The Battle of Britain: A Brief Guide

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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…”


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.


The German Luftwaffe’s Messerschmitt Bf109E and Bf 110C fought against the British RAF’s Hurricane MKI and the  Spitfire MKI.


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.


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.


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.


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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  1. Might be interesting to flesh out the article with a few words about Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding, who headed Fighter Command during the BoB. Dowding’s strategy was not to achieve victory over the Luftwaffe during the battle – it was simply to ‘stay in the game’ and fight a delaying action long enough for the seasonal weather over the channel to deteriorate to the point where a seaborne invasion was no longer possible in 1940.

    A statue of Dowding stands outside St Clement Danes church on the Strand, London. The inscription reads: “He was responsible for the preparation for and the conduct of the Battle of Britain. With remarkable foresight, he ensured the equipment of his command with monoplane fighters, the Hurricane and the Spitfire. He was among the first to appreciate the vital importance of R.D.F. (radar) and an effective command and control system for his squadrons. They were ready when war came. In the preliminary stages of that war, he thoroughly trained his minimal forces and conserved them against strong political pressure to disperse and misuse them. His wise and prudent judgement and leadership helped to ensure victory against overwhelming odds and thus prevented the loss of the Battle of Britain and probably the whole war. To him, the people of Britain and of the Free World owe largely the way of life and the liberties they enjoy today.”

    Too bold a statement? Consider that had Germany won the BoB and gained air superiority early enough in 1940 to mount a successful seaborne invasion while good weather prevailed, Britain would probably have fallen. After all, much of the British Army’s equipment was left on the beaches of Dunkirk during the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force at the end of the “Battle of France”.

    Without Britain in the picture, the US would not have had a ready platform from which to stage the June 1944 D-Day invasion of Normandy. Also remember that Hitler only turned east towards the Soviet Union after cancelling the invasion of Britain due to losing the BoB.

    Both factors might have given Germany enough time to complete their heavy water experiments, create an atomic device, and place it on top of their V2 rocket (rapidly evolving from a theater-capable missile to an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching both the US and Moscow). Bottom line, without Britain in the picture, the Germans could have won. So we would do well to remember Dowding – he may have saved us all.

  2. re: length of my comment – so what? did you know ANY of the history in my comment? did you even know Douding existed? he’s the guy who won the BoB. without Douding, we’d all be speaking German. instead of learning key points of history, you point out the length of my reply.

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