Battle of Britain
Will Britain agree to a peace settlement with Nazi Germany?
author Paul Boșcu, October 2016
The Battle of Britain was an aerial battle which took place during the Second World War. The British Royal Air Force (RAF) defended the island of Great Britain from the Luftwaffe, the German Air Force.

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The Battle of Britain was an aerial battle which took place during the Second World War. The British Royal Air Force (RAF) defended the island of Great Britain from the Luftwaffe, the German Air Force.

The conflict began when the Luftwaffe initiated an air and sea blockade targeting coastal shipping convoys, ports and shipping centres, such as Portsmouth. The battle lasted several months, from July to October 1940. British historians claim that this time frame coincides with the period of large-scale German attacks. German historians maintain that the battle lasted until June 1941, when the Luftwaffe carried out its last raids into British airspace.

The Luftwaffe’s main objective was to obtain air superiority over the RAF, in order to incapacitate RAF Fighter Command. To this end, the Luftwaffe began to attack the RAF’s infrastructure and airports. As the battle progressed, the Germans began to attack British airplane factories and their strategic infrastructure. In time, the Luftwaffe also began a bombing campaign of civilians in Great Britain, to lower morale.

Due to the fact that the RAF stopped the Luftwaffe from obtaining air superiority, Adolf Hitler cancelled the Sea Lion operation. This operation had planned an amphibian and airborne invasion of Great Britain.

The battle is famous for receiving its name before it began, through Winston Churchill’s speech in the House of Commons after the defeat in France: “... What General Weygand has called The Battle of France is over. The battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilisation. Upon it depends our own British life and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. 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, then 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 a 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”

The American president, Franklin Roosevelt, rearmed, to a degree the British army after Dunkerque. Roosevelt sent encouraging messages to Churchill through his confidant, Harry Hopkins. Roosevelt put 50 warships at the disposition of the Royal Navy and applied pressure to pass the Lend-Lease Bill. In a speech given in Charlottesville, Virginia, Roosevelt clearly stated that he would put American weaponry at the disposition of democratic countries. The Lend-Lease Bill allowed America to furnish Great Britain and later, Allied countries, with war materials.

The United States transferred to Great Britain the following weapons: 500,000 Lee-Enfield rifles with 129 million magazines; 895 75mm caliber cannons together with a million magazines; over 80,000 machine guns, 316 mortars, 25,000 Browning automatic rifles and 20,000 revolvers with ammunition. This transfer aided the arming of the National Guard and the members of the regular army which had returned from Dunkerque without weapons. 93 Northrop bombers and 50 Curtiss-Wright dive bombers also arrived in England. These airplanes were used to attack German warships and barges.

Immediately after Dunkerque, the UK foreign secretary Anthony Eden and the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Sir John Dill, held a secret meeting in a hotel room in York. Superior officers of military formations billeted in northern England also participated. England’s future strategy was discussed, together with the possibility of a land invasion by the Germans.

The War Secretary asked if he “could count on the troops under their command, to continue fighting in any situation”. Brigadier General Charles Hudson remembered that “A murmur broke out which could almost be heard around the table. It seemed incredible to us, almost impertinence, that such a question would be addressed to us of all people.” Eden explained that, in the circumstances anticipated by the government, “it would surely be unwise to throw into battle, in a futile attempt to save a hopeless situation, people poorly armed, against an enemy well entrenched in England.”

The supplementary question which Eden and Dill put to the officers was: “Would our troops, if asked, embark in a northern port - let’s say Liverpool, as long as it’s still in our hands - to then be withdrawn in, say, Canada? Without such a nucleus of troops trained in their native land, the declared policy of the prime minister to continue the battle from across the ocean would be infinitely more difficult.” Hudson related that it quickly became clear that the officers were all of the same opinion, that most troops would refuse to be shipped to Canada. Thus, it became even more important to prevent a German landing.

The British gold reserves were transferred to Canada and evacuation plans were made for the royal family, for the Cabinet, and, in the end, for what would be left of the Royal Navy. However, it was not certain that the flower of British politics would be received with open arms by all the North-Americans. Eternally loyal Canada was a trusted ally. However, Roosevelt was a strong republican and he would not have liked for the British monarchy to establish its new headquarters in Ottawa. Churchill and Roosevelt had confrontations concerning the concept of monarchy later, during the war, touching the issue of Italy.

Germany’s main objective, during this battle, was to force Great Britain to enter into peace talks to escape the constant Luftwaffe air attacks. From the moment he came to power, Hitler had expressed his admiration of Great Britain. However, he was aware that, after his invasion of Poland, an alliance with England was no longer possible. After the defeat of France, Hitler believed he could force England to sign a separate peace agreement, leaving Germany to direct its attention towards the Soviet Union.

In order to force England to the negotiation table, the RAF had to be eliminated. Thus, British ports and maritime trade routes were to be freely attacked to put pressure on Great Britain. As a final blow, an invasion of Great Britain by ground troops would be possible once the Luftwaffe obtained air supremacy.

After the invasion of Poland, the OKW, the Supreme Commandment of the Wehrmacht, began to study the possibility of an invasion of Great Britain. The German navy, however, needed the Luftwaffe to dominate the air in order to deal with the powerful British fleet during the crossing of the English Channel.

After the invasion of France, a potential invasion of Britain was seen by the German OKW as a final measure in order to obtain the surrender of Great Britain. On the other hand, Churchill considered that an invasion by land of Great Britain would have been a suicide mission, as long as the Luftwaffe were unable to dominate air space.

In the first month of the battle, Hitler met with Generals Franz Halder and Walther von Brauchitsch. These men showed him their plans for Operation Sea Lion, a potential invasion by land of Great Britain. Although Hitler was not interested in the details of the plan, he ordered preparations to begin.

The German navy insisted the landing should take place on a narrow beach, but the German army rejected this plan. Hitler had a meeting with the commanders of the two branches of the Wehrmacht. From the German navy’s point of view, the earliest possible date for a landing would be two months after the start of the air campaign. The navy proposed that, in these conditions, the landing be postponed until the spring of the following year. Hitler wanted the landing to happen as soon as possible. Thus, he told the generals Halder and von Brauchitsch that he would decide as soon as possible if the operation would take place.

The defeat of France opened up the possibility of an air campaign against Britain, since Germany’s main weapon against Great Britain was its air force. Thus, the Luftwaffe would carry out a strategic offensive, independent of the other branches of the Wehrmacht. The chief of the Luftwaffe, Hermann Göring, was convinced that this campaign would force England to make peace with the Third Reich.

