On 10 April 1940 Germany attacked. The Luftwaffe launched daylight attacks on British ports and shipping in the English Channel. These Kanalkampf (“Channel Battles”) forced the British to cease convoys.
On 18 June 1940, Primie Minister Winston Churchill told his ‘Island Race’: “… the Battle of France is over. The Battle of Britain is about to begin.” Four days later, France surrendered to Germany and Hitler focused on Britain.
The plan was simple. Hermann Goering, the Luftwaffe’s Commander-in-Chief, was tasked with defeating the RAF, which in Hitlers words must be “beaten down to such an extent that it can no longer muster any power of attack worth mentioning against the German crossing”.
The Germans predicted the fight would take days. It lasted three months.
The RAF had home advantage, a roughly equal number of planes and radar. The RAF was fighting for the lives of everyone on the ground below – a fact proven on the night of 24/25 August when Germany bombed London.
Churchill immediately ordered RAF Bomber Command to launch reprisal raids on Berlin the following night. Hitler was outraged and on 5 September, he ordered the Luftwaffe to concentrate its attacks upon London and other major British cities… On 7 September, nearly four hundred German bombers targeted docks in the East End of London, killing 490 civilians and injuring 1,200. This would be the first of 57 consecutive nights of bombing known as the Blitz…
On 15 September, now known as Battle of Britain Day, the Luftwaffe mounted its largest and most concentrated attack on London in the hope of drawing out the RAF into a final battle of annihilation. However, the German raids were decisively defeated. RAF fighters shot down 61 German aircraft for the loss of 31, inflicting the highest losses the Luftwaffe had suffered for over a month.
On 17 September, Hitler was forced to delay his plans to invade Britain. The Luftwaffe continued to bomb Britain until the end of the war. But the vital battle that would come to define the war in Britain had been won.
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