Wikijunior:World War II/Battle of Britain
The Battle of Britain
The Battle of Britain was an air battle fought between Great Britain and Germany. It was fought mostly over the south of England although other areas of Britain were occasionally attacked. The main battle started in July 1940 and ended on 31 October 1940, although fighting went on for many more months.
Before the battle
After France was defeated by Germany in 1940, Germany and her allies had beaten all their enemies in mainland Europe. The United Kingdom was the only enemy country left unbeaten. Many of the beaten nations in Europe like Poland and Norway formed governments outside their own country in England. They also had military units in England as well as resistance movements in their own countries. People from around the "free world" came to join the Royal Air Force and fight in the battle including Poles, New Zealanders, Canadians, Czechoslovakians, Belgians, Australians, South Africans, French and Irish people. There were also people from the United States of America, Jamaica, Palestine, Southern Rhodesia and Lithuania.
Plans to attack Britain
With the battle for France over, Germany began to get ready to invade the island of Britain. Germany code-named the attack “Operation Sealion”. Most of the British Army's heavy weapons and supplies had been lost when it evacuated from Dunkirk, so the army was fairly weak. But the Royal Navy was still much stronger than the German Navy (“Kriegsmarine”) and could have destroyed any invasion fleet sent across the English Channel. However, very few Royal Navy ships were based near the likely invasion routes as the admirals were afraid they would be sunk by German air attack. The German Navy though refused to attack unless the RAF had been defeated. Herman Goering, the head of the German air force, told Hitler his men could defeat the RAF easily.
The mood in Britain was close to despair following the failure to defend France. The British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, made the first of his memorable speeches in which he tried to prepare the British for the battle he knew would soon start...
- "I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin... Upon it depends our own British life... Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war... Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, "This was their finest hour."
The actual battle
The Battle of Britain began with German air raids on radar stations and airfields in the south of England. The Germans tried to gain air superiority by destroying the RAF using their air force, the Luftwaffe, commanded by the Hermann Goering. Planes from both sides battled in the skies over land and sea.
A German plane accidentally dropped bombs on London, and Britain responded by bombing Berlin. Adolf Hitler was furious and ordered Germany to bomb English cities, mainly London, instead of airfields. The bombing of London was known as "The Blitz". Germany sustained heavy losses with their Dornier and Heinkel bombers being shot down by RAF Spitfire and Hurricane fighter planes. By stopping their attacks on air fields and attacking London instead the Germans handed the advantage to the RAF. London was too far away for German fighters to spend more than 10 minutes in battle meaning the RAF fighters could make their attacks against the more vulnerable bombers with much less risk of being shot down.
In June 1941, the Germans switched their attention to the east, attacking the Soviet Union, which included Russia, and Goering called off the entire operation to invade Britain. During the Blitz 43,000 British civilians were killed, and one million were injured.
During the height of the battle, when the hopes of people for victory were fading, Winston Churchill made another speech that has been remembered ever since:
- "The gratitude of every home in our Island... goes out to the British airmen who... are turning the tide of the World War by their prowess and by their devotion. Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few."
Result of the battle
The Battle of Britain was a British victory. The Germans had been defeated for the first time since the beginning of the war. The battle also changed the opinion of people in the United States of America, which was not officially involved in the war at the time. During the battle people in the USA had believed that Britain would be defeated. After the battle, they became convinced that Britain would survive and should be supported in every possible way. This led eventually to the USA joining the war against the Germans and their allies.