In Mein Kampf, Hitler mentioned the fact that his ultimate goal was the invasion of the Soviet Union to counter the danger of Bolshevism. Before beginning preliminary plans for the invasion of Great Britain, General Franz Halder discovered that Hitler had turned his attention towards the Soviet Union. Hitler’s main concern was the fact that the USSR could offer support to the British during the air campaign against Great Britain. Hitler attributed the stubborn resistance of the British to the fact that they hoped to receive help from the Soviets. Hitler decided that the invasion of the Soviet Union would take place the following spring.

In the complicated maelstrom which was Adolf Hitler’s political philosophy, hate for Great Britain could hardly be noticed. This was true at least until the British acted so ‘illogically’ as to refuse his peace offer. This offer was literally thrown over the country, as a manifesto called: ‘A last appeal to reason’. Nothing in the national-socialist canon foresaw a war against the comrades of the Reich, the Anglo-Saxon Empire. The references to the British in Mein Kampf were, for the most part, very flattering.

In visible contrast to perceptions of national stereotypes, as far as the invasion was concerned, the British were mercilessly efficient, whereas the Germans were just trying to somehow get through it, by the seat of their pants. The Nazi ideology didn’t call for an invasion of Great Britain, as it did of Poland on grounds of race, of France for revenge and, in the end, of Russia for Lebensraum. As a consequence, the Nazis, together with the OKW, were not able to form a coherent plan for Operation Sea Lion.

Even during the campaign against France, Hitler spoke of his admiration for the British Empire, the necessity of its existence and the civilization Great Britain had brought into the world. Concerning the harsh measures England had used to create its empire, Hitler said: “Where there are plans, splinters will fly”. He continued by telling his high command officers that the English were an essential element of stability in the world, together with the Catholic Church, and that he would offer his troops to Great Britain to help her keep her colonies.

Hitler didn’t try very hard to transform Operation Sea Lion into reality. His attitude, oscillating between love and hate for Great Britain, is evident in Mein Kampf and explains, in part, his lack of interest in planning the invasion. His attitude towards the English is strangely reminiscent of Kaiser Wilhelm II.

An indication of the level of improvisation in Nazi plans for the subjugation of Great Britain is furnished by the Sonderfahndungsliste G.B. This was the Special Search List Great Britain. It was drawn up by Walter Schellenberg, head of foreign intelligence in the Reich’s Direction of Security, Reichssicherheitshauptamt, The Reich Main Security Office or RSHA. This document, known as the ‘Black Book’, contained the names of 2,820 British and exiled Europeans who would be ‘placed into custody’ after the invasion. However, the Black Book was full of mistakes.

It was obvious that the Black Book would include Churchill. However, his address was noted as Westerham, Kent, as if he would have been waiting calmly there for the arrival of the Germans. The lists included authors such as H.G. Wells, E.M. Forster, Vera Brittain and Stephen Spender. The list was published after the war. One of the people mentioned on the list, author Rebecca West, telegraphed another author, Noel Coward. Her message was: “My dear - the people we should have been seen dead with!”

However, the Black Book was outdated even before it was printed. Sigmund Freud and Lytton Strachey had both died, the latter 8 years earlier. The document also included some who were no longer resident in Great Britain, such as Aldous Huxley. He had moved to America in 1936. Colonel Kenneth Strong, a former military attache in Berlin, was noted as being part of the navy. The Germans’ attitude towards neutrality can be seen by the fact that names of several American journalists working in London were included on the list.

George Bernard Shaw and David Lloyd George were not on the list due to their public declarations in favor of peace, made after the beginning of the war. They would have been spared a terrible fate. The man who would have been responsible for commanding the six Einsatzkommandos - action groups - based in London, Birmingham, Bristol, Liverpool, Manchester and Edinburgh, SS colonel professor doctor Franz Six, was accused of war crimes committed in the USSR.

During this battle, the Luftwaffe met a much stronger opponent than it had until then. The RAF was a well-equipped, well-coordinated, populous and modern force.

The German fighter planes Messerschmitt Bf 109 and Messerschmitt Bf 110 met the British fighters Hurricane Mk 1 and Spitfire Mk 1 in battle. Towards the end of the campaign, the British introduced the Hurricane MK 2 model, technically superior to the first Hurricane model. The British airplanes were equipped with .303 caliber machine guns, whereas the German Bfs were equipped with 7.92 caliber machine guns, which were more efficient. Many German airplanes were able to land safely even after receiving several hits from the British .303 machine guns.

At the beginning of the war, the Messerschmitt Bf 110 planes had the role of escorting and protecting the German fleet of bombers. Although the Bf 110 was faster than the British Hurricane and almost as fast as the Spitfire, its lack of maneuverability made it fail as an escort. These planes were, however, successfully used as rapid bombers.

At certain altitudes, the Bf 109 could climb higher than the British airplanes, which gave the German pilots an advantage. The Bfs were able to descend in a vertical dive without stalling, enabling them to avoid enemies more easily. On the other hand, the Bf 109 model had a larger turning angle than the British planes. Generally speaking, the technical differences between the opposing planes were marginal. Often, the fate of battles was decided by tactical considerations and not by technological differences between the fighter planes.

The main bombers used by the Luftwaffe during the campaign were the Heinkel He 111, Junkers Ju 88 and Dornier Do 17, for high-altitude bombing. For dive bombing, the Junkers Ju 87 ‘Stuka’ was used. The Heinkel model was used most during the campaign and was the best known due to the distinctive shape of the wings.

Although it was used successfully in earlier campaigns, the ‘Stuka’ model suffered great losses during the Battle of Britain. This was due to the vulnerability of the model when confronted with British fighter planes flown in formation. As the losses became harder and harder, the ‘Stukas’ were withdrawn from British air space. They were used again on the eastern front, in the Soviet Union.

The British used three types of bombers at night, against German invasion ports, factories and also other strategic targets on the European continent. The Armstrong Whitworth A.W.38, Handley Page HP.52 Hampden and Vickers Wellington planes were classified by the RAF as heavy bombers. However, the Hampden was a medium-weight bomber, comparable with the German Heinkel.

For daytime operations, the RAF used the Bristol Blenheim and Fairey Battle models. The Blenheim was the most numerous of the bombers used by the RAF. It was used for attacks on enemy targets on the European continent, both by day and by night.

Due to losses during the campaigns in France and Norway, Britain had fewer experienced pilots to defend the country. On the other side, the Luftwaffe had many experienced fighter pilots. Foreign pilots flew for both sides.

