – 6 August and 7 September onwards.
Who: The German Luftwaffe’s Messerschmitt Bf109E and Bf 110C fought against the British RAF’s Hurricane MKI and the Spitfire MKI.
Where: From July 1940 coastal shipping convoys and shipping centers were the main targets of the attacks; one month later the Luftwaffe shifted its attacks to RAF airfields and infrastructure. As the battle progressed the Luftwaffe also targeted aircraft factories and ground infrastructure and eventually resorted to attacking British towns and cities.
Why: The Germans planned to invade Britain with the objective of landing 160,000 soldiers along a fourty mile coastal stretch of South-East England. This plan was codenamed Operation Sealion. Hitler’s generals were very worried about the damage that the Royal Air Force could inflict on the German Army during the invasion and so Hitler therefore agreed that the invasion should be postponed until the British Air Force had been destroyed. Accordingly the campaign objective was one of gaining air superiority over the RAF, especially Fighter Command.
Significance: 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. The Battle of Britain marked the first defeat of Hitler’s military forces.
Outcome: Air superiority was originally seen as the key to British victory at the Battle of Britain. Records show that during the period of the Battle the Luftwaffe lost somewhere in the region of 1,652 aircraft, including 229 twin engined and 533 single engined fighters.RAF Fighter Command aircraft losses totalled 1087 from July 10 to October 30 1940, including 53 twin engined fighters. In addition the RAF lost 376 Bomber Command and 148 Coastal Command aircraft conducting bombing, mining, and reconnaissance operations in defence of the country.
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