When France fell to Germany in 1940, Hitler set his sights on Britain and determined to defeat Britain by air.
The German strategy was to gain air superiority over Britain in preparation for Operation Sea Lion, a full-scale invasion. The Luftwaffe attempted to defeat the RAF in the first all-out battle in the skies, over the whole of south-east England and London. It involved attacks on RAF air bases and military targets as well as dogfights.
On paper the Luftwaffe appeared to have the advantage in numbers of planes, pilots and experience. But the two air forces were fairly evenly matched as the RAF’s aircraft had a longer range, and as the fighting took place over British soil, uninjured downed pilots could recover and re-join the fighting quickly.
Britain also had to its advantage the foresight provided by Radar and the Observer Corps, who watched the skies for approaching aircraft with just binoculars from observation posts - buildings not unlike garden sheds. This vital work helped the RAF prepare for and respond to attacks swiftly.
Did you know
The Observer Corps became the Royal Observer Corps in 1941, to recognise their contribution in the Battle of Britain.
All this meant that during the twelve-week battle, it is estimated that the Luftwaffe lost nearly twice the number of aircraft as the RAF. 1,294 German fighters were destroyed, compared with 788 British.
By preventing Germany from gaining air superiority, the British forced Hitler to postpone and eventually cancel Operation Sea Lion.
The Royal Air Force is marking the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain this year – for more information, visit http://www.raf.mod.uk/
Though the threat of invasion had been quashed, the war continued and the Luftwaffe moved to indiscriminate “Blitz” bombing of cities. However, failing to destroy Britain’s air defences, force an armistice or surrender, is considered Germany’s first major defeat and a crucial turning point in World War 2.