At the beginning of the battles, Marshal Hugh Dowding, Chief of RAF Fighter Command, was concerned about the lack of experienced pilots. His fears were grounded, since the pilots taking the place of those lost or wounded before the battle had not been sufficiently trained to confront the enemy. Due to this, they suffered great losses.

In the last phases of the campaign, the Luftwaffe enjoyed the support of an Italian aviation corps called Corpo Aereo Italiano. The CAI had limited success during the campaign and was redirected to other theatres of operations.

The Luftwaffe managed to gather 1,450 experienced pilots, some of them veterans of the Spanish civil war. These were better trained in counterattack tactics against enemy fighter planes. In spite of this, the Luftwaffe couldn’t produce a sufficient reserve of pilots. This meant the Germans were unable to replace the losses suffered during the battle. As a consequence, the operational strength of the Luftwaffe waned as the battle progressed.

From a statistical point of view, the unit with the greatest success in the battle was 303 Squadron, formed of Polish pilots. The Poles and the Czechs were the most unscrupulous pilots. Their fanaticism was fueled by everything their countries had suffered under German occupation, and by what would await them if they were defeated in Great Britain. The Polish officers in the RAF called Great Britain ‘Wyspa ostatniej nadziei’ - the island of the last hope.

Of the 2,936 pilots who defended Great Britain, 595 were foreign. The RAF enjoyed the operational support of Polish pilots who managed to escape to the UK after their country fell into the hands of the Germans. Pilots also joined the RAF from Canada, New Zealand, Czechoslovakia, Ireland, Australia, Belgium, France, USA, Jamaica, Palestine and Southern Rhodesia.

The restrictions imposed by American neutrality at that moment were great. Americans who volunteered to serve in a foreign conflict risked losing their citizenship, serving several years of prison time, and receiving a fine of 10,000 dollars. In spite of these restrictions, eight Americans joined the British forces. Only one of them, John Haviland from 151 Squadron, survived the war. He learned to fly while studying at Nottingham University. He entered the war with less than 20 hours of experience flying a fighter plane.

The indecision of German leaders concerning objectives during the battle was also reflected in the Luftwaffe’s strategy, which was continually changing. The Luftwaffe’s doctrine of supporting the ground troops’ blitzkrieg had been successful in Poland, Denmark, Norway, Benelux and France, but with great losses. The Luftwaffe had to reinstate air bases in the conquered territories and rebuild its forces.

The first missions over English territory were simply reconnaissance flights with the role of training the German pilots for the campaign and also lowering civilian morale. The OKW had already made plans for Sea Lion. However, this only highlighted how differently the Heer, Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine saw the operations. Franz Halder and the German Army wanted to cross the Channel with 13 divisions to storm the 305 km between Ramsgate and Lyme Regis. However, the losses suffered by Admiral Raeder in Norway had left him convinced that it would only be possible to open a much narrower front, between Folkestone and Eastbourne.

Plans for Operation Sea Lion were approved. Later, Göring ordered the Luftwaffe to continue the blockade, but also to prepare to defend the troops which would land in the UK. From that moment, the German bombers would launch attacks deeper into England, beyond London. The purpose of these missions was to destroy economic and military targets on English territory.

As soon as he took over power, Hitler should have begun production of heavy bombers with long-range action. He should have produced more fighter planes than he did, and he should have trained the Wehrmacht for amphibious operations. Another mistake he made was to disperse his naval fleet when he invaded Norway. Again, the attack against Great Britain should have begun much earlier, in order to ensure months of good weather over the Channel. Under these conditions, Operation Sea Lion would have had much greater chances of success.

Taken by surprise by his success in France, Hitler lost precious time in recreational flights over the theatres of war from the Great War, and going to Paris. Hitler then withdrew to Berghof, his alpine refuge in Berchtesgaden. This plainly showed that he was no longer really interested in the next necessary step. “The British have lost the war, they just don’t know it”, he said to Jodl at Compiègne, “they just need time, then they’ll realise it.” Of course, he had no way of knowing about the British population’s high morale, or the uplifting speeches made by their prime minister.

Before the beginning of the campaign, Hermann Göring ordered the total destruction of the RAF, including the British aeronautical industry. This was necessary to stop RAF raids in German territory, and in order to implement an air blockade of Great Britain.

After it became clear that an invasion by land was not possible, Hitler ordered the principal attacks to be concentrated on London, in what the English called ‘The Blitz’. Due to the fact that protection of the bombers during daytime hours was becoming harder and harder, the Luftwaffe concentrated on night attacks. These raids had the goal of breaking the English resistance by attacking infrastructure and food deposits.

The British used the precious weeks after the fall of France to strengthen their squadrons and fortify their aerodromes. Lord Beaverbrook, minister of airplane production, managed to triple the rate of production during the year, while the Germans were only able to double theirs.

Although the British didn’t know it due to the chaos of war, the Luftwaffe suffered heavy losses in Holland. During the fighting there, the Germans lost 525 airplanes in only four days, due to the strong anti-aircraft fire of the Dutch. This was another factor which contributed to the cancelling of Operation Sea Lion. The Germans no longer had enough transport planes to load the paratroopers.

After the fall of France, the Luftwaffe regrouped in three Luftflotten - Air Fleet - which were billeted on the northern and southern flanks of Great Britain. Luftflotte 2, commanded by Marshal Albert Kesselring, had the mission of bombing southern England and the London area. Luftflotte 3, commanded by Marshal Hugo Sperrle, had its sights on western England and Wales. Luftflotte 5, commanded by General Hans-Jürgen Stumpff from Norway, was assigned to attack targets in northern England and Scotland. As the battle progressed, the responsibilities of each fleet changed.

The Luftwaffe commanders had different opinions about the application of the strategy dictated by Hitler and Göring. Sperrle wanted to destroy the British aeronautical infrastructure through bombing. Kesselring wanted to carry out a direct attack on London to force England’s surrender by heavy bombing, or to call the British fighter planes out into a decisive battle. Göring did nothing to resolve the differences of opinion between the two generals. In the initial phases of the campaign, he only gave vague directions, because he was not decided as to which strategy to follow.

The initial estimates of the Germans predicted that the British fighter planes would be defeated in four days in southern England. Then, they expected they would need a four-week campaign in the rest of the country to take out British military bases and the aeronautical industry.

The new estimates gave the Luftwaffe five weeks to obtain air superiority, to be able to begin Operation Sea Lion. This must be done by destroying the RAF without sustaining heavy losses to the German fleet, so that it could still support the land invasion. Thus, each German pilot must shoot down a significant number of enemy planes.

