Backdrop of World War II
World War 2 lasted from 1939 to 1945 and was fought between the Allies (Great Britain, the United States and the Soviet Union) and the Axis (Germany, Japan and Italy). By 1940, German forces had conquered much of Europe and would soon conquer France on June 22, 1940. With most of Central Europe under German control, Great Britain became very nervous due to Germany's powerful and quick military conquests.
Rather than issue an invasion, Adolf Hitler decided that air superiority would be the first step in conquering Britain. He would use his air forces called the Luftwaffe to attack Britain's Royal Air Force (RAF) and cripple these forces enough to begin invading parts of Great Britain. With this plan, the Battle of Britain began in the month of July 1940 and would not conclude until October 1940.
There were four significant phases that took place during World War 2's Battle of Britain during 1940:
1. July 10th to August 7th
The first phase involved German forces scouting the English Channel with its air forces. During this time, the Luftwaffe began attacking British trade ships as well as radar posts that dotted the landscape of southern England. Although these raids were light, the Luftwaffe was trying to find weaknesses in the British landscape.
2. August 8th to September 6th
The next step involved German forces attempting to severely cripple the "11 Group" RAF forces. This involved continuous raids that crippled the RAF forces; however, the RAF still hung on by defending their positions. Although the RAF became stretched due to limited supplies and many casualties, they still held their ground and would often use civilian airfields as a last resort.
German forces also engaged in night air raids in which they would bomb several areas. By accident, German forces bombed parts of London, which was against direct orders of Hitler. From these bombings, the English people became resolved to continue fighting and retaliated by bombing Berlin later in the war.
3. September 7th to October 5th
After Britain bombed Berlin, Hitler changed his tactics from destroying the RAF to targeting Britain's industry. If the Germans could hinder British production of airplanes, the Germans believed that could quickly end the conflict. This proved to be a grave mistake as it allowed the 11 Group to resupply and repair their bases as well as their planes.
In addition, Germany continued night raids and would often send large forces of bombers to attack production centers as well as bomb London. The RAF was able to confront these bombers in large numbers and inflicted heavy casualties to Luftwaffe forces. Probably the most decisive day during this time was September 15th in which British forces would secure a huge victory against German forces.
4. October 6th to October 31st
Luftwaffe forces continued night air raids by bombing major cities such as London and inflicted significant damage. During this time, British forces had recently equipped their fighters with radar to deal with these night raids and were successful in destroying many bombers. Eventually, German forces realized that the Battle of Britain could not be won and withdrew by October 31, 1940.
Turning Point: September 15th, 1940
Probably the most famous day that took place during World War 2's Battle of Britain was September 15th, 1940. This occurred during
the third phase of the battle and was known as the Battle of Britain Day. During this time, the Luftwaffe decided to send 250 bombers to attack London and disrupt production levels as well as intimidate British forces.
The 11 Group was responsible for attacking the formations of German bombers and for the most part were very successful. Even though German bombers dropped around half of their bomb loads, the 11 Group was able to scatter the formation allowing the bombers to be less successful in their bombing runs. This important tactic saved London from potentially severe damage from German bombers.
By the end of the day, RAF forces claimed 61 bomber kills and only lost 31 planes. This proved to be the most decisive day in the war and German forces decided to switch to nightly bombing raids that would continue until October 31st, 1940. With the Battle of Britain won, Great Britain continued to fight in World War 2 until the conflict ended in 1945.
- British Broadcasting Company. "Battle of Britain Day." https://www.bbc.co.uk/history/events/battle_of_britain_day
- Imperial War Museum. "The Battle of Britain." https://www.iwm.org.uk/upload/package/27/battleofbritain/intro.htm
- Imperial War Museum. "Spitfires Camera Gun Film." https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:LondonBombedWWII_full.jpg. Public Domain.
- Imperial War Museum. "Heinkel He 111 during the Battle of Britain." https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Heinkel_He_111_during_the_Battle_of_Britain.jpg. Public Domain
- National Archives and Records Administration. "Battle of Britain Air Observer." https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Battle_of_britain_air_observer.jpg. Public Domain.
- U.S. Government. "London Bombed in WWII." https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:LondonBombedWWII_full.jpg. Public Domain.
This post is part of the series: Major World War II Battles
- How the Allies Invaded Normandy During World War II
- Dogfights in the Skies: World War 2's Battle of Britain