The Most Common Battle of Britain Myths

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Seven common myths about the legendary aerial clash

The Luftwaffe could never have won the Battle of Britain.

In terms of the quality and quantity of equipment and pilots, Germany and Britain were on a relatively even playing field. Germany’s failure to overcome the RAF was ultimately a result of British radar, mistaken changes in strategy and Göring’s weak leadership.

The Battle of Britain saw the end of German bombing over Britain.

Though the 31 October 1940 saw the generally accepted end of the Battle of Britain, the Luftwaffe continued to bomb Britain for several more years. Most intensively was the bombing of London and other major cities in the Blitz, the dates of which stretch from 7 September 1940 to 10 May 1941.

Hitler’s insistence that the new Messerschmitt 262 should be designed for offensive use as a bomber, rather than defensive use as a fighter, severely delayed its introduction.

It was, in fact, technical issues with the new jet engine that prevented it from reaching operational status until the summer of 1944.

The Fairey Swordfish planes flew so slowly that naval anti-aircraft guns couldn’t lock onto them to shoot them down.

These antiquated planes became famous after an impressive display in the famous Battle of Taranto, in which they sank the battleship Littorio and two others. However, all six attacking Swordfishes involved in the February 1942 ‘Channel Dash’ were shot down, mostly by anti-aircraft fire.

Upper-class former public schoolboys made up the bulk of the RAF fighter pilots.

The rapid expansion of the RAF in the 1930s saw the formation of the Volunteer Reserve, and with it the rise of the non-commissioned officer (NCO).

The lure of learning to fly for free in the VR proved potent for young working men – resulting in a large number of VR ‘Sergeant Pilots’ making up the wartime RAF.

It should also not be forgotten that 20% of the 2,936 Battle of Britain fighter pilots were of foreign nationality – including Czechs, Poles, Barbadians and Americans.

The Battle was fought – and won  primarily by Spitfires.

The Spitfire might have been more glamorous than the older, larger, slower Hurricane, but the latter was the true workhorse of the Battle of Britain. More easily repaired, there were also far more of them: 35 Hurricane squadrons compared to 19 Spitfire.

Had the Germans succeeded in breaking the RAF, they could have successfully invaded Britain in Operation Sea Lion.

Many argue that whilst the RAF played an invaluable role in the Battle of Britain, the Royal Navy would have proved an insurmountable challenge to a German invasion of Britain. The German’s simply didn’t have the naval resources to take it on.

This is an article from Military History Matters. To find out more about the magazine and how to subscribe, click here.


  1. Point 4, the Littorio was heavily damaged and run aground to save her, but not sunk. She was repaired and operational in four and a half months. Other battleships were also damaged, but none sunk at the Battle of Taranto

    • The Battleship Conte di Cavour was sunk at Taranto and another had to be run aground to stop her sinking also the Littorio was saved by running aground after being holed 3 times.

  2. Point 7 George how exactly do you apply battleships/cruisers within a channel of water narrowing down to 25 miles against an enemy with a highly capable submarine and air force?

    It would have been a repeat of the French situation, when their fleets left for the colonies relatively unscathed.

    • You don’t use capital ships in the Channel. You use destroyers, cruisers, smaller vessels, and auxiliaries instead. By mid September, the RN had over 70 cruisers & destroyers allocated to anti-invasion duties, together with several hundred (yes, hundred!) minesweepers, gunboats, corvettes, and auxiliaries.

      They would be facing around 15 -20 German destroyers and torpedo boats, a similar number of minesweepers, and a few armed trawlers, all attempting to escort several hundred large river barges in clumsy rectangular formations, moving at little more than walking pace.

      Oh, and the RN could operate at night: the RAF & Luftwaffe couldn’t.

  3. 1: The RAF had actually expended all reserves at one point and Churchill was told the Luftwaffe would have total air dominance within 2 weeks, the only reason it never happened is because Hitler (in response to bombing of German cities) ordered Goering to stop bombing RAF bases and concentraite on London and other British cities.

    7: With total German air dominance the British navy and land forces would have been unable to repel a Sea invasion.

    • They may have exhausted all reserves but as long as we could keep putting up fighter aircraft the Germans would have suffered unsustainable losses and let’s not forget we were producing fighter aircraft faster than the Germans. British pilots bailing out were nearly always over home territory whereas Germans were pitchforked into captivity.

  4. Absolute twaddle. Yes ships would have been sunk but the Royal Navy had the numbers to soak up the losses. The Luftwaffe had effective air superiority over Dunkirk but failed to stop the evacuation. Every night during the Battle of Britain RN Destroyers and Coastal Forces were patrolling right oustside the harbours where the so called invasion fleet was assembling. They would have had to sail at night to attack at dawn, the RN would have wreacked havoc even without needing to use the big ships. The German Navy had very few destroyers and escorts to protect them following Norway. The Germans themselves admit this, Adolf Galland has said it was a total non starter.

    • All your comments are good and illuminating. Why are we not taught about RN’s Channel activities in1940? But Ok, to answer Galland then why try and risk a defeat. Hitler would have been better off not bombing or attacking Britain. After all very very few UK military industrial plants, except ports, were ever seriously hit during the Blitz. As German historians now tell us Hitler had so many options in JUNE 1940, why did he choose the losing options?

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