The fierce battle raged on from July until October 1940, as the Germans tried to win air superiority over Britain by destroying their air force, and aircraft industry. "The Battle of France is over. The Battle of Britain is about to begin," famously quoted Churchill in June 1940. The French had just surrendered to Germany, which caused Hitler to turn his attention to Britain. Before Hitler could even think of an invasion though, German air superiority in the south of England was essential, and Hermann Goering, the head of the Luftwaffe, was instructed that the RAF must be "beaten down to such an extent that it can no longer muster any power of attack worth mentioning against the German crossing". It all kicked off on the 10th July 1940 with German bomber attacks against British convoys and ports. On August 13, Hitler heated things up a bit and unleashed the main offensive called Adlerangriff (‘Eagle Attack’) which was initially against air base, aircraft factories and against radar stations in south-eastern England. To defend the country the British arranged more than 600 frontline fighters and Fighter command employed squadrons of durable and heavily armed Hawker Hurricanes. Britain also had the faster and more agile Supermarine Spitfires up its sleeve - saved for use against the bombers’ fighter escorts. Thanks to their superior equipment the British actually had the advantage against the German bombers that were mostly lightly armed, twin-engine planes like the Heinkel He 111 and Junkers Ju 88. These aircraft in daylight were very vulnerable and also lacked the bomb load capacity to strike fatal blows. Even more vulnerable to being shut down was the once feared Junkers Ju 87 “Stuka” dive-bomber and the German premier fighter—the Messerschmitt Bf 109— was operating at the limit of its flying range so could only provide brief long-range cover for the bombers. By the end of August 1940, the Luftwaffe had lost more than 600 aircraft and the RAF only 260. However, Fighter Command was still losing fighters and experienced pilots at too great a rate to be sustained. Number 11 Group in particular was in a fight for its life and subsequently for Britain’s well-being too. Churchill recognised that the country’s fate hung on the sacrifice of its airmen, and in a speech to Parliament on August 20, said:
“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”
Thankfully, Britain had the advantage of fighting against an enemy that had no systematic or consistent plan of action. By mid-September, it was becoming clear that the Luftwaffe could not gain air superiority over Britain. British fighters were shooting down German bombers faster than German industry could produce them. The Luftwaffe even shifted almost entirely to night raids on Britain’s industrial centres, in order to avoid the RAF fighters. The night raids, also known as the “Blitz,” caused many deaths and hardship for the people of Britain at the time, but it didn’t help the Germans dominate the skies and invade Britain. On October 12, 1940 Hitler announced that the operation was off for the winter, and long before the arrival of spring he decided to turn eastward against Russia. Plans for an invasion were discarded and the campaign against Britain then became a blockade of its sea approaches, conducted mainly by submarines and only supplemented by the Luftwaffe. The Battle of Britain really tested the efficiency of British airplane technology and the swift development of German airpower cause Britain to sharpen their own air force. Britain developed the use of radar and galvanised the air force into a separate military branch and. The British Air Force helped defeat the Germans and played a vital part in turning the tide of the Second World War. The Battle of Britain was very significant because it was the first major military campaign in history to be fought entirely in the air.
Although exact figures are hard to come by, it is thought that about 1,000 RAF planes were shot down in the Battle of Britain and a loss of 544 pilots killed. The German Luftwaffe lost many more planes than this, perhaps as many as 1,800 and more than 2,500+ aircrew killed.
The Blitz, which continued long after the end of the Battle of Britain, resulted in over 40,000 civilian deaths and over 50,000 injured.
"We do not want to be remembered as heroes, we only ask to be remembered for what we did....that's all" - W/C Robert "Bob" Doe 234 & 238 Squadrons Fighter Command
Did pilots of the Battle of Britain receive an award?
All pilots that served during this period were entitled to an award. This was in the form of a clasp with the words ‘BATTLE OF BRITAIN’ inscribed, and this clasp is worn on the ribbon of the ‘1939 - 45 Star’ that was authorised for aircrew members of stipulated squadrons of Fighter Command who flew at least one operational sortie between 00.01 hrs 10th July and 23.59 hrs 31st Oct 1940. (Note: The ribbon has three vertical stripes of dark blue, red and light blue. The dark blue stripe represents the Naval Forces and the Merchant Navy, the red stripe the Armies and the light blue stripe the Air Forces.) The award was NOT given to those pilots who were under training with a training squadron even if they did happen to shoot down an enemy aircraft.
Do you have a WW2 pilot in the family, or have you ever wondered if any of your ancestors were in the Forces during the war? If so, find out more by visiting Forces War Records, a site that specialises in transcribing war records into digital data that can be easily searched and cross referenced: