The Battle Of Britain 1940

What was the Battle of Britain? In 1940, Winston Churchill declined a peace deal with Hitler, the war starts from there. Read on to find out more information.

Following the Battle of France, in which the French army had been decimated, and the British Expeditionary Force forced to return home without any equipment, the British government, and Winston Churchill in particular, were left with a grave decision to make. After seeing the daunting progress made by the Wermacht (German Forces), two members of the British War Cabinet, Neville Chamberlain and Lord Halifax, declared that they thought it best to propose a peace settlement in late May 1940. Churchill thought long and hard over what to do, but when he heard that the British Expeditionary Force had returned to Britain safely, decided against that particular course of action.

The Battle of Britain was about to begin and Churchill had to drum up support for his actions to a depressed and unconfident government and public. He did this with his famous speech, on June 4 1940, where he declared the Allies would "fight them on the beaches, the landing grounds, in the fields and the street, in the hills"¦ we shall never surrender!" The response to this was a rapturous applause in the House of Commons, and reinforced the bulldog spirit of the British people.

What hope did the Allies have though? The Expeditionary Force did not have the required weapons to defend Britain's beaches, and the Royal Navy, although able to defend the shores, would be sitting ducks for the Luftwaffe. The hopes of the nation rested on the shoulders of Fighter Command, mainly the Royal Air Force, but consisting of many nationalities willing to lend a hand (nine other nationalities in all). Hurricanes and Spitfires were their fighter craft, pitted against the German Messerschmit 109, which was at least as effective.

Hitler secretly admired the British for the way they had built their Empire. He wished to negotiate a peace deal, but when Churchill refused, he prepared for Operation Sealion. This would comprise of attacks by the army, navy and Luftwaffe. However they needed air supremacy in order for the navy and army to be effective. So on August 13 1940, the Battle of Britain began.

The British had an early warning system to foretell any German attacks. In addition to this they had radar systems effective to 80 miles, and with the help of the code breakers of Bletchley Park, had broken the Ultra red key used by the Luftwaffe. The Germans targeted aircraft bases and radar towers and were at first very successful in their bombing. Problems arose though due to the skill of the fighter command planes. They took out many German fighter pilots, and by September 7 had far more pilots available than the Luftwaffe. This caused Hitler to change tactics; he began attacking the cities. This is because they were less easy to defend, and Fighter Command could not predict attacks as easily, so, in theory, he would lose fewer fighter pilots.

Fighter Command had gained the upper hand though and continued to pick off the Germans. Although Britain's cities were heavily bombed, by mid October the Battle of Britain was over and the Allies had won.

Winston Churchill summed up the contribution of Fighter Command to the war when he said, "Never in the history of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few."

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