The Luftwaffe won significant victories in Poland, Norway, France and Benelux. However, these were only obtained because the Luftwaffe played the role of the armed airborne arm of the Blitzkrieg, with the element of surprise on its side. In these cases, the German airplanes were close to their airbases and covered zones which would soon be occupied by the Wehrmacht. In the battle for Great Britain, however, the Luftwaffe acted alone. The German planes were flying over enemy territory, far from their bases. In this situation, the element of surprise belonged to the RAF, thanks to radar.

The standard German formation was made up of two airplanes and was nicknamed ‘Rotte’ or ‘Pack’. The leader of the formation was called ‘Rottenführer’ and was accompanied by a colleague called ‘Rottenhund’, who was trained to fly a little higher and to always stay with his leader.

This formation allowed the German pilots to cover each other during fights. Through this tactic, the Rottenführer could concentrate on the enemy planes, knowing his back was covered by his colleague.

The Bf 110 planes also adopted this tactic, but rarely used it to their advantage. The most successful method for this model was to attack from above the enemy. When they were attacked, the planes formed defensive circles in which each plane defended the rear of the plane in front.

Two Rotte flying together formed a ‘Schwarm’ or ‘Swarm’. Through this formation, the pilots could see what was happening around them very quickly. This tactic was especially efficient when the Luftwaffe was using the Bf 109 planes.

The German fighter planes also had the job of protecting the Luftwaffe bombers while they were flying to their targets. The escorts were split into two groups. A first group flew beside the bombers, with the second group flying further away at a higher altitude. If attacked, these planes would fly in defensive circles. These tactics evolved as the pilots gained experience, and were very difficult to counter.

The greatest disadvantage of the BF 109 plane was its limited fuel capacity. The plane did not have auxiliary tanks, so pilots were forced to constantly monitor the fuel gauge. As soon as it showed low fuel, they had to return to France. This significantly reduced the capacity of these planes to escort the German bombers.

The Germans were at a disadvantage during the battle, since they had no way of obtaining correct information about the British defence capacity. The German spy services had been fractured and riddled with internal rivalry. At the beginning of the campaign there were only a few German agents in Great Britain. The few attempts made to introduce new spies into the country were stopped by the British.

Due to the interception of radio transmissions, the Germans realised that the British fighting planes were coordinated through land bases. The Germans incorrectly supposed that this type of control was rigid and slow.

Due to unrealistic intelligence reports, the Luftwaffe commanders thought that they were weakening the British forces much faster than in reality. Often they thought the British forces had collapsed, only to discover after a short time that they had created new defensive formations.

During the battle, the Luftwaffe carried out countless reconnaissance flights to compensate for the lack of information received through the spy services. These planes proved to be easy prey for the British planes, since it was very rarely possible for these to be escorted by the Bf 109 planes.

These gaps in German espionage, together with deficient leadership of the Luftwaffe, made the Germans unable to adopt a consistent strategy. They did not succeed in doing this even when the RAF had major difficulties. Also, they never concentrated on just one type of target. As a consequence, the German efforts were diluted even further.

One of the major problems of the Luftwaffe was that its information division exaggerated the RAF’s losses. This had disastrous results. The division procured information from ten agencies. Some of these were politically hostile to each other. When hostilities began, the Luftwaffe information department estimated that 574 RAF airplanes had been destroyed and, that 196 planes had been damaged beyond repair. In fact, the RAF only lost 318 planes in that period. The unit was led by Colonel Joseph ‘Beppo’ Schmid.

The Luftwaffe operated ‘blind’ for the majority of the battle, since they were unsure of the real capabilities of the enemy. The results of the battles were often exaggerated due to overly enthusiastic reports, and due to the difficulty in confirming results over enemy territory.

When returning from missions, German pilots exaggerated the number of their victims when they reported to the Luftwaffe information officers. This was not the source of the problem, however, but rather the fact that the pilots often did not have enough time to check whether the enemy had been taken out in the fight. As soon as a fighter plane was shot down, the next air fight began. The smoke and even flames coming out of an enemy aircraft was not always clear proof that the plane or pilot had been taken out of the battle. However they arrived at their results, the huge mistakes in calculations led to a demoralization of the Luftwaffe pilots.

The Luftwaffe was much better prepared than the RAF for rescue operations of pilots forced to land on water. For this purpose, a special branch was created in the Luftwaffe called Seenotdienst, which was the first service of its type in the world.

For this type of action, the Germans used the Heinkel He 59 biplane, modified to be able to land on water. According to the Geneva convention, these planes were not armed and were painted white with a red cross on them. Still, the RAF attacked these planes.

The main motive cited by Churchill for attacking these planes was that the pilots who were saved would be able to attack Great Britain again.

Soon these planes were repainted with camouflage and equipped with machine guns to be able to defend themselves. They continued to save German, but also Allied pilots, during the battle.

Before the beginning of the war, the British built a series of radars along the coast of Great Britain. This system had the codename ‘Chain Home’. The problem with this system was that the information detected by radars and observers on the ground took a long time to get to the British planes. In consequence, they missed the ‘bandits’, the enemy aircraft. The solution was the Dowding system. This system created a telephone ‘chain’ between the British observation posts. Thus, communication between them was more efficient, with pilots also receiving necessary information much faster.

The system was devised by Hugh Dowding, Chief of RAF Fighter Command, during the Battle of Britain. Reports from radars and observers in the Chain Home system were transmitted directly to command headquarters. Later, telephone operators sent the relevant information to the different Groups of the RAF. The commanders of the Groups modified the operational maps according to the information received, and communicated new directives to the pilots in the air.

The system considerably improved the speed and accuracy of information reaching the pilots. This allowed the British pilots to reduce their reaction time and find their targets with up to 70% accuracy. In contrast, the Luftwaffe planes sent to intercept enemy aircraft returned to base many times without even finding their targets.

The radar operators, sector controllers, ground team and pilots must each fulfil their role efficiently as part of an interactive system. The radar operators were part of the WAAF, Women's Auxiliary Air Force. Although there were certain tensions between Dowding and the Air Force General Staff in Whitehall, the system worked very well during the war. The battle for life and death managed, in general, to overcome the everyday pleasures of interdepartmental fights and blame games.

The radar was invented by professor Robert Watson-Watt, from the radio department of the National Physics Laboratory. This apparatus was adopted by Chamberlain’s government. Dowding ensured financing for Watson-Watt’s research and he encouraged the officials of the Air Ministry to participate in tests.

