July 1 to October 30th 1940 Battle of Britain

Air Observor in London
The Germans attempted to subdue Great Britain by utilizing air attacks. Germany attacked all major cities and military installations. British preparedness, combined with the valor of its pilots and a new weapon called "radar," forced the Germans to pay a heavy price for their bombing. By the end of October, when the winter weather made the threat of invasion unlikely, the Germans had lost 1,268 planes, compared to 832 British planes lost.


With France defeated Germany turned it attention to England, which Hitler was hoping would sue for peace. An invasion of Britain was a difficult task requiring both control of the sea and the air, neither of which Germany had. Despite , Hitler ordered preparation for that invasion to begin under code name Operation Sealion. In the meantime on July 16th, 1940 he issued Fuhrer Directive (No. 16). That order called on the Luftwaffe to gain control of the air, destroy all naval vessels in the potential landing areas, destroy coastal defenses and annihilate the reserves behind the lines. The Battle of Britain was ready to begin.
Each side had advantages. The British started with 1,900 aircraft and the Germans with 2,550 planes. The Germans had more pilots, but the British were producing new aircraft faster than the Germans. The British had another very important advantage radar stations along the channel coast, which were tied to a very effective command and control structure that allowed the British airforce to vector aircraft to meet the incoming German planes. Finally the German planes had to fly 100 mile to reach their target, the British just had to rise to fighting altitude, and if a British pilot had to bail he could be back in the cockpit the next day, while the German would be a prisoner of war.

The first stage of the battle had already begun on July 10 with attacks on the coast towns of Weymouth, Falmouth, Portsmouth and Dover. This first stage lasted until July 30th and during the period 180 German aircraft were shot down as opposed to the loss of 70 British fighters. One hundred of the German planes shot down were bombers so the exchange ratio between the two sides of fighter planes was about equal . The Germans managed to sink 40,000 tons of shipping but no significant naval vessels.

On August 1st, Hitler ordered a change of direction, the new aim was to destroy the RAF. Initially the RAF seemed to have the upper hand. On August 13th the first day of the engagement the RAF lost 13 planes defending a Spitfire factory while the Germans lost 45. Slowly however, the relentless German attacks were destroying both radar stations, damaging factories and airfield.

The slow gains that the Luftwaffe was making was not fast enough for Hitler, his window to attack England would soon close- so he ordered that attacks move to London in the hope of terrorizing the British into surrender. The British capital was well defended with 1500 barrage balloons, 2,000 anti aircraft guns and almost all of the British fighter force prepared to scramble to its defense. For ten days the Germans attacked. On September 15th when the largest force yet 200 German bombers headed for London. Fighter command vectored fighters from other part of England met the German bombers the east of London. They shot down 60 of the bombers before they could even reach the area of London. It became clear that the attacks would not achieve their goal of breaking the British. On September 17th Hitler announced the postponement of Sealion. Daylight raids continued through September and after that the Luftwaffe turned to much less accurate nighttime bombing. That bombing was terrifying for the inhabitants and was what was considered the classic Blitz of London, however, it was not an effective weapon of war. The Battle of Britain had been won by 2,500 British and foreign airman. Churchill’s remark that never had so many owed so much to so few was accurate. In total the RAF fighter command had lost 832 fighter while the Luftwaffe lost 668 fighter, but the Luftwaffe lost an additional 600 bombers.