Battle Of Britain Essay, Research Paper
The Battle of Britain: A Wave of Resistance Amid a Sea of Darkness
As the cold hand of death swept over the remnants of France, British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, orated on the imminent battle that would rage over his homeland and the foreboding struggle for survival that was now facing Britain:
The Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin? The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad sunlit uplands. But if we fail, the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ?This was their finest hour.?(Hough, Richard. The Triumph of R.A.F. Fighter Pilots. New York: The McMillan Company, 1971. 9-10).
The Battle of Britain was greatly affected by pre-war circumstances, separated into four phases and carried consequences that would affect the rest of World War II.
The outcome of the Battle of Britain was greatly dependant upon the circumstances, politics and preparedness of each opposing side for the impending battle that was to be fought. The map of Europe was awash in Nazi red as the German army moved closer towards its goal of domination:
Adolph Hitler had conquered almost all of Europe by astute diplomacy, threat or bloody invasion. Wherever he had attacked he had conquered. In May 1940, Germany invaded Belgium, Holland and France. There were short, savage battles. The Luftwaffe swept the skies clear of the enemy, German soldiers and tanks were triumphant. The United States of America, though sympathetic to Britain, was still neutral, and did not believe that the British nation could survive for long. At the headquarters of the British War Cabinet, Winston Churchill gazed at the map of Europe, and what he saw would have chilled the heart of a man with less courage and patriotism than he possessed. To the north and west of Britain was open sea. To the northeast, east and south, the whole of the European coastline – Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium and France ? was in German hands. (Hough 11-12).
To Britain, the outlook of the imminent siege of its homeland appeared hopeless. With the enemy surrounding the last stronghold of the Allies, the odds against Britain were extremely in the favor of the opposition:
?Britain not only faced an enemy ten times as powerful as she was on land and more than twice as powerful in the air. Invasion appeared imminent and inevitable. On July 16, Adolf Hitler issued a directive ?As England despite her hopeless military situation, still shows no sign of willingness to come to terms, I have decided to prepare, and if necessary carry, a landing operation against her. The aim of this operation is to eliminate the English motherland as a base from which war against Germany can be continued?? (Hough 13).
Like the mouth of a leviathan opening to consume a lone minnow on the open sea, the German forces faced an enemy that was not only surrounded on three sides, but one that still tasted the rancid bile of defeat at Dunkirk. The Germans planned an extensive assault on Britain that would attack them from the air and on the ground that was code named Operation Sealion. Len Deighton confirms that the plans for British invasion were not complete until three days after the confirmed start of the battle when he wrote, ??Not until 13 July did the German General Staff lay before Hitler their draft plans for ?Operation Sealion? the invasion of Britain?(Deighton, Len. Battle of Britain. New York: George Rainbird Limited, 1980. 79). The plan would allow for the German army to form into two army groups. Army Group A was to be divided into two subgroups. One would land on the right, near Ramsgate, while the other landed on the left. Army Group B would meanwhile undertake an independent mission that would blaze a path from Cherbourg to Lyme Bay. 120,000 men and 4,500 horses while being protected by 650 tanks would initially back the invading force in Army Group B. To allow for the protection from enemy flank attacks as they blazed forward, paratroopers were used to ensure proper rear coverage. The next wave would consist of three armored divisions, three motorized divisions, and nine infantry units, which were then to be followed by eight infantry divisions. After establishing a safe beachhead, Army Group B was to seize a large path of the eastern portion Great Britain and to cut a path that would forcibly cut off London from the rest of the nation (Deighton 80). Germany?s plan for separation and conquer all depended on the politics behind Britain?s preparedness for war and the control of the air.
Great Britain entered the war with varying levels of preparedness due to many factors. Winston Churchill, in a speech to Parliament, pointed out the susceptibility of Britain?s defense and the increasing risk Germany was posing on the world as they increased their military strength to Parliament in the years before the war in hopes of persuading them to see the need for an increase in defensive forces in Britain:
We are a rich and easy prey. No country is so vulnerable and no country would better repay pillage than our own?Yet when this government, this peace-loving government, makes this modest demand upon Parliament?and feel driven by this duty to ask for additional security, what is the attitude of the opposition? They have the same sort of look of pain and shocked surprise which came over the face of Mr. Bumble when Oliver Twist held out his little bowl and asked for more?If Germany continues this expansion and if we continue to carry out our scheme, then, sometime in 1936, Germany will be defiantly and substantially stronger in air than Great Britain?Once they have got that lead we may never be able to overtake them. (Mason, Travis K. Battle Over Britain. New York: Doubleday and Company Incorporated, 1969. 80).