At the beginning, Sir Hugh Dowding had a total force of 700 fighter planes, split between 52 squadrons. He admitted to Lord Halifax that, when he heard of France’s fall, “I fell to my knees and thanked God” that no more RAF squadrons would be involved in battles without hope of victory. A calm, decisive, very intelligent and somewhat insensitive man, Dowding held aside a number of planes from the battle for France. This proved to be vital for the defence of England.

At the end of the ‘30s, the British were only expecting to confront bomber planes over the territory of Great Britain. As a consequence, accent was placed in pilot training on taking out enemy bombers. British pilots flew in groups of three, in a V formation. Four of these formations were grouped together, with only the squadron leader able to look out for enemy planes. The British commanders realized how weak this tactic was at the beginning of the battle. However, it would have been too risky to change tactic during battle. The new pilots could not be retrained.

The German pilots called the British formations ‘Idiotenreihen’ or ‘Idiot rows’, due to their vulnerability to enemy attack.

British pilots were aware that the tactics used were not very efficient. A compromise was found when the British began to fly in larger formations, with two pilots detached from the formation. These two pilots flew behind and above their colleagues, creating a larger observation field. The detached pilots were often the least experienced of the squadron. As a consequence, they were often the first to be shot down. Their colleagues sometimes didn’t even notice they were under attack before the two observers were taken out.

The burden of the battle fell mostly on the shoulders of 11 Group. The commandant of the Group, Keith Park, sent individual squadrons to intercept German raids. The general intention was to harass German bombers and try to split the tight German formations. Once this was done, the German planes could be shot down one by one.

When several squadrons arrived at the same target, the procedure was for the Hurricane planes to attack the enemy bombers. At the same time, the Spitfires, which were more agile, had the task of confronting the German fighter planes. However, this tactic could not always be applied during air battles. Thus, the British had to be able to swap the roles of the planes, if the situation demanded it.

During the battle, some RAF commanders, led by Trafford Leigh-Mallory and Douglas Bader, proposed that squadrons be reorganized in formation as ‘big wings’. This tactic would mean that the German bombers were met with force, with at most five squadrons, grouped in the shape of a wing.

This tactic was used by 12 Group. 12 Group had the task of protecting the airports of 11 Group while they were intercepting German raids. Due to the time needed to create this formation, 12 Group often arrived after the Germans had already bombed the airports of 11 Group. This created strong animosity between the commanders of the two airborne groups, Park and Leigh-Mallory.

To underline the problem with this tactic, Dowding sent a report written by Park. In the report, he underlined the fact that during the period of 11 September - 31 October 1940, this tactic led to only 10 interceptions, and only one enemy aircraft shot down. The report was ignored by the officials of the Air Ministry. The analysis carried out after the war showed that the tactics used by Dowding and Park in leading 11 Group were correct.

During the battle, British bombers carried out missions especially over France and Germany. They attacked ports, supply routes, Luftwaffe airports, and also targets of the German aeronautic industry. When the threat of an attack by land appeared imminent, the British began bombing German transport ships. This contributed to the cancellation of Operation Sea Lion. This type of mission was especially successful in France, because the Germans only managed to install a few radars to detect enemy planes.

The Bristol Blenheim bombers attacked German airports during the battle, both by day and by night. Although these raids didn’t always have the desired effect, there were still cases when they had success. For example, during a mission in Belgium, the British bombed the town of Haamstede. Here, they not only managed to attain their objectives, but also to destroy several enemy planes.

There were missions carried out by Blenheims, in which the rate of loss of these planes was almost 100%. One of these missions took place close to the Aalborg airport, in Denmark. Out of the 12 planes sent, one turned back before reaching the target. The other 11 were shot down either by anti-aircraft fire from the ground or by German fighter planes. Out of the 33 crew members of these aircraft, 20 were killed, and 13 were taken as prisoners of war. As for the pilot who turned back, he was put under investigation. He was killed in a different mission before he could appear before a court-martial.

Besides bombing, the Blenheims also executed long reconnaissance missions above Germany and territories occupied by the Germans. In this role, the British Blenheim bombers also proved to be too slow and vulnerable when faced with the German fighter planes. As a consequence, they suffered great losses.

While German espionage tended to underestimate the force of the enemy, British espionage overestimated the capabilities of the Luftwaffe. The British had an advantage in the information battle, due to the fact that the Germans used the Enigma machine to transmit secret messages. This cryptographic machine became famous because the Allies managed to decipher the code used to send messages.

The British gained information by deciphering the messages sent by Enigma. This information gave the British an overview of the intentions of the Luftwaffe, and of German capabilities. In some cases, through the deciphering of the Enigma messages, the British were warned of air raids before they happened.

The fact that the British managed to decipher Enigma was kept strictly secret for the whole of the war. Only the highest ranking Allied commanders knew about it. This was so the Germans would not discover that Enigma had been deciphered and start using a different code.

Almost every bombing raid was intercepted. This was due to radar, aircraft detectors from the Reconnaissance Troops, deciphering codes at the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire, and Department Y in Bomber Command, which listened to German telegraphs.

The RAF’s main problem in saving pilots who ejected over the sea was the lack of a specialized service for this type of operation. Before the beginning of the battle, the British began organizing a system of rapid response based on amphibious aircraft. Even so, this system did not cover the English Channel. It was considered that the traffic in that region was not sufficient to merit it. The British hoped that downed pilots would be saved by British ships in the Channel. If this was not possible, and if the pilot’s position was known, then a rescue operation could be launched.

British pilots were supplied with life jackets, but in those days the jackets had to be manually inflated. This was impossible if the pilot was wounded or unconscious. The waters of the English Channel are cold even in the middle of the summer, and the British pilots’ clothing was not able to protect them from the cold.

The British copied the German practise of giving their pilots a fluorescent light stick. This meant they could be located more easily.

In total, around 200 pilots were lost at sea during the battle. The British didn’t form a marine rescue service until 1941.

The battle progressed in several stages. During the first part of the battle, probe attacks took place. Attacks followed along the English Channel, but also on important ports and airports on the coast. This was followed by the main assault, with attempts to destroy the RAF in southern England. The Luftwaffe began bombing ports and industrial cities. The fourth stage was the Blitz, when London was under constant attack. The last stage of the battle consisted of large-scale night-time attacks, especially against London. During the daytime, the attacks consisted of small-scale raids by German fighter planes.

The probe attacks began during the battle for France and continued after France’s defeat. These attacks were meant to train the German pilots for the future large raids. This German tactic allowed the RAF to prepare for the main attack. Also, the RAF was able to form a general idea of the tactics used by the Luftwaffe.

