The Battle of Britain
Why so much really was owed to ‘The Few’ as war came to the skies of England
The summer of 1940 changed the course of the Second World War. The Nazi war machine had ploughed through Europe at an alarming speed, forcing the Allies into a miraculous evacuation of Northern France in May. By July, Hitler had his sights set firmly on the UK; but in order to get troops marching through the streets he needed to defeat the Royal Air Force.
An invasion force, code-named Operation Sea Lion, was on standby across the coast of France, ready to make the short journey over to England by sea and air once the Luftwaffe had seen off the RAF. Despite the clear advantage in aircraft and pilots of the Luftwaffe, the invasion would never take place.
It was known as the Battle of Britain, but it was pilots from across the world who fought and died for the UK. Almost 3,000 RAF pilots took part in missions during the battle, with over 500 of these being foreign pilots from 13 nations. A number of these pilots came from already Nazi occupied nations, such as Poland, to do their part for the Allied war effort. Out of this number, 544 RAF pilots died during the battle. The importance of their sacrifice was not lost on the UK, and it is important that this remains the case.
Luftwaffe bombing missions were often ruthless and relentless. Waves of bombers drop thousands of tons of explosives on airfields, ports and, eventually, towns and cities in the UK. Despite the horrendous loss of life, the Nazis failed in their objective of forcing a British surrender.
Failing to beat the RAF and losing the battle to rule the skies over England was Germany's’ first genuine defeat of the war. It was, arguably, the biggest turning point. If RAF airfields had been destroyed, it would have left the UK almost completely exposed. A mass invasion force would have landed in southern England and by the end of 1940 there could well have been brutal fighting on the streets. If Germany reached this point, then surely the course and outcome of the war would have been very different.
It is important to take this into account when assessing the importance of the RAF’s success in the Battle of Britain. The Nazis sat on the other side of the English channel, ready to regroup, but assessing a defeat to a force far smaller than their own. The RAF had held back the tide, whilst at the same time restoring hope following the evacuation from France earlier in the year.
The heroic actions of the RAF, from pilots to ground crew, turned the tide in the war. Britain would be saved the horrors of Nazi occupation, but it would be another three and a half years of war before allied troops would step foot in mainland Europe.
The Battle of Britain would not be the last time enemy aircraft occupied the skies of the UK, but it was a three month period in which saw the tide of the war change.
Both Britain and Germany exchanged heavy bombing missions over civilian and military targets, changing the way war was fought forever, but the invasion which would have followed a German victory in the Battle of Britain would have cost many more lives and changed the very essence of life on Earth.
‘The Few’ who represented nations and religions from across the globe can never be forgotten. They fought and died to end fascism and, although it still rears its ugly head, they showed that it can be oppressed and that the longest of odds can be overcome.