When Was The Battle Of Britain?
When was the Battle of Britain? The dates vary according to the academics. Officially, the Battle of Britain began on 10th July 1940 and lasted until 31st October 1940. These dates represent the British perspective for the most intense daylight bombing. German historians differentiate from this. They date it from the middle of August 1940 through to the end of June 1941. At this time, the German bombers withdrew to prepare for operation Barbarossa and the Blitz ended. Let us look at the timelines.
10th July 1940 (phase one)
On the 18th June 1940, Winston Churchill spoke the following words to Parliament. ‘…the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin.’ The Luftwaffe had two objectives. The first, to disable Britain by ramping up attacks on British ports and ships. The second, to eliminate the RAF in the air and on the ground.
Significant dates of the German forces achieving stage one of their objectives are as follows. On 4thJuly the Luftwaffe sank four freighters and damaged three others in the Channel. As a result, the Channel was closed to merchant ships wanting to cross the Atlantic. The 10th July saw a major attack by the Luftwaffe, 120 German bombers and fighters struck a British convoy in that very Channel, while 70 more bombers attacked dockyard installations in South Wales. This marked the start of the Battle of Britain.
During the initial stages of the Battle, the RAF successfully brought down and damaged more enemy aircraft than they lost. Despite being significantly outnumbered, the RAF had superior radar, making a sneak attack by the Germans unlikely. Britain also has superior aircraft. The Supermarine Spitfire could turn tighter than the German ME109s. This helped the pilots to elude pursuers.
17th July – 12th August (phase two)
On 16th July 1940, Adolf Hitler issued his War Directive No. 16. The RAF museum website gives an excellent breakdown of the phases of the Battle of Britain and states this is when the frequency of attacks by the Luftwaffe ramped up. The Germans increased attacks to now include more inland raids. This tactic aimed to wear the RAF down. Night-time bombing campaigns increased, particularly on the West Midlands, East Coast and RAF facilities. Both sides received heavy losses.
The Hawker Hurricane’s (more numerous than the Spitfire’s) attributed to a lot of the German losses. The RAF preferred tactic involved the Hurricane’s being deployed against formations of bombers, whilst the Spitfires fought against the escorts. Clearly Britain needed a collective ‘stiff upper lip’. Shortages in equipment, especially aluminium, led to the government asking for donations of household goods. ‘We will turn your pots and pans into Spitfires and Hurricanes’, and they did! Pilot fatigue and a shortage of ground crew had affected the RAF, but gradually numbers increased.
13th August – 6th September (phase three)
This period in the Battle saw a significant damage to the southern bases. Despite this, Fighter Command continued to succeed in some significant air battles. 15th August became known as ‘The Greatest Day’. The Germans mounted its largest number of sorties in the campaign. Assuming RAF efforts to be concentrated in the south, the Luftwaffe attacked the North East of England. However, out of 115 bombers and 35 fighters sent, Fighter Command destroyed 75 planes and damaged many others beyond repair.
The 18th August recorded massive losses on both sides however, duped ‘The Hardest Day’. Poor weather conditions the following week gave both sides some time to review their situation. Despite unexpected losses the Luftwaffe would not quit, they continued their assault against the RAF. By the beginning of September however, they decided to turn their attentions to the suburbs of London.
7th September – 2nd October (phase four)
On 3rd September 1940, Herman Göering, the commander of the Luftwaffe. ‘My fellow commanders, we are now on the brink of victory. Our intelligence has …now informed us that the RAF is now down to less than a hundred fighter aircraft, the airfields protecting London are out of action because of the superb and accurate bombing of our bomber force……The next target must be London itself.’
He was right. August’s onslaught reduced RAF numbers significantly. At the beginning of August an average squadron included 26 pilots, by the end of this vicious period, numbers averaged 16 pilots per squadron. Between 24th August to 6th September alone, Fighter Command recorded 295 fighter aircraft lost and 171 severely damaged. Compare this to just 269 new and repaired Hurricanes and Spitfires being created.
Seizing the opportunity and hoping to further deplete the RAF into submission, Germany began its assault on London. Relentless bombing of the capital ensued but despite the odds being against them Fighter Command kept defending the skies. Worsening weather at the beginning of October gave the Luftwaffe an opportunity to withdraw and review its tactics once again.
3rd October – 31st October (phase five)
The Luftwaffe scaled back its daytime attacks and concentrated on more single-engine fighter bomber raids. Shorter days and more difficult weather conditions meant raids on clear days of up to 100 aircraft. The BF 109s used by the German forces had an advantage over the Hurricane as it could reach altitudes of over 20,000 feet. The Spitfires could achieve this too however, so tactics changed to have Spitfires flying to monitor for invasion, once spotted, more Spitfires from the ground joined them for the battle.
The Luftwaffe changed tactic once more and began a campaign of bombing Britain into submission, targeting civilians and infrastructure rather than just aiming to defeat the RAF. The Battle of Britain came to an end, but the Blitz was just beginning.
When was the Battle of Britain? It was during a short three- and half-month period, the summer and autumn of 1940. A short period of time with significant impact on our history. The U.K lost 1065 aircraft and 544 young pilots. Nearly another 1000 from other commands also lost their lives. Sir Winston Churchill’s famous speech sums it up perfectly, ‘Never was so much owed by so many to so few’. It was the Battle that saved Britain from German Invasion.
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