Even though the imposing threat of Germany was clearly pointed out by Winston Churchill, an opposing critic, Mr. Clement Attlee followed the popular view that Britain should, ?deny the need for increased armament?(Mason 80). The then current administration, led by Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, also felt that an increase in defensive force was not the best path to choose:
Chamberlain believed that he could save Britain from war by acting as a diplomatic broker, maintaining peace by redressing grievances with negotiation and compromise. In the 1930?s this policy of appeasement was supported by the Chiefs of Staff. Chamberlain flew to a series of meetings with Hitler to broker a settlement, while at the same time coordinating policy with the French and keeping up the same pressure on the Czech President Benes to sacrifice land for peace. The product for these efforts was the Munich Agreement, which transferred the Sudetenland to Germany under international supervision and averted war. The Agreement was met with public euphoria in Britain, most of the press regarded it as a triumph for Chamberlain.( Donnelly, Mark. Britain in the Second World War. New York: Routledge, 1999. 6-7).
The policy of appeasement sought a compromise with Germany in hopes of pleasing Hitler. Britain, felt war had been averted and felt no need for an increase in armament. Though publicly accepted as the popular opinion before the war, Winston Churchill still defied public opinion and tried to persuade Parliament of the ever-increasing German risk before the war:
Germany is already well on her way to become, and must become, incomparably the most heavily-armed nation in the world and the nation most completely ready for war?.We cannot have any anxieties comparable to the anxiety caused by German rearmament. (Deighton 38).
Even as early as four years before the outbreak of World War II, British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, spoke to the House of Commons on why Britain was ill-prepared to meet the German threat:
I tell the House… frankly? neither I nor my advisers had any idea of the exact rate at which production could be, and actually was being, speeded up in Germany in the six months between November and now (May). We were completely misled on that subject?. There has been a great deal of criticism?. About the Air Ministry as though they were responsible for possibly an inadequate programme, for not having gone ahead faster, and for many other things?. I only want to repeat that whatever responsibilities of the Government as a whole, and we are all to blame. (Deighton 39).
After Churchill?s repeated warnings of Germany?s rearmament, it is apparent that there was a slight shift in policy toward the preparedness of Royal Air Force. The British government increased spending for the Royal Air force from17.5 million British pounds in 1934 to 73.5 million British pounds in 1938. The increase in spending alone could not prepare Britain for war without an appropriate plan of action. One man, Sir Thomas Inskip, proposed the switching of plans and showed that Winston Churchill was not the only one to recognize how lacking Britain was in terms of war forces:
Then in December 1937, Scheme J was suddenly checked. Sir Thomas Inskip, Minister for the Coordination of Defense, argues that it would cost too much and provided too few fighters. After prolonged argument, in April 1938 the Cabinet accepted Scheme L, by which the RAF would reach a strength of 1,352 bombers and 608 fighters by April 1940. Airmen claim that Inskip was a poor minister who forced these measures through at a cost of severe delays in creating a heavy-bomber force merely for financial and political reasons, because fighters cost less than bombers. But in reality, it was Inskip?s insistence on higher priority for fighter production that gave Fighter Command the tiny margin of strength by which it was able to achieve victory in 1940. Inskip deserves to be remembered as one of the true victors of the Battle of Britain.(Deighton 38).
Increased production indeed helped Britain?s effort to prepare for war, but upon entering it, many of their planes were lost trying to save their allies from being consumed by the German wave. General Dowding, Chief of RAF Fighter Command, recognized this as a lost effort and appealed to the better senses of the Air Ministry:
He put his case forward forcibly at a Cabinet meeting, illustrations with graphs that if the present rate of attrition continued for a further two weeks the RAF would not have a single Hurricane left in France ? or in Britain! He followed this with his now famous and courageous letter to the Under Secretary of State for Air, setting out his fears and asking for the Air Ministry to commit itself as to what it considered the level of strength needed to defend Britain. This in itself won him few friends in high places but it eventually did the trick. Shortly afterward came the order from Winston Churchill that no more fighters would leave the UK, whatever France?s need.( Franks, Norman. Battle of Britain. New York: Gallery Books, 1981. 11).
