75 years ago today, the Battle of Britain began. This would be a decisive moment during the Second World War.
After the Battle of France ended in the successful invasion of France and the Low Countries by Nazi Germany, Hitler turned his attention to the invasion of Britain, codenamed Operation ‘Sea Lion’. However, he recognised that he would first need to take control of the airspace over the southern coast of the United Kingdom, thereby removing the threat from Britain’s well-developed and supported air defence.
Whereas Germany had been banned from having an air force after the end of the First World War, the RAF had undergone significant and rapid expansion during the latter half of the 1930s, in preparation for war. The RAF boasted some of the best aircraft in the world at the time, as well as a highly-developed air defence network, known as the Dowding System.
Initially, the Germans attacked British shipping routes in the English Channel and key coastal targets. The main offensive was launched on 13th August, when the attacks began to concentrate more on airfields and communication centres, in an attempt to cripple the RAF.
The turning point came in early September, when the Nazis, having overestimated the damage that the Luftwaffe was inflicting, turned its attention away from RAF targets and towards the capital, London. This marked the beginning of the Blitz.
Although this prolonged bombing campaign took a huge toll on the population of London and the other cities across the country that were targeted by the Luftwaffe, it did give Britain’s air defence the chance to rebuild itself and, just a week later, on 15th September, the RAF managed to see off yet another major offensive by the Luftwaffe. The losses suffered by the Nazi forces were becoming more and more untenable and Hitler eventually had to postpone Operation ‘Sea Lion’.
This was a decisive victory for Britain and put her in the position to eventually be able to win the war. Operation ‘Overlord’, the British invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe would be launched from British shores four years later, marking the beginning of the end of the Second World War.
Many events will take place this summer to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the first battle in military history to take place entirely in the air. Today (Friday 10th July), the RAF will conduct a flypast of Buckingham Palace, watched on by the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and many other senior members of the Royal Family. Sunday will be Memorial Day, the annual commemoration of the Battle of Britain. A special service will be held at the National Memorial to the Few in Kent, with a Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and surviving members of ‘The Few’ taking the General Salute. And finally, in September, the Imperial War Museum Duxford will host the Battle of Britain Anniversary Air Show.
Bring the Battle of Britain and the Blitz to life for your students on one of our WW2 battlefield tours to London. All our school trips are tailor-made and feature curriculum-based visits. On a WW2 battlefield trip to London, for example, possible visits include the Imperial War Museum, the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms, and a guided ‘London in the Blitz’ walking tour. For further information, please contact us.