The greatest battle of this period took place on the 18th of August, a day named in history as ‘The hardest day’. The Germans tried to completely destroy the RAF through massive attacks. Both sides suffered very heavy losses. In the air, the British outperformed the Luftwaffe, but suffered heavy losses on the ground. Some of their aircraft were destroyed before they could take off.

The battles over the Channel consisted of a series of attacks on British convoys. This stage of the battle favored the Germans, since Dowding could only offer minimal protection to the ships. The German attacks in this phase of the battle caused heavy losses for the British. Thus, the British gave up sending convoys by ship and began sending goods and provisions by train.

On the first day of the Blitz, London was attacked by 400 bombers and 600 fighter planes. There was a massive raid against the docks in the eastern part of the city. The British were expecting a big raid, and the No. 11 Group responded quickly to the attack. After the attack, the German press began to jubilate. Göring declared that the RAF was on the verge of collapse, and that an invasion by land was possible. This did not prove to be true. The RAF disposed of much greater military resources than German espionage had estimated.

The main assault was given the codename ‘Adlerangriff’. Spy reports from the beginning of this phase gave Göring the impression that the RAF was on the verge of collapse. The strategy at that point called for the destruction of the RAF in southern England, so that economic and military targets could be freely bombed. The climax would be a massive attack on London. As a first step, the Germans tried to put out the Dowding system by attacking the radar installations. The British were able to repair the radar stations quickly, making this tactic inefficient.

The greatest battle of the Blitz took place on the 15th of September, which is called ‘Battle of Britain Day’. Approximately 1,500 planes fought it out, when the Germans made one last attempt to destroy the RAF. However, the British succeeded in defeating the Luftwaffe. As a consequence, Hitler cancelled Operation Sea Lion.

After ‘Battle of Britain Day’, the Germans began to concentrate on night bombings of English towns. These raids gradually increased in intensity towards the end of the battle, but even these were not enough to defeat the will of the British. The last battle on British territory took place in Kent. The crew of a Junkers 88 put up resistance when they were met by the British soldiers who had received orders to capture the plane. After an exchange of gunfire, in which one of the Germans was wounded in the leg, the crew surrendered to the British, who fulfilled their mission.

The first stage of the battle began with the systematic bombing of the British commercial fleet and port facilities. Thus, from the beginning, the lack of coordination in German plans can be seen. Many times, the Luftwaffe bombed ports and aerodromes which the Wehrmacht would need in case of a landing. Hitler gave Directive no. 16, which ordered: “The English Air Force must be so reduced morally and physically that it is unable to deliver any significant attack against the German crossing.” According to the plan made by Alfred Jodl, 20 divisions would land between Ramsgate and Lyme Regis.

Hitler’s failure to understand the fundamental principles of air warfare was, to a great measure, responsible for his defeat in the Battle for Britain. He didn’t show great understanding of air or navy fleets. In the end, the water of the Channel was an obstacle too great for his military, ground-based thinking. Crossing an agitated and unpredictable sea was beyond his comprehension.

Hermann Göring was a bad strategist. He spent most of the duration of the battle he planned holed up in his country home in Carinhall, Prussia, 1,183 km away from Calais. He proved to be ignorant of details concerning logistics, strategy, technology and the capabilities of an airplane. This ignorance was inexcusable, since he was an ace pilot during the First World War.

The Fuhrer’s 17th directive ordered an intensified air attack to begin very soon. In this war, “The German Air Force is to overpower the English Air Force with all the forces at its command, in the shortest possible time. The attacks are to be directed primarily against flying units, their ground installations, and their supply organisations, but also against the aircraft industry, including that manufacturing antiaircraft equipment.”

The second stage of the Battle of Britain began at 9 am on Thursday the 8th of August. A series of massive and almost continuous German raids took place on British targets, on a front 800 km long. 1,485 flights were carried out on that day.

A large part of the air battle took place in splendid weather, in the summer of that year, over ‘Hellfire Corner’. This was a region in southern Kent, around Folkestone, Dover and Lympne, across the Channel from France. During the battle, more pilots from both sides died over ‘Hellfire Corner’ than in any other place above Great Britain. The vapor trails left in the stratosphere that summer would have been beautiful had they not been the sign of battles to the death between the gladiators of the air. These battles were watched by the civilian population on the ground, and when a German aircraft was brought down, ovations were heard.

Dowding convinced the Air Force Minister to install bullet-proof perspex windshields on the Hurricane and Spitfire aircraft. “If gangsters in Chicago can have bullet-proof windscreens for their cars” - he said to the minister - “I see no reason why my pilots can’t have the same thing.” They also put armored backrests on the pilots’ seats, even though they were placed very close to the tanks containing over 320 liters of high-octane fuel.

Peter Townsend, Group Captain and an RAF ace in air battle, remembered that: “In the mounting frenzy of battle, our hearts beat faster and our efforts became more frantic. But within, fatigue was deadening feeling, numbing the spirit. Both life and death had lost their importance. Desire sharpened to a single, savage purpose - to grab the enemy and claw him down from the sky.”

On Adlertag Day, the Day of the Vulture, the Luftwaffe launched an attack against Britain, made up of 1,485 flights. However, 46 German planes were shot down, compared with only 13 RAF planes. On the next day, 27 Luftwaffe planes fell, compared to 11 RAF planes. These figures do not include German bombers which returned to base too damaged to be repaired, or with crew members dead or injured. An obvious advantage of the RAF was that the pilots who survived a crash often returned to the sky on the same day. In contrast, German pilots ended up in British captivity.

The Luftwaffe began to concentrate on bombing the largest air bases of the RAF, farther from the coast. This was the most dangerous moment for Great Britain. If the Luftwaffe were to manage to take the aerodromes out, even for a short period of time, and then attack the British territorial fleet, an invasion attempt would be possible. Often, raids were led by 80-100 bombers, escorted by 100 fighter planes. The RAF bases at Biggin Hill, Manston, Lympne, Hawkinge and other places were seriously damaged or taken out of action.

During the month of August, 260 RAF pilots finished their training, while 304 were killed or wounded. The rate of replacement was, clearly, hard to maintain. Some RAF pilots were sent to battle with only 20 hours of instruction. By the end of the month, 11 of the 46 squadron commanders and 39 of the 97 group commanders were killed or wounded. There were some extraordinary stories of heroism and devotion. While destroying 17 enemy aircraft, the Dutch ace Alan Deer was shot down 7 times, ejected out 3 times and collided with a Me-109.