Mark Donnelly summarized Britain?s hastened attempts to prepare for war when he wrote, ?In the spring and summer of 1939 Britain made preparations for a war that was increasingly unavoidable; rearmament was accelerated, air-raid shelters were built and conscription began? (Donnelly 7). The British were lucky to have been as prepared as they were. Because of a few unpopular opinions that exposed the imminent threat, Britain?s policy of appeasement and compromise was put to an end. Had Britain heeded warnings years before the war, the scarcity of planes would not have been a problem when Britain started to commit its planes to the defense of its allies. After committing numerous squadrons to France, Britain determined it was a lost cause. Only after Britain had lost a significant number of planes and pilots in France and as Germany?s scope was set across the channel, did they realize that while invasion was plausible, control of the air and supremacy of air would determine the outcome of the Battle of Britain.
It was now clear to both Britain and Germany that supremacy of the air was essential to an invasion if it were to succeed. Control of the air became paramount:
On 30 June Goering issued a preliminary instruction: ? as long as the enemy air force is not defeated, the prime requirement is to attack it?by day and by night, in the air and on the ground?.? It was understood that Hitler himself would give the word for the major air onslaught against Britain. But in the July weeks that followed Goering prepared to embark on a private war against the RAF over the channel. By attacking British shipping, he could force Fighter Command into a battle of attrition that must soften them up for the knockout to come. The Luftwaffe stood to win glory and to lose nothing. Hitler and his other service chiefs acquiesced passively. They too saw a battle over the channel as a cheap, useful demonstration of Germany?s might. The orders were given for the overture to the Battle of Britain. (Deighton 81).
Britain?s Royal Air Force was largely dependant on the two planes, the Hawker Hurricane and the Super Marine Spitfire. The Hurricane was equipped with heavy armor that was built to handle damage and could absorb more damage than the Spitfire but at the cost of speed and maneuvering. It flew about fifty miles per hour slower than the Spitfire and responded less accurately to controls. The Spitfire was disputably the greatest aviation machine in World War II. No other outmatched its speed and control. Both planes were equipped with one engine that was produced by Rolls Royce (Hough 17-20). The German Air Force, or the Luftwaffe, had a wide array of bombers and fighters. The most heavily used bomber by the Germans was the JU-87 Stuka. It dove vertically and dropped a devastating array of bombs. The German fighters who protected their squadrons of bombers consisted of BF-109 and the BF-110. The BF-109 was a single-engine plane whose main advantages were the rate of speed at which it dived and the rate of acceleration. Though extremely fast, the BF-109 traded in handling and maneuverability at high speeds and was at a disadvantage against British fighters at close range. The BF-110?s were the twin-engine version of the BF-109. Their main objectives were to attack fighters and to protect the Stufkas and other German bombers. Because of the added weight the second engine added, the maneuverability was reduced and would thus be a constant casualty in the Battle of Britain. (Hough 16) The pilots who operated each side?s planes had their pro?s and con?s as well. German fighter pilots and bombers were considered some of the best in the world. They had an excellent accuracy rate of fire. The main flaws of these world-class pilots were their world-class attitudes. They had a sense of self-confidence that teetered on superiority complex. This expectation of complete and total supremacy in the air created a drastic drop in morale when the Royal Air Force would fill the sky with planes just as quickly as the Luftwaffe would shoot them down. The RAF pilots were just as well trained as the Germans yet lacked the accuracy and discretion of the Luftwaffe. The RAF would stick to the formation until the squadron leader would give an order. This left no room for the discretion of the pilots under the squadron leader making them more susceptible to being ?jumped? or surprised by the German Air Force. (Hough 17-24) Germany?s underestimation of the RAF would allow the British to exploit and wiled this confidence to their advantage:
(Germany) They were justifiably scornful of the risk to Germany from the RAF?s bombers, but recklessly confident that their own would do better: ?In contrast, the Luftwaffe is in a position to go over to decisive daylight operations owing to the inadequate air defense of the island?. The Luftwaffe is clearly superior to the RAF as regards strength, equipment, training, command and location of bases?.? These were the beliefs with which the Luftwaffe went to battle and which would lead to so many blunders in the months to come. If the British knew little about German plans to defeat them, the Germans knew still less about their enemy.(Deighton 80).
While being overly confident, they were not without the right to be a little optimistic. According to one report, at the start of the Battle of Britain the Luftwaffe had just over 1500 bombers with over 1000 fighters with which to protect them as compared to Britain?s 591 fighters with 100 more ineffectual in daylight battle (Hough 30). While the strength in numbers definitely belonged to the Germans, the British had a secret defense to Germany?s massive arsenal of planes. Radar.
