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Historically Speaking: The Battle of Britain

Editors note: This is a reprint from April 2015

The One Battle For Survival That Saved the Free World

by Tom Morrow

Arguably, the “Battle of Britain,” which took place in the summer and fall of 1940, saved the free world from Nazi tyranny.

After Adolf Hitler’s lighting success in capturing most of Western Europe using the German army’s “Blitzkreig” (lightning warfare) tactics, only Great Britain remained to be harnessed in the Nazi yolk of dictatorship. But all that stood in the way of German domination of England, Scotland, and Wales was the English Channel and the world’s most powerful flotilla: Britain’s Royal Navy.

At that time, German Luftwaffe (air force) was the most powerful in the world with more than 2,500 fighters and bombers; Britain’s Royal Air Force numbered less than 800 fighters and bombers. Probably around 600 usable aircraft was a more realistic number. Hitler decided that bombing British airfields and demolishing the RAF would be a prelude to a Channel crossing and land invasion from the French coast some 25 miles away.

Luftwaffe leader and Hitler’s No. 2, Herrman Goering, underestimated the tenacity of the British people’s will to resist and the bravado of RAF pilots. In order to equalize the numbers, British pilots would have to shoot down invading German planes on a four-to-one ratio.

Hitler was confidant his bombers could overwhelm the British with brute force, knocking out coastal defenses and shipping, eventually giving the Germans air control over the whole of southern England.

When the initial mission failed to destroy the RAF, Hitler launched a night-time bombing campaign, or as the British called it, “Blitz,” of London. So confident Goering was of his air force’s superiority, he bragged to Hitler that if any British bombs ever fell on Berlin, he mockingly told the Nazi leader that he could call the rotund air marshall, “Meyer,” (a Jewish name considered by the Nazis to be a supreme insult). When the first RAF bombs rained down on Berlin, no one knows what Hitler said to Goering, but it’s a good bet it wasn’t pleasant.

Hitler under estimated the stamina of the British people and the skill of RAF pilots and their aircraft. While the Me-109 fighter was a fast and agile aircraft, the RAF “Spitfire” was a superior weapon.

The Brits united under Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s leadership to defend their nation at all costs. They refused to give up, even as their cities were repeatedly bombed. The British had an advantage over the Germans: radar, which they invented. The Brits knew exactly when the Luftwaffe was coming, in what strength and at what altitude. RAF fighters, “Spitfires” and “Hurricanes,” kept German air raids at bay, but at great cost to the RAF. British and German aircraft factories were turning out planes as fast as possible to keep up with the daily destruction. Still, when the Battle of Britain ended, the British had lost some 900 aircraft to the Germans’ 2,300 planes. The RAF had nearly equaled their needed “four-to-one” combat ratio.

Though the United States had yet to enter the war, President Roosevelt persuaded Congress to approve the “Lend-Lease” agreement, which sent ships, planes, guns, ammo, and desperately-needed food and medical supplies to the beleaguered British people. Historians generally agree that if the British nation had not stopped the Nazi aggression, an attack on North America would have been imminent. That one air battle might very well have preserved our democratic way of life instead of living under a dictatorship.

One footnote to history – Goering asked his top fighter ace what he needed to defeat the British? Flight leader and fighter ace Adolf Galland replied: “Give me a squadron of Spitfires.” Goering was not amused.


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