Victory or defeat in the battle with the RAF was not yet settled. At the end of August, Adolf Hitler met with problems with his homeland General Staff. His adjutant from Berghof, SS-Hauptsturmführer Max Wünsche, wrote to Himmler in Berlin. He told him that two of the personal servants of the Fuhrer, Hauptscharführer Wiebiczeck and Oberscharführer Sander, had been fired for theft and sent to Dachau. The Fuhrer was not yet decided about the ‘duration of their internment in the concentration camp’. History has not recorded what ultimately happened to these two.

In the moment when the capacity of the Fighter Command was stretched to the limit, the Germans made a fundamental strategic error. They changed the Schwerpunkt, the focal point of the attack, in the middle of the campaign, turning from England’s aerodromes to its cities. This vital change gave the British the breathing space they needed. Thus, they were able to repair their heavily damaged air bases.

The reason why Hitler and Göring changed the objective of the campaign was, first of all, a political one. They fell into the trap laid by Churchill, who banked on Nazi psychology. The characteristic trait of nationalist-socialism was its complete intolerance of opposition. Pluralism and debate were a curse for a political belief which was entirely founded on the supposed omniscience and infallibility of the Fuhrer.

The RAF attacked Berlin as a response to the one Heinkel He-111 which bombed London. Hitler’s promise to the German people, of protecting their capital, had obviously lost its value. So it was to be expected that he would react, promising the German people that: “When they declare they will attack our cities in great measure, we will eradicate their cities.” However, by changing the emphasis from bombing airports to bombing cities, Hitler was making a fundamental mistake.

The fourth stage of the battle began with a massive raid on the London docks. 300 tons of bombs were launched by 350 bombers, protected by 350 fighter planes. “Send all the pumps you can” one firefighter sent a message to the central command station, “the whole bloody world’s on fire!” Being late summer, the level of the Thames was low. As a result, the water was harder to pump. Kerosene, sugar and rum, which spilled from the destroyed warehouses, set the river alight. It’s estimated that the fire of that day caused more damage than the Great Fire of London in 1666.

In that afternoon, the Luftwaffe returned with another 247 planes to drop 352 tons of strong explosives and 400 firebombs. “Every witness realized the importance of the moment,” reminisced the German General Adolf Galland, of that first raid. The raid was so powerful that the National Guard had the impression that the invasion was happening. It sent the codename ‘Cromwell’ to mobilize all troops and to ring church bells, an alarm signal previously established.

Dowding’s personal assistant, aviation captain Robert Wright, related that “the Germans launched the biggest raid we had ever seen, however the attack was not on airports but on London. So we were able to regroup, repair, and most importantly, it gave the pilots the opportunity to rest a little.” The craters in runways left from bombs were covered, and the airplanes were repaired in hangars. Control and communication lines which had been damaged during the past two weeks were put in function again.

In a short period of time, the RAF, which up to that point had been placed under great pressure, was fully operational in its most important bases. It was receiving more airplanes from factory lines than it could fill with pilots. At the end of the Battle of Britain, the RAF had more operational fighter planes at its disposal than it had at the beginning.

German bombs also fell on the west end of London, Downing Street, Buckingham Palace, the House of Lords and the Law Courts. Hitler never visited air bases or bomb sites during the war. His motive was probably fear of being publicly associated with failure. Churchill, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth continually did this, and were often received with ovations from the public wherever they went.

The bombing moved towards the industrial area on the Clyde river. In total, there were 71 important attacks on London. Eight attacks were made on Liverpool, Birmingham and Plymouth, six on Bristol, five on Glasgow, four on Southampton, three over Portsmouth, and at least one over eight other towns. The beginning of the London Blitz, during the Battle for Britain, allowed the RAF to obtain victory in the air battle. The Blitz continued for a long time after this victory was gained.

Even though Great Britain had heavy anti-aircraft weapons and searchlights, these were not a great help. They simply forced German planes to fly at altitudes which were too high to permit exact bombing of targets. During the night-time Blitz, more German bombers were lost due to flight problems than because of anti-aircraft fire or the actions of combat planes at night. The air war, however, offered the civilians who were sheltering in basements, in underground stations, in public shelters or private shelters in gardens, the feeling that England was fighting back.

So that Great Britain would not give in under the pressure, pain and terror caused by the night bombings, the nation’s morale became a vital factor. British institutions tried to raise national morale by a subtle use of public information. British themes acknowledged vulnerability, which was in complete contradiction with Nazi self-perception.

The film Waterloo Bridge, starring Vivien Leigh and Robert Taylor, is a deliberate defence of British decorum and values. The film was almost entirely created as a flashback about the Great War. The film shows the beautiful ballerina, Myra, who falls in love with a brave aristocrat, Captain Roy Cronin. However, she is forced to become a prostitute after she sees her lover’s name on the list of those fallen in battle. When Cronin reappears and renews his vows, Myra commits suicide to avoid blemishing the honor of her fiance’s family and regiment. The officers in the film are models of politeness, affability and courage.

The film Mrs. Miniver was made two years later. The heroine and title character, interpreted by Greer Garson, is married to an architect, played by Walter Pidgeon. The scenes of stoic devotion to duty do not subestimate the destruction caused by war. The beautiful and young daughter-in-law of the Minivers dies in an air raid after returning from her honeymoon.

Civilian morale was as high as could be during the Blitz. A survey asked Londoners at the beginning of 1941 what had depressed them most during that winter. Most of the British answered that it was the weather, not the bombing.

There was no need for propaganda to show the destruction of Coventry. This destruction became a symbol of the Blitz for many British. The city was attacked in a single night by 500 German bombers. The number of those killed or wounded was small compared with those suffered later by German, Russian and Japanese towns. Still, the fact that this event happened at the beginning of the conflict transformed the city into a strong symbol of Hitler’s lack of scruples.

The Battle of Britain reached its highest intensity on the 15th of September 1940. It was a Sunday. It started with a huge raid on London, with 100 bombers and 400 fighter planes. The action ended with 56 German airplanes shot down, compared with only 26 RAF planes. After the 15th of September, celebrated today as the Battle of Britain Day, the Luftwaffe morale collapsed.

Even though the Stuka Ju-87 planes carried out a massive bomb attack, it wasn’t enough to defeat a city as large as London, capital of the British Empire. The lack of speed and maneuverability of the Stuka planes in attacks other than Blitzkrieg, when they were support for ground troops, made them a relatively easy target for the Hurricane and Spitfire planes.

Hitler postponed Operation Sea Lion. Two days after the defeat suffered by the Luftwaffe on the Battle of Britain Day, Hitler cancelled the operation completely, this time “until further notice”.

The last daytime raid on London took place on the last day of September. After this, there were still big night-time raids. The last day of October was the first day in which neither side lost planes. This time, the Battle for Britain could be declared, without hesitation, as being over. Four nights later, for the first time since July, no sirens sounded. Great Britain was safe.