The English Channel separated Germany?s targets and their bases. They expected to encounter light resistance in the air, but instead saw squadrons waiting for them as they passed over the channel. For a long time, German intelligence tried to figure out what these groups of tall towers that lined Britain?s coast were. They had thought that it was a location detection device, but they had little idea of how effective and important the radar was to the British defense. In, 1935 a scientist named Robert Watson-Watt sent a report to the British Air Ministry outlining the way in which radio could be used to identify and detect enemy planes. By that fall, towers were erected along the coast and were able to detect planes within a fifty-mile radius. Along with radar, the Royal Observer Group watched for German planes through binoculars from the ground. While the ROG spotted the planes from a distance, the radar would record vital information of the incoming squadrons? speed and numbers. This information was sent to headquarters where Spitfires and Hurricanes were then promptly alerted and ordered to intercept. While the radar was maintained, Germany never was able to surprise the British Royal Air Force (Hough 27-28). The disadvantages and advantages of each opposing force set the stage for a dramatic and key battle of the Second World War.
The Battle of Britain?s length and its exact events is often the subject of debate. As with many battles in war, events and dates are often open for interpretation. The battle though can be divided into four separate phases. Phase one consisted of the early probing done by the Luftwaffe of the RAF. The second phase focused on Germany?s attacks on key British defensive systems. The third phase started what was known as the ?Blitz?, or the attacks on London and other civilian sites. The fourth phase saw the Germans switch to night bombings and eventually taper off all aerial attacks on Britain, thus ending the ?Blitz?, which formally ended the Battle of Britain. (Bickers, Richard Townshend. The Battle of Britain. New York: Prentice Hall Press, 1990. 108).
The Luftwaffe began the Battle of Britain by testing the abilities of the Royal Air Force and attacking crucial British convoys. They attacked and tested the RAF to keep them busy and possibly weaken their defenses as they prepared their troops for a grand assault. They attacked the convoys, which carried coal and bulk raw materials, hoping to cripple Britain that had learned to depend on these convoys to sustain its nation?s economy (Bickers 108). The Germans did not plan on all out victory in Phase one, which began on July 10, 1940. The bulk of the damage done to both sides in phase one was over the coastal convoys. Many young RAF pilots were lost due to over zealousness and over-stepping their bounds. They would often chase the German bombers back to France only to be ambushed by a group of BF-109?s (Franks 17-18). Hitler wanted to flaunt his ?superior? air force to show how invincible it was. He still hoped in the back of his mind that England would cut a deal after the German?s conquered the vast majority of Europe. He did not want to risk any potential settlements by bombing civilians or towns. Instead, he decided to destroy the convoys that scattered the waters surrounding Britain in hopes of causing the RAF to be drawn into a dogfight and have Britain waste its precious reserves (Franks 17). Goering, the German Air Force Commander, met with early success. He managed to claim three British bombers and 30,000 tons of merchant shipping (Collier, Basil. The Second World War: A Military History. New York: William Morrow and Company, 1967. 135). The British, needing to protect its surviving planes and its shipping convoys decided to change its tactics:
In consequence of the preliminary offensive the British changed the organization of the timing of their coastal convoys, hastened existing arrangements for the diversion of ocean traffic to west-coast ports, and moved destroyers hitherto at Dover to Portsmouth. Their aircraft factories remained in full production, as did two factories, which supplied all the engines for their Hurricanes and Spitfires. Thus they were able, during the weeks that divided the fall of France from the beginning of heavy air attacks on Britain, to make good the shortage of fighters with which their losses from Norway to Dunkirk had left them, take current losses in their strode, and build up a small force. (Collier 135-136).
With the British changing convoy routes and locations, the Germans were eager to use other methods at sinking ships:
It was certainly not to be assessed in terms of shipping destroyed, as over the period a whole only 24,000 tons of merchant shipping were sunk in the Channel by aircraft. Between 10 July and 7 August thirteen merchant ships, totaling 38,000 tons, were mined and sunk round the coasts of Britain, most of them by mines laid by enemy aircraft. This was almost as much as was sunk by air attack; and it was obtained at a far smaller cost to the German Air Force. (James, T.C.G. The Battle of Britain. Great Britain: Frank Cass Publishers, 2000. 43).
Ultimately, the attacks on the convoys and intercepting fighters were not a great success for either side. It showed that Britain had faults within their system of defense and intelligence. The Germans learned that, even with superior numbers, they would suffer great losses if they decided to fly over the English Channel and stayed to fight: Air supremacy is as much a product of morale as of material strength, and, that being so, Fighter Command had fared well in the July fighting?(James 45). During phase one, the Luftwaffe lost nearly 200 aircraft and all of its downed crew while Britain suffered only half of that and one fourth of its downed pilots. The end of phase one came with a shift in tactics by the Germans: (Walker).
