Battle of Britain in rare pictures, 1940

In the summer and fall of 1940, German and British air forces clashed in the skies over the United Kingdom, locked in the largest continuous bombing campaign to date.

The Luftwaffe's victory in the aerial combat would have exposed Great Britain to an invasion by German forces, which at the time were in control of French ports just a few miles from the English Channel.

In this event, the battle was won by Royal Air Force (RAF) Fighter Command, whose victory not only blocked the possibility of an invasion, but conditions for the survival of Great Britain, the extension of the war, and eventual defeat. Made it too. of Nazi Germany.

On July 16, 1940, Hitler issued an order of preparation and, if necessary, ordered the execution of the plan for the invasion of Great Britain. But an amphibious attack on Britain would be possible only if Germany could establish air control in the war zone, given Britain's large navy.

To this end, the head of the Luftwaffe, Göring, issued the "Eagle Day" directive on 2 August, devising a plan of attack in which some major blows from the air were to destroy British air power and therefore the destruction of amphibious forces. opened the way for The invasion, dubbed the operation "Sea Lion".

The armies engaged in the war were relatively small. The British drove about 600 frontline fighters to defend the country. The Germans provided about 1,300 bombers and dive bombers, and about 900 single-engined and 300 twin-engined fighters.

These were located in an arc around England from Norway to the Cherbourg Peninsula in northern coastal France. The Battle of Britain began in June and July 1940, the climax of August and September, and then—the so-called Blitz—in the winter of 1940–41.

In the campaign, the Luftwaffe had no systematic or coherent action plan: at times it tried to establish a blockade by the destruction of British shipping and ports; Sometimes, to destroy Britain's combat command by war and by bombing ground installations; and sometimes, to achieve direct strategic results by attacks on London and other populated centers of industrial or political importance.

The British, on the other hand, had prepared themselves for the kind of fighting that actually took place. Their radar early warning, the most advanced and most actively adapted system in the world, gave Fighter Command sufficient notice as to where and when to direct its combat forces to repel German bombing raids. In addition, the Spitfire, although still in short supply, was unsurpassed as an interceptor by any fighter in any other Air Force.

The British not only fought unusual for them with the advantage of superior equipment and undivided objective, but also fought against an enemy divided in object and condemned by circumstances and lack of forethought to fight strategic losses.

German bombers lacked the bomb-load capability to deliver a permanently destructive strike and proved to be easily vulnerable to Spitfires and storms, even in broad daylight.

In addition, Britain's radar largely prevented them from exploiting the element of surprise. German dive bombers were even more vulnerable to being shot down by British fighters, and long-range fighter cover was only partially available from German fighters because the latter were operating at the limit of their flight range.

German airstrikes began on ports and airfields along the English Channel, where convoys were bombed and engaged in aerial combat. In June and July 1940, as the Germans gradually redeployed their forces, aerial warfare moved inland into Britain's interior.

The intense phase began on 8 August when the Germans launched bombing raids on about 1,500 aircraft a day and directed them against British combat airfields and radar stations.

In four actions, on 8, 11, 12, and 13 August, the Germans lost 145 aircraft against a British loss of 88. By the end of August the Germans had lost over 600 aircraft, the RAF only 260, but the RAF was losing. Very high rate fighters and experienced pilots were badly needed, and its effectiveness was further hampered by bombing damage on radar stations.

In early September, the British retaliated by launching an unexpected bombing raid on Berlin, which enraged Hitler so much that he ordered the Luftwaffe to move its attacks from fighter command installations to London and other cities.

To avoid deadly RAF fighters, the Luftwaffe shifted almost entirely to night raids on Britain's industrial centers. The "blitz", as the night raids came to be called, caused many deaths and great hardships for the civilian population, but it contributed little to the main objective of the air raid - to dominate the skies before the invasion of England.

On 3 September the date of the invasion was postponed to 21 September, and then on 19 September, Hitler ordered the shipping collected for Operation Sea Lion to be dispersed. British fighters were simply killing German bombers faster than German industry could produce them.

Thus the Battle of Britain was won and Hitler's invasion of England was postponed indefinitely. The British lost over 900 fighters but shot down about 1,700 German aircraft.

During the following winter, the Luftwaffe maintained a bombardment offensive, carrying out night-bombing attacks on major British cities. By February 1941 the offensive had subsided, but a revival occurred in March and April, and about 10,000 sorties were carried out, with heavy attacks on London. After this German strategic air operations over England dried up.

The Battle of Britain marked the first major defeat of Hitler's military forces, with air superiority seen as the key to victory. Pre-war theories exaggerated fears of strategic bombing, and British public opinion was buoyed by the test.

For the RAF, Fighter Command had achieved a major victory in successfully carrying out Sir Thomas Inskipp's 1937 air policy, which prevented the Germans from pulling Britain out of the war.

Churchill concluded his famous 18 June 'Battle of Britain' speech by referring to the pilots and aircrews fighting the war in the House of Commons: "...they had their best hour.

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