THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN (2)
This is the name given to the period in the summer & autumn of 1940 when the Germans
attempted to gain air superiority over the English Channel and southern Britain. Only
when this had been achieved could Germany successfully invade and conquer Britain.
The battle can be split into 3 phases:
German attacks on shipping in the English Channel & attacks on south coast ports. (July)
Attacks on airfields and radar stations (August & early September)
Attacks are switched from the airfields to the bombing of London & its docks
(September/October). This was a crucial German mistake.
Although Germany could claim to have deployed more aircraft than the RAF the majority
of the German aircraft were bombers and dive-bombers (Stukas) which were slow and
could not outmanoeuvre the agile British fighters (Spitfires & Hurricanes).
Why Britain won & Germany lost:
Britain got early warning of massed German attacks due to its recently completed chain
of radar stations.
Fighter Command HQ directed squadrons of Spitfires & Hurricanes to enemy aircraft so
the RAF did not waste time and fuel patrolling empty skies or else intercept enemy
formations with insufficient aircraft, they could also attack from the most advantageous
German aircraft were badly directed, in particular the switch to bombing London
happened just as the Germans were succeeding in destroying the airbases and the
fighters caught on the ground.
Britain started to produce more fighter aircraft than the Germans; Britain had just enough
pilots to pull through (Britain had many Polish & Czech pilots flying for them during the
German aircrew who bailed out over Britain were captured, British aircrew parachuted on
to home territory and could be fighting in a new aircraft within hours.
Hitler made the fatal miscalculation of ceasing to give the conquest of Britain priority;
already during the Battle of Britain he was beginning to give his attention to preparing for
the following year’s invasion of Russia.
With the German failure to destroy the RAF and once the weather had deteriorated an
invasion in 1940 was no longer possible. By 1941 Germany was concentrating on
Operation Barbarossa (the invasion of Russia). In the winter of 1940/41 Germany
continued to bomb London and other British industrial cities (the Blitz), this killed civilians
and disrupted industrial production but it did not achieve air superiority over Fighter
Command or further Germany’s ability to invade. This bombing took place at night when
the British Spitfires & Hurricanes could not engage the bombers; the RAF fighters
therefore grew in numbers and were seldom destroyed by the Germans.