The time of probing was at an end. If Hitler had any intention Britain he had to attack in the summer, and before he did, Fighter Command had to be destroyed. On 19 July Hitler made his ?last appeal to reason? speech to the Reichstag ? but he should have known Britain would in no way contemplate surrender. Hitler was confident of victory, for in his hands was the latest intelligence report comparing the Luftwaffe strength with that of the RAF. In its conclusion it showed that the Luftwaffe was clearly superior to the RAF in strength, equipment, training and command. In the event of intensive air warfare the Luftwaffe would be in a position to achieve a decisive effect in 1940 in order to support an invasion. What the report did not allow for was the dogged, stubborn attitude of the British in general, or the skilled determination of the pilots who stood in the of German victory. (Franks 21).
With the conclusion of phase one, Hitler recognized that air dominance would either make or break his invasion. With that, he decided to swing his mighty axe with full force into Britain?s throat hoping to sever the last remnants of resistance. The time to attack was now.
The second phase of the Battle of Britain focused on the destruction of the Royal Air Force Fighter Command. Heavy focus was placed on neutralizing the RAF through the destruction of its airfields, radar stations, and, ultimately, the annihilation of the aerial forces that separated Hitler from victory (Franks 108). Leonard Mosley wrote, ?On August 13 the Luftwaffe swarmed across the Channel toward England in force. To begin with, their targets were radar stations?( Mosley, Leonard. The Battle of Britain. Virginia: Time-Life Books, 1977. 111). On that day, the German Air Force flew 1,485 sorties en masse to destroy key radar stations positioned in the south of Great Britain. While destroying only thirteen British planes, they lost forty-five planes and pilots that day (Mosley Battle 112). They hoped that by flying and destroying key radar stations and airfields, that the RAF would be forced to leave the ground and use up the last of their reserves to fight and defend its bases and stations (Collier, Richard. Eagle Day. New York: E.P. Dutton and Company. 74). This worked to some extent, forcing some British planes to engage in battles they wouldn?t have otherwise been involved:
Though the RAF pilots were still hitting back, they were hurting even more than the Germans, for they had fewer planes to spare. If something were not done soon, they would bleed to death. Though British aircraft factories were now working at full speed turning out planes, they could not keep up with the losses; nor could men be trained fast enough to replace those pilots who were killed or maimed. After Goering?s angry criticisms, the Luftwaffe redoubled its efforts to destroy the RAF. ?The enemy is to be forced to use his fighters by means of ceaseless attacks. In addition, the aircraft industry and the ground organization of the air force are to be attacked?by night and day,? he had ordered. His pilots responded with determination. Around the clock the Luftwaffe was striking everywhere now where they were most likely to do harm to Britain?s defenses: airfields, aircraft factories, oil and gas depots. They were getting badly hurt, but so was the RAF, which could less afford the pain and the suffering.(Mosley 116)
Goering?s battle to destroy the RAF should have lasted only a couple of weeks, but the German?s underestimation of the RAF and their extreme over-confidence soon became too much for them to handle. They were being stretched beyond their limits. They had been flying 1,500 sorties a day with great losses every time. Goering soon found his pilots to be dispirited as opposed to the burning desire that still filled the RAF. The German ministry soon put out reports of RAF casualties that were highly inflated. Goering soon believed that the RAF was now an air force that no longer posed a threat. Because of this, Goering called off the attacks on British radar stations for he saw it as a waste of planes. On the contrary, the German attacks on radar stations were just starting to have its effect on the RAF. The Luftwaffe had actually shot a hole in Britain?s radar defense and, with one more week of bombing, would have neutralized Britain?s radar system and greatly reduced Britain?s ability to defend itself. Goering then went to Pas de Calais to celebrate with his pilots on their destruction of the RAF. When he arrived, he saw that the RAF was not only still in existence, but was causing major damage to his Luftwaffe. ?Angrily he accused his men of cowardice. ?You have the best aircraft in the world,? he cried. ?What more do you want?? ?A squadron of Spitfires,? replied Adolf Galland, one of Germany?s fighter aces.? (Mosley 115) The arrogance and pompousness of Goering greatly affected the outcome of the aerial war:
Goering had been a poor choice by Hitler to run the air force. It was not that his self-indulgent lifestyle dismayed the pilots who were working hard at a great risk to win supremacy in the air ? or that he had accused his fighter pilots of lack of determination. Goering had little or no strategic or tactical experience or acumen and his technical knowledge modern warfare also left much to be desired ? with the result that his expectations for the Luftwaffe were ludicrously over-optimistic. (Willis, John. Churchill?s Few. New York: Paragon House Publishers, 1985. 132).
