Oct
22

The Battle of Britain

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The summer of 1940 saw World War II reach the English skies as the Royal Air Force bravely stand up to the onslaught of Hitler’s Luftwaffe. Immediately following a period of time identified as the ‘Phoney War’, Hitler had ordered his army to invade some other European nations and there was little resistance in Belgium, Netherlands and France.

Operation Dynamo had seen close to 300,000 men of the BEF brought to safety by a flotilla of ships that made crossing between England to Dunkirk over a period of days. Now Hitler had his sights on England. The white cliffs of Dover were clearly in sight as the German High Command gazed across the English Channel from Calais.

However, until such time as the skies of England were under German command, Hitler would not authorise Operation Sealion – the invasion of Great Britain. With America being unwilling to participate in the war at this time and her Allies overcome, UK would need to face the Germans alone.

Would Britian hold on until the autumn when the weather would not allow the Germans from crossing the Channel? British hopes lay in the hands of the fearless pilots of the RAF, “The Few” as Churchill later referred to them. It had not been only British airmen in the RAF, the Commonwealth was represented with pilots from quite a few colonial outposts such as South Africa and Rhodesia also with Poles and even a handful of Americans.

Hitler directed the Luftwaffe over to blast United Kingdom into submission but yet crucially, their fighter escorts only had the fuel for a few minutes battle before they would have to go back home leaving the bombers unprotected. For the very first time, the Luftwaffe were up against stiff resistance and there was to be no repeat of their swift victories on the Continent. The British airfields in the south east were taking a hammering till one night in August 1940, a German plane got lost and dumped its bombs over London before heading home. In retaliation, the Royal Air Force launched a raid on Berlin.

Hitler was furious and directed the Luftwaffe to attack London rather than the Royal Air Force airfields. This was a major turning point as it afforded the Royal Air Force some much called for respite. The German Air Force was not able to get the initiative at any point and in mid September, Hitler indefinitely postponed Operation Sealion. The threat of invasion was over and Churchill spoke of the contribution of Fighter Command in a widely recognized speech “Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few”.

The foremost fighter ace was Sgt Frantisek from the Czech Republic with a score of 17 kills. He piloted a Hawker Hurricane which was the true workhorse of Fighter Command but everyone remembers the iconic Spitfire. Sgt Frantisek was killed in October 1940.

The Battle of Britain was the first occasion the Germans had experienced a miltary defeat in World War II.

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