Battle of Britain

The Battle of Britain, also known as the Air Battle for England (German: die Luftschlacht um England), was a military campaign of the Second World War, in which the Royal Air Force (RAF) and the Fleet Air Arm (FAA) of the Royal Navy defended the United Kingdom (UK) against large-scale attacks by Nazi Germany's air force, the Luftwaffe. It has been described as the first major military campaign fought entirely by air forces.[15] The British officially recognise the battle's duration as being from 10 July until 31 October 1940, which overlaps the period of large-scale night attacks known as the Blitz, that lasted from 7 September 1940 to 11 May 1941.[16] German historians do not accept this subdivision and regard the battle as a single campaign lasting from July 1940 to May 1941, including the Blitz.[17]

Battle of Britain
Part of the Western Front of the Second World War

An Observer Corps spotter scans the skies of London.
Date10 July – 31 October 1940[nb 1]
(3 months and 3 weeks)
Location
Result British victory
Belligerents
 United Kingdom
 Canada
 Germany
 Italy
Commanders and leaders
Hugh Dowding
Keith Park
Trafford Leigh-Mallory
Quintin Brand
Richard Saul
Lloyd Breadner
Hermann Göring
Albert Kesselring
Hugo Sperrle
Hans-Jürgen Stumpff
Rino Fougier[2]
Units involved
 Royal Air Force
Royal Navy
Fleet Air Arm
RCAF[nb 2]
Luftwaffe
Corpo Aereo Italiano
Strength
1,963 aircraft[nb 3] 2,550 aircraft[nb 4][nb 5]
Casualties and losses
1,542 killed[9]
422 wounded[10]
1,744 aircraft destroyed[nb 6]
2,585 killed
735 wounded
925 captured[12]
1,977 aircraft destroyed[13]
23,002 civilians killed
32,138 civilians wounded[14]

The primary objective of the German forces was to compel Britain to agree to a negotiated peace settlement. In July 1940, the air and sea blockade began, with the Luftwaffe mainly targeting coastal-shipping convoys, as well as ports and shipping centres such as Portsmouth. On 1 August, the Luftwaffe was directed to achieve air superiority over the RAF, with the aim of incapacitating RAF Fighter Command; 12 days later, it shifted the attacks to RAF airfields and infrastructure.[18] As the battle progressed, the Luftwaffe also targeted factories involved in aircraft production and strategic infrastructure. Eventually, it employed terror bombing on areas of political significance and on civilians.[nb 7]

The Germans had rapidly overwhelmed France and the Low Countries, leaving Britain to face the threat of invasion by sea. The German high command recognised the logistic difficulties of a seaborne attack,[20] particularly while the Royal Navy controlled the English Channel and the North Sea.[21][page needed] On 16 July, Hitler ordered the preparation of Operation Sea Lion as a potential amphibious and airborne assault on Britain, to follow once the Luftwaffe had air superiority over the Channel. In September, RAF Bomber Command night raids disrupted the German preparation of converted barges, and the Luftwaffe's failure to overwhelm the RAF forced Hitler to postpone and eventually cancel Operation Sea Lion. The Luftwaffe proved unable to sustain daylight raids, but their continued night-bombing operations on Britain became known as the Blitz.

Historian Stephen Bungay cited Germany's failure to destroy Britain's air defences to force an armistice (or even an outright surrender) as the first major German defeat in the Second World War and a crucial turning point in the conflict.[22] The Battle of Britain takes its name from the speech given by Prime Minister Winston Churchill to the House of Commons on 18 June: "What General Weygand called the 'Battle of France' is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin."[23]


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