Great Britain held one advantage over Germany when it came to skilled aircrews:
While downed German pilots were a total loss to the Luftwaffe, they were now facing a shortage of skilled aircrews: while on the other hand, the loss of RAF pilots was being made up by an over-increasing influx of volunteer aircrews from the Dominion, Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands, Poland, France, Czechoslovakia and the United States. (Walker).
During phase one and phase two of the Battle of Britain, only one place was safe from German attack: London. Goering and Hitler knew that a bombing on the civilians of the Britain would give more reason for the United States to join the British cause if it saw Britain?s cities laid waste and the faces of its innocent bystanders being wiped out. Hitler ordered Goering to stay away from London. On the night of August 24, 1940, a stream of bombers was making a bomb drop on a fuel dump along the Thameshaven River when they encountered heavy flak. The bombers were running out of fuel, so they dumped their cargo and turned home. Little did they know that their bombs had been dropped over London. This accidental bombing of London gave Churchill the excuse to change his tactics. He ordered a bomber command who had been commissioned to drop leaflets over Germany to load up with bombs and head for Berlin. Goering said that if Berlin were ever bombed, people could call him Meier, which was used in a derogatory sense by the Germans as it referred to Jews. On August 26, Churchill?s bombers unloaded their reprisal bombs on Berlin in the early hours of the morning. The RAF continued to bomb Berlin for a week straight until Hitler finally caved in and ordered a change of tactics. The Luftwaffe was to concentrate on the bombing of London as a prelude to Operation Sealion (Mosley 117-119). With that, the effective strategies employed by the Luftwaffe in the beginning of phase two were abandoned to settle the score: the capital of Great Britain was to be destroyed.
The Battle of Britain?s third phase consisted of concentrated bombings of the civilian population and forcing British fighters to engage in the air. Along with daytime bombings, Germany coupled nighttime bombings on London and other major industrial centers and ports, such as Liverpool to compliment their daily raids (Bickers 108). On September 7 1940, Germany ordered the bomb attack that was expected by everyone except the RAF:
100 plus Nazi bombers and 300 Nazi fighters were on their way over. RAF fighters were sent to intercept as the Nazi squadrons split, as they always did. Different squadrons heading for different targets. Dowding suddenly thought, what if they didn?t split up and came en masse. There would be no fighters to stop them; the path to London would be wide open. ?That?s funny,? said Robert Wright. ?They don?t seem to be splitting up, do they?? (Mosley 130-131).
The daylight bombing of London did a great amount of damage. This damage was coupled with a bombing that night. This brought the amount of civilians killed or seriously injured to about 2,000 total in the two bombings. Twenty-one British squadrons went to intercept the German bombing units but were often too late as the bombers had already unloaded their cargo. The German Air Force lost just forty-one aircraft while Britain lost seventeen pilots and forty-four fighters destroyed or badly-damaged. A young civilian remembered his experience in London at this time when he wrote; ?The first bombs fell on London proper on a night toward the end of August. The next bombs, as I remember fell on the night of September 5 and 6. This attack was heavier and smashed several small dwellings.? (MacVane, John. On the Air in World War II. New York: William Morrow and Company, 1979. 15).
The early bombings of the third phase were concentrated on the East End. After a few days, German bombers moved to the West End and even managed to land two bombs on Buckingham Palace. This eliminated the feeling that only the poor were being punished. This helped to bring a sense of unity among the British people, and if anything, helped the British war cause. By the end of September, more than half of London?s population, mostly women and children, had left the city (MacVane 31). The daylight campaign against London had done a great amount of damage but not the massive effect that the Luftwaffe had anticipated:
The great attack of 7 September was only surprise in that London proper was heavily attacked for the first time. On the 15th the weather improved and London was again heavily attacked by day. Thereafter, the bombing attacks by day in southeast continued to be made but they were comparable neither with those of the 15th, much less than the 7th. It is broadly the case, therefore, that by the middle of the month the German daylight offensive had lost much of its dangerousness (James 293).
