The Battle of Britain

The Battle of Britain

The Battle of Britain was Germany's attempt to gain air supremacy over the English Channel and southeastern England, as a necessary step towards the invasion of the British Isles. The Battle (which was actually a campaign) took place between 10 July and 31 October 1940.

The German operational plan for the attack on Britain –" Operation Sea lion" began to materialize immediately after the fall of France in mid-June. For the purpose of the invasion, the Germans concentrated an army of about 160,000 soldiers, more than 2,000 landing barges and 3 air fleets (luftfloten) of 2,185 aircraft to gain and maintain aerial supremacy over the battlefield.

The Battle of Britain was composed of five stages:

The preliminary stage: familiarization and recognition of the opposing forces- from the fall of France to July 10, 1940
The first stage: an attack on the British navy and the shipping in the Channel- from 10 July to 12 August 1940
The second stage: attack on advanced airfields and radar installations - August 12-18
The third stage: The offensive focuses on No. 11 Fighter Squadron - August 24 - September 6, 1940.
The final stage: The London Blitz - September 7 - October 31, 1940

The preliminary stage: familiarization and recognition of opposing forces from the fall of France to July 10, 1940.
At this stage the fighting in France still continued. The Germans employed 5-10 % of their air power to study the terrain, navigation and gain combat experience against the British Air Force. The British Air Force Command also gained experience at this stage in dealing with the German Air Force.

Stage A: Attack on the British Navy and shipping in the Channel from 10 July to 12 August 1940.
At this stage, the Germans' aim was to assist their fleet in achieving maritime superiority in the prospective crossing zone and to stretch the resources of Air Force Command by destroying as many British planes as possible. The Germans did not succeed in this due to the faulty assessment of the role of the radar and the control system, which enabled the British to allocate appropriate forces with the power required. This period enabled the British to arrive at necessary conclusions, and thereby to improve their aircraft deployment, and control system.

Stage B : Attack on the advanced airfields and radar installations - August 12-18, 1940
At this stage, the German air force attacked radar installations and advanced airfields systematically. The attacks succeeded in creating a gap in the British radar coverage (which was not exploited by the Germans). On August 13, "The Day of the Eagle", the German Air Force launched an all- out massive aerial offensive which however was badly coordinated and due to this German superiority was not felt. On the 15th of the month, the three German air fleets attacked and simultaneously stretched the resources of the British Air Force Command, but their 5th Air Force operating from Norway and the Netherlands over the center and north. of England (which was at the limits of the range of the aircraft) suffered such heavy losses that it was the first and last time it took part in the battle: On August 16, 17 and 18, The German air force launched massive attacks on southern England while continuing to erode British resources.
On August 18 so many attack planes, Junkers 87 –"Stukas" that they took no more part in the Battle of Britain.

Stage 3: The offensive focuses on No. 11 Fighter Squadron- August 24 - September 6, 1940.
At this stage, the Germans decided to concentrate efforts on southeast England while operating 1,000-1500 planes per day. It was a tremendous concentration of the strength of the 2nd and 3rd Air Fleets of Air Marshals Kesselring and Sperrle opposing and No 11 Squadron of Vice Air Marshal Keith Park, supported No. 12 Squadron of Leigh-Mallory. The concentration of this effort bore fruit, and at the beginning of September, the Fighter Command was on the verge of total collapse. It lost more pilots and planes than it could replace. However, at this moment, the Germans decided to transfer their efforts to bombing London in response to sporadic bombing of Berlin by the British Bomber Command. This mistaken judgment signified the turning point in the campaign and allowed British Fighter Command to recover.

Last Step: The London Blitz - September 7 - October 31, 1940.
At this stage, the Germans decided to weaken the British people's will to fight by heavy bombing of the capital. As noted, a change in the German attack policy allowed the British to recover and to oppose the German attack of September 15, with 16 fighter squadrons and with No. 11 Squadron alone shooting down 60 German planes.
The Battle of Britain ended the phase of the Blitzkrieg offensive which Hitler began a year earlier in the attack on Poland. This was the first significant victory over the German army, and mitigated the fear that Germany was invincible. Britain showed its full glory, and managed to maintain its freedom.
Churchill turned out to be a wise and talented leader; the Royal Air Force pilots proved to be brave fighters, the residents of London showed courage and endurance. The victory was only in the air, and therefore did not prevent the German invasion of Russia on June 22, 1941, but it encouraged all forces, including the Soviets, who later fought against the German invaders.
In this battle the Germans lost 1,389 aircraft (fighter planes and bombers) in comparison to 792 British fighter planes.

Causes for the failure of the German air force

1. A strategic mistake - the attacks did not focus on destroying the airfields and radar stations: these were spread across southern England and allowed the British planes to wait on the ground and to take off in time to reach an appropriate altitude to attack the incoming bombers. From September towns were attacked and not airfields and this permitted the restoration of the defense and warning systems that were about to collapse.

2. The "Ultra" machine enabled the interception of the German transmissions, deciphering their orders, and thus it was possible to wait for them at their objectives and with sufficient force.

3. The British Air Force in the Battle of Britain numbered 2,353 personnel. They were assisted by 544 non-British pilots, many excellent pilots, intelligent command, technological advantage (radar) and a sophisticated command and control system. As a result the Germans suffered heavy losses. The relation of aircraft downed regarding air crews the score was 1 to 6 and of the German aircraft shot down most were bombers

4. When their planes were hit many of the British pilots managed to parachute out and immediately returned to fight. The Germans, in the event of parachuting, were captured.

5. Pilots from across the British Empire (Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Kenya and South Africa) were trained immediately upon the start of the war in a special training program.

6. Pilots from occupied countries (Poland, France, Belgium, Czechoslovakia and Norway) were added to the British Air Force.

7. British morale was very high, and despite the heavy damage done to the British, they remained determined. Morale and determination also stemmed from the excellent leadership, especially that of Prime Minister Churchill.