The summer months of 1940 saw World War II come to the English skies as the RAF bravely stand up to the onslaught of Hitler’s Luftwaffe. Immediately following a period of time referred to as the ‘Phoney War’, Hitler had ordered his forces to invade other European countries and there was hardly any opposition in Belgium, Netherlands or France.
Operation Dynamo had seen approximately 300,000 men of the BEF brought to safety by a flotilla of ships making the journey between England to Dunkirk over a number of days. So now Hitler had his sights on England. The white cliffs of Dover were clearly visible as the German High Command peered past the English Channel from Calais.
However, until the skies over England were under German command, Hitler wasn’t able to authorise Operation Sealion – the invasion of United Kingdom. With America being reluctant to take part in the war at this stage and her Allies vanquished, Great Britain would need to face the Germans on it’s own.
Could Britain hold out until the summer was over when the weather would thwart the Germans from crossing the Channel? British hopes was in the hands of the brave pilots of the Royal Air Force, “The Few” as Churchill later referred to them. It wasn’t merely British airmen in the RAF, the Commonwealth was represented with pilots from an array of colonial outposts like as South Africa and Rhodesia as well as Poles and even a couple of Americans.
Hitler directed his bombers over to pound UK into submission however most importantly, their fighter escorts merely had the fuel for only a few minutes battle before they would have to go back home leaving the bombers unprotected. For the very first time, the Luftwaffe came up against solid resistance and there was to be no repeat of their quick victories on the Continent. The British airfields in the south east were taking a beating till one night in August 1940, a German bomber got lost and dropped its bombs over London before heading for home. In retaliation, the RAF conducted an air raid over Berlin.
Hitler was furious and instructed the Luftwaffe to bomb London in place of the RAF airfields. This was a key turning point as it offered the Royal Air Force some much called for relief. The Luftwaffe was unable to gain the initiative at any point and in mid September, Hitler indefinitely postponed Operation Sealion. The risk of invasion was over and Churchill spoke of the contribution of Fighter Command in a widely recognized speech “Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few”.
The number one fighter ace was Sgt Frantisek from the Czech Republic with a score of 17 kills. He flew in a Hawker Hurricane which was the true workhorse of Fighter Command but everybody remembers the iconic Spitfire. Sgt Frantisek was killed in October 1940.
The Battle of Britain was the first time the Germans had experienced a military defeat in World War II.