Adolf Galland spoke of his commander?s disappointment in their bombings of London and his failure to drain the RAF of its reserves when he said, ?Goering was shattered, I assured him that in spite of the heavy losses we were inflicting on the enemy fighters, no decisive decrease in their numbers or in their fighting efficiency was noticeable? (Mosley Battle 141). In the last few engagements over London, German pilots were told that no more than one-hundred British planes would engage, yet twice that number was reached within half of an hour of German engagement. Germany on September 9, 11, and 14 used about 200 bombers on the first set of bombing with smaller numbers on the latter two to raid London during the day. The Germans planned the heaviest bombing to occur on September 15th. Two elements of bombers headed for London and were soon met by more than 300 British aircrafts that were sent by Dowding. Germany was able to drop a significant amount of bombs on London comparable to September 7th, yet lost 60 bombers doing it. The lack of dominance by the Luftwaffe, the prominence of the RAF, and the lack of any clear victories forced Hitler to conclude on September 17, that air supremacy was lacking. He concluded that the Luftwaffe was not within measurable distance of creating the right conditions for invasion. Because of these overwhelming factors, Hitler postponed invasion indefinitely, dispersed his invasion fleet and halted the assembly of invasion craft (Collier 142-144). With the apparent halting of all plans to invade Britain, Goering would make a decision that would mark the end of the third phase and the start of the fourth phase of the Battle of Britain. With only mixed results and heavy losses to his squadrons, Goering abandons confrontational daylight bombing and cloaks his attacks under the cover of night.
The fourth and final phase of the war began as Hitler called off Operation Sealion (Franks 108). The German Air Force decided to abandon daylight bombings for the costs were too great. This decision changed the coarse of the air war drastically. Goering’s Luftwaffe was to abandon all bombings except at night (Mosley Battle 142). Goering was determined to leave a lasting impression on Britain. The name for the night raids was the blitz. If Goering could not annihilate the RAF, he would try to gain victory through intimidation Britain’s citizens. Herbert Agar wrote, “On October 7 Goering defined the aims of the blitz: ‘Progressive and complete annihilation of London’, paralyzing Britain’s war potential and civil life, and ‘the demoralization of the civil population of London and its provinces’” (Agar, Herbert. The Darkest Year Britain Alone. New York: Doubleday and Company Inc, 1973. 125). Under a cloak of darkness, Germany’s air force lost the ability to visually confirm a target, of necessity they invented a method of allowing the planes to fly a set, previously designed path towards their target. A pilot would fly on a beam from radio-transmission towers in France that emitted a continuous hum as long as the pilot stayed on the beam?s coarse. If the pilot veered slightly off coarse, a series of dots and dashes would be heard. When near the target, a second beam emitted from a separate tower intercepted the original beam and the pilot would hear a difference in sound. This meant that he would now time his run to a given time interval and drop his bombs. This ingenious system was called the Knickebein or crooked leg. This helped to improve the bombers chance of hitting its key targets, because the Knickebein system was accurate up to about a square mile. The British were well aware of its existence and had developed a method of disrupting it by the time the blitz started. Britain would adapt their own radio beacons and superimpose Morse code on the frequency. This caused German pilots to be given false signals and would cause them to overshoot and completely miss their target (Mosley Battle 143). Britain employed spotlights, antiaircraft weapons, and night fighters to defend its cities from nightly raids. The immediate effect of the blitz was a swing in momentum towards Germany and away from Britain. At the beginning, many big cities and London lay open to heavy German bombing. Until Britain started to implement nighttime defenses against Germany, the German raids were steady, deadly, and extremely effective (Mosley Battle 143). Britain had to do something to counteract the new Luftwaffe tactics. Along with the basic defenses they had set up around London, such as antiaircraft guns and spotlights, Churchill would employ a new type of defense. Herbert Agar wrote, “The new war, the war of the night fighters which Churchill named the ‘wizard war’ turned to England’s advantage in a few months because the British wizards were better than the German ones” (Agar 128). By the time the new year had come, Croom Johnson, a London civilian in London commented on the morale in Britain when he said, “The prospect is considerably brighter than anyone would have dared to hope at the beginning of July. Unless we get knocked out in early spring?I don’t see the war ending in 1941″(Agar 128-129). When Goering had first switched to night bombing, the idea that the enormous Luftwaffe could demoralize Britain was very probable, but by the end of the year, Goering could see that, “Within three months it was clear that they could not” (Agar 129). The British night defenses played a large part in the ultimate failure of the blitz, but a significantly larger part must be given to Goering. The demoralization of London was taking its effect on the East End of London. The blitz caused numerous homeless and dead and was creating an overpopulation endemic that was tearing the city apart. Had Goering continued the constant raids on, specifically the poor and homeless that was hurt the worst by the blitz, within months, he could have created a division between those punished and those not. This would have caused a possibly irreparable fissure between Britain’s sense of unity, but because of Goering’s eccentric tactics, he never pounded steadily on one specific group allowing all of Britain to the feel the pain and thus pulling closer together. Near the end of the battle, the German’s noticed that the number of German Casualties was rising even as they had decreased the number of sorties:
In January, of 1941, the Germans lost only three planes to the night fighters, and in February only four. Then in March they lost twenty-two, In April forty-eight and ninety-six in May. The night fighters, navigated by radar, had become a serious enemy to the bombers.” (Agar 131)
T.C.G. James wrote, “It is, in any case, true beyond dispute that the decline in German effort meant the checking of the disastrous rate at which the Command had been wasting away. And this was accomplished by a force so small, facing one so large, was an achievement in air warfare that has never been equaled.” (James 326) Germany never invaded England, the Luftwaffe suffered great losses, and the people of England stared into the face of evil and refused to blink. Germany would eventually taper off its attacks on England and would gather its forces for a new front. Hitler decided to engage in a two-front war against its new enemy, Russia, and the focus was taken off the British Isles. England remained and the Battle of Britain had been won.
