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Heinkel He 111s over Channel

A group of Heinkel He 111s approaching Britain.

The Battle of Britain was a major engagement between the German Luftwaffe and British RAF in 1940.[N 1] It was supposed to be a precedent to a larger invasion of Britain that never took place due to the failure of the Luftwaffe. However, Britain had been severely damaged and repairs would not be finished until the late 1950s.[2]

History

Prelude

Responding to the rearmament of Germany, the British cabinet approved a switch of emphasis in aircraft production on 22 December 1937, favoring fighters over bombers, overruling the nation's air experts. This dramatic change was brought about by the Minister for defence co-ordination, Sir Thomas Inskip, who argued that the role of the Royal Air Force was not to deliver a knockout blow against Germany, but to prevent the Luftwaffe from delivering a knockout blow against Britain. This decision ultimately led to Britain's victory in the Battle of Britain.[3]

The Build up (July 10th - August 7th)

On 14 July, the British government announced that, because Germany were evidently using Red Cross seaplanes for coastal reconnaissance, these aircraft would no longer be immune from attack. This was most likely based on examination of the He 59 which beached near Deal after being shot down, along with it's Bf 109 escort, by Spitfires three days earlier.[4]

1st Phase (August 8th - August 18th)[N 2]

On 8 August Flight Lieutenant James B Nicholson attacked a German squadron over the New Forest, while his own aircraft was in flames. Nicholson was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross, the only one awarded during the Battle.[5]

The Luftwaffe Quartermaster General's record for 17 August showed that front line units possessed 3,157 serviceable aircraft, shared between 5 Luftflotten, including the newly created Luftflotte 5 controlling operations in Denmark and Norway.[6]

2nd Phase (August 19th - September 5th)[N 3]

This phase began with Hermann Goering conferring with his Air Corps and Geschwader commanders, informing them that they had reached a decisive period of the air war against Britain, while repeating his order of 15 August that priority should be placed against attacks on British fighters.[7]

3rd Phase (September 6th to October 5th)[N 4]

The beginning of this phase saw the issuing of an Operations Order containing a statement of intention, leading to the high intensity raids that followed.[8]

4th Phase (October 6th - October 31st)[N 5]

It was during this phase that the Corpo Aereo Italiano began operating against England, with 17 BR-20M bombers carried out an air raid against Ramsgate on the 24th of October.[9]

By the end of this phase, the RAF claimed to have destroyed 2,698 aircraft over the course of the battle, with the Luftwaffe claiming the destruction of 3,058.[N 6]

Immediate Aftermath (November 1st, 1940 - February 8th, 1941)[N 7]

This phase was characterised by the night-time raids that made up The Blitz.

It was during this phase that the Corpo Aereo Italiano ended it's cross Channel operations, with 2 BR-20M bombers attacking Ipswich on the 2nd of January, 1941.[N 8]

References

Notes

  1. There are differing opinions regarding the actual dates of the Battle. British historians consider the Battle to have started on July 10th and ended on October 31st. According to German historians, the battle opened on August 8th and closed on May 11th 1941, following a 500 bomber raid against London carried out as part of The Blitz.[1]
  2. Known to German historians as Beginning of the All-Out Onslaught.[1]
  3. Known to German historians as Severest Fighter Combats, and considered by them to have ended on September 6th.[1]
  4. Known to German historians as The Air Battle at it's Height, and considered by them to have started on September 7th.[1]
  5. Known to German historians as Fighters as Bombers.[1]
  6. Post war investigation showed that the RAF had actually lost 915 aircraft, while the Luftwaffe had lost 1,733.[10]
  7. Known to German historians as The End of the Air Battle, and considered by them to be a 5th phase of the Battle.[1]
  8. Another 2 bombers sent on the raid were unable to participate due to technical problems.[11]

Sources

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Townsend Bickers, Richard. The Battle of Britain - 50th Anniversary. Salamander Books. 1990. CN 1338 Page 170
  2. TIME WW2 book series
  3. Goralski, Robert. World War II Almanac 1931-1945. Hamish Hamilton Ltd. 1981. ISBN 0 241 10573 0 Page 60
  4. Townsend Bickers, Richard. Page 171
  5. Goralski, Robert. Page 128
  6. Price, Alfred. The Luftwaffe Data Book. Greenhill Books. 1997. ISBN 1 85367 293 9 Page 30
  7. Townsend Bickers, Richard. Page 178
  8. Townsend Bickers, Richard. Page 180
  9. Neulen, Hans Werner. In the Skies of Europe - Air Forces allied to the Luftwaffe 1939-1945. The Crowood Press. 2000. ISBN 1-86126-326-0 Page 34
  10. Townsend Bickers, Richard. Page 185
  11. Neulen, Hans Werner. Page 35

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