By the end of the battle, a quarter of a million people were left homeless, 16,000 houses were destroyed, another 60,000 were uninhabitable and 130,000 damaged. Even so, the British morale did not fail. England was trying to take care of everyday life. A government poster aptly expressed this attitude with the words “Keep calm and carry on!”

After September, the country was out of major danger, at least for the moment. Certainly, only a very small number of British, those who knew of the deciphering of the German codes, could know this. Since the government wanted to keep the populace attentive and ready for anything, British civilians remained in a state of constant alert. This continued until Hitler ended the bombing campaign, a month before invading Russia.

In total, the Germans lost 1,733 planes to the RAF’s 915. These were modest figures compared to Germany’s losses in Russia and the Far East a few years later. However, at that moment, they were sufficient to decide the battle in favor of Great Britain. This was the first battle the Allies won against Germany.

Churchill was aware that the Home Front must become much more efficient if Great Britain were to be saved. The government imposed radical changes on British society. These changes were generally accepted in the spirit created by the national alert. Chamberlain’s government created the necessary legal framework: compulsory military service was introduced, and the Emergency Powers Defence Act gave the government generalized powers.

Churchill introduced a new subchapter in Law no. 18. Thus, the imprisonment of fascists without trial was permitted during the duration of the war. This meant, effectively, the introduction of martial law in Great Britain. He didn’t like doing this, describing the suspension of habeas corpus as “highly odious”. Even so, he gave himself powers which, in the history of Great Britain, placed him second only to Oliver Cromwell, in assuming a dictatorial role.

At the beginning of the war, Great Britain still imported 70% of the food it consumed. Thus, the appeal “Dig for Victory!” made the difference between death and life for the people from the merchant navy. The surface area of arable land increased by 43%, by ploughing up 2.8 million hectares of pastures. Great Britain reduced food imports to an absolute minimum. This was done by introducing rationing and almost completely eliminating food waste.

Chamberlain’s government did almost nothing to prepare the British economy for war. Around the fall of France, there were still over a million British without jobs. The workforce grew by only 11%, mostly through the employment of women in almost all areas of light industry. Since men were away serving in the army, 80,000 women took their places in agriculture and horticulture. Another 16,000 women replaced men in various transport services.

A revolution in mobilizing the workforce would have been unimaginable in any other circumstance than that of a total war. This changed British society for ever. Four years later, out of a total of 16 million women aged between 14 and 59 years old in Great Britain, 7.1 million were mobilized in one way or another for the war effort. These women freed the men for the armed forces or heavy industry.

In spite of the general enthusiasm towards the necessary measures for national defence, not everything was voluntary. For example, compulsory conscription of women into auxiliary services was introduced. Thus, all women aged between 18 and 60, married or unmarried, could receive orders to be employed in factories, services or agriculture. At the same time, they did not receive equal wages for equal work as the men.

The state played the most important role in the program of evacuation, which took place in the first months of the war. The program was also run during the Blitz, and later, during the attacks of flying V-1 bombs and V-2 rockets. In total, over a million children were sent away from the dangerous areas in and around cities. They were moved to the relative safety of rural areas. In many cases, they lived far from home, with complete strangers, for years.

Compulsory gas masks, blackout and the use of air raid shelters in back gardens, underground stations and basements, remained the principal memories of war for civilians. Added to this was rationing. Butter, sugar and bacon were rationed from the beginning. Later, rationing had to be extended to almost all food products. Clothing and gas were also rationed, soap and water for washing were limited, and scrap metal was collected for airplane production.

Traditionally, truth is the first victim to fall to war, and wise administration of finances is the second. The British economy was led towards bankruptcy by the huge expenses involved in the conflict. Churchill was determined that all expenses needed by national defence must be made. This, in spite of repeated warnings by his finance ministers, Sir Kingsley Wood and Sir John Anderson. By the end of the war, Great Britain had racked up an immense foreign debt. The economy crashed. The British had to obtain a loan from the Americans.

Income tax grew from 7 shillings and 6 pence to the pound, to 10 shillings, ie from 37.5% to 50%. Many people purchased war bonds from the state at a rate of interest which was “patriotically” small. During the war, the total occupation of the work force, in all sectors of production in the British economy, fell by 1.6 million.

More than half the industrial production of Great Britain was dedicated to weaponry. Thus, exports fell drastically. At the end of the war, there was a negative commercial balance of 1.04 billion pounds, compared to just 387 million before the war.

By the end of the war, Britain’s foreign debt became five times greater, transforming it into the most indebted nation. If economist John Maynard Keynes had not negotiated a loan of 3.75 million dollars from the United States, there was a real possibility that Great Britain would have become technically insolvent.

“Without the loan” said Richard Fry, financial correspondent to The Guardian at the end of the war, “famine could have ensued, with long delays in reconstruction, whereas political conditions could have become revolutionary.” Even so, Churchill’s government was willing to assume all these risks so that Great Britain could throw all its force into the war.

Certain government officials acknowledged that a strong British economy would be in itself a strong weapon of war. The global cost of keeping a good part of the population out of production and in uniform, together with the cost of purchasing and selling war materials, meant that Great Britain was forced to liquidate a good part of its financial reserves and to sell almost all its foreign assets.

The end of the battle was Germany’s first major defeat. Germany was not able to force Great Britain to sign a separate peace deal.

The battle also had the role of galvanizing American public opinion - at that time, the US was not yet involved in the war. During the battle, many Americans agreed with the opinions of Joseph Kennedy, American ambassador to London. Mr. Kennedy believed that the United Kingdom would be defeated. Roosevelt wanted a second opinion, so he sent William Donovan to England. Donovan was the chief of the American espionage agency - the Office of Strategic Services, precursor to the CIA. Donovan returned to the US convinced that England would be able to triumph, and must be supported.

The British victory had high costs for civilians. 23,002 civilians were killed during the campaign, and 32,138 wounded.

Although the Germans attacked the important industrial centers, they didn’t manage to destroy the British industrial potential. Even so, the danger to Great Britain was real, and the margin between victory and defeat was very small. The victory also improved the morale of the British, who had been defeated by the Germans in Scandinavia, Benelux and France.

After the battle, Great Britain managed to rebuild its forces and become a stronghold of the Allies. From here, four years later, Operation Overlord was launched, the Allied invasion in France. Hitler’s Directive no. 16, asking for “England to be eliminated as a base from which the war against Germany can be continued” was successfully resisted. Great Britain truly did become such a base.