The Battle of Britain contained many critical errors that proved to be fatal to Germany?s plans for invasion and greatly deterred their war efforts for the remainder of the war. Critical errors, in the Battle of Britain, were apparent on both sides. Germany failed to concentrate their attacks on a specific target, such as radar and the destruction of the RAF. This led to Britain being able to recover when Germany would pull away from their targets just as their attacks were becoming catastrophic to Britain (Macksey, Kenneth. Military Errors of World War Two. Great Britain: Arms and Armour Press, 1987.):
The attacks on the radar masts were called off just as they were doing deadly harm. The attacks on the ground (or underground) stations which told the British pilots exactly where to attack their enemies were called off just as they were doing deadly harm. Later, during the night-blitz Goering never let his fighter finish a single job. (Agar 119).
German intelligence also misread the how weak Britain had become after Dunkirk, forcing them to postpone invasion and failed to press this advantage, thus allowing Britain to recover and rearm:
Failure to invade England and knock her out of the war was ultimately fatal to Germany. If she had achieved that aim in 1940 Hitler?s hands would have been free to pursue his policy of picking off nations, one by one, in his own time. Very likely the Royal Navy would have been neutralized. Probably, key points of the British Empire would have fallen into German hands as he created a United States of Europe under German hegemony. In which case the President of the USA would have agreed with Ambassador Kennedy and might have withdrawn all help from Britain, preferring to reach a settlement with a major continental power, which, if it chose to tackle Soviet Russia (as Hitler had already decided to do) might be irresistible. (Macksey 46).
The British Intelligence used incorrect information to judge Germany?s strength and it willingness to go to war. Therefore, Britain?s critical error was in misinterpreting Germany?s threat and therefore not being as prepared as possible (Macksey 46). These critical errors were more numerous on the German side, thus having an adverse affect on their planned invasion. The Battle of Britain greatly affected the remainder of the war because had Britain not won the battle, Germany would have invaded and implemented Colonel Professor Dr Six?s programme that called for all able-bodied men to be deported to work (Bishop, Edward. Their Finest Hour. Virginia: Ballentine Books, 1968. 158). Second, the Battle of Britain showed the world that the German army was not invincible and had a great affect on the world?s view of Hitler?s army and adversely affected his fighters? morale. Third, because of the failure to invade Britain, England gradually moved from a defensive stance to an offensive stance in the remainder of the war. Next, because Britain bumped up aircraft production during the battle, it allowed Britain to attack Germany on their soil while giving increased protection to their shipping lanes. Last, because of Germany?s failure to win the Battle of Britain, it was forced to a fight a two-front war against Russia on the east and Britain on the west. This affected Hitler?s efficiency and possibly the outcome of the war because Hitler would now have to separate his ?invincible? force (Bickers 169). The remainder of World War II saw the Battle of Britain affecting not just Germany?s strategy and Britain?s sovereignty, but possibly the outcome of the war.
The Battle of Britain was greatly affected by pre-war circumstances, separated into four phases and carried consequences that would affect the rest of World War II.
Although Britain faced an army much greater than theirs, the fire of resistance burned just as brightly facing insurmountable odds as it ever had before. When World War II is remembered, people will remember the wave of resistance that helped to turn the dark tide of an entire war, and they will feel forever indebted to the courage of so few.
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