Battle Of Britain In WWII

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02/05/17 History Reference this

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World War 2 was the largest-scale war in history which lasted for an extensive episode of six years, during the years 1939 and 1945. During the first part of the war, it was divided into two separate conflicts which took place during this period; the European war, and the war in the pacific. However, these conflicts later came together when Adolf Hitler (leader of Germany) declared war on America on December 11 1941, which in turn gave the United States political reasoning to become involved in the European conflict.

The second world war initiated in the mainland European continent on September 1 1939 when Adolf Hitler and his Germany disobeyed the ultimatum set upon them by France and Britain to not invade the country of Poland. The European conflict drew to a close on May 8 1945 due to the absolute surrender of the German nation, however the conflict in the Pacific regions between Japan and the United States didn’t cease for another four months on September 2 1945, after two experimental yet devastating atomic bombs were dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima (august 6 1945) and Nagasaki (august 9 1945) by the United States. World war 2 was the single largest armed war in the whole of time, with conflicts covering every continent in the world, and including most of the countries within.

By the time of May 1940, Nazi Germany had overtaken and conquered both Holland and Belgium, as well as taking the north section of France. They did this using their tactic known as ‘Blitzkrieg’ (meaning ‘Lightning War’). This tactic was dependent on the effectiveness of the Lufftwaffe (German air force). Although the Luftwaffe was more than capable of providing effective attacking options, it lacked the ability to pilot long-range missions/attacks, which later proved to be a vital part of the Battle of Britain in particular. There were a number of factors and different events which led to the rise and eventual demise of Germany and the other ‘axis nations’ (Italy, Japan, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria). One specific conflict/battle which is famed around the world as a key event of the war is the Battle of Britain.

The battle of Britain officially lasted for over three months, July 10 1940 – October 31 1940. It is the name given to the fighting and battles that took place around the southern coast of Britain and the English Channel, between the Nazi Luftwaffe, and the Royal Air Force (RAF). The clashes that took place surrounded German bombing raids on important British military bases, airfields of the RAF being the key target. The RAF stopped the Luftwaffe from totally disabling the defenses on the airfields, by shooting down large numbers of bombers on numerous occasions. The short range of the German Luftwaffe as briefly mentioned previously, prohibited the German planes from supplementing the Bombers with help during major bombing raids. They were limited to the south coast and regions just above the coastline. However it is clear that the sheer skill and effectiveness that the British aircraft and pilots showed, enabled Britain victory in the end. “never in the history of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few.” [1] 

The following will discuss ‘was the battle of Britain a decisive turning point in WW2?’ by analyzing the situation before and after the battle, as well as looking at the battle itself and seeing how it affected the course and eventual outcome of the war.

Britain declared war on Germany on September 1 1939 but for nearly a year, up until April 1940, there were no actual conflicts in the western parts of Europe, which is why this period is known as the ‘phony war’. This time was key, however, for Britain, since it allowed them to complete their rearmament, and prepare exponentially for the inevitable fighting which would occur in the future. This time of preparation proved fundamental for Britain’s war effort, especially during the Battle of Britain itself. Moreover, this time allowed for more than just military gain, but also for the abundant steps taken for protection plans etc, for possible bombing raids, to enable safety of civilians and critical military locations. In addition, ‘The Phoney War’ allowed time for the construction of air raid shelters to smaller ‘Anderson’ shelters constructed in civilian’s gardens. This factor, together with the early warning capability provided by newly developed RADAR technology, meant the risk of casualties involving civilians was further reduced.

Hitler and Germany began their war campaign in Western Europe in May 1940 and the period that followed. The plan of action by Germany was to entirely eradicate the French forces and invading, capturing and conquering the French lands, and thereby scaring Britain into a swift surrender without Germany having to waste forces and capital invading the British Isles. The ‘Battle of France’, as named by Winston Churchill, is the German invasion and take-over of France and the smaller countries around her in 1940. The victory in France was highly decisive for the Nazis, because it gave them a point from which an invasion of Britain could be executed. The battle of France was short-lived, from may 10 1940 – June 22 1940. This plan was known as Operation Yellow, in which Germany sought to exploit a fundamental flaw in the French defense in order to invade the country. After the devastating effects of world war 1 France built the Maginot Line, which was a strong fortification that lined the Franco-German border. The purpose of the fortification was to stop any potential invasion threat by Germany being plausible. Germany exploited the flaw in this defense plan by invading in a similar fashion as they did in world war 1, by marching through Belgium (which remained neutral during the conflict) and subsequently into France via the Franco-Belgian border. Through utilizing their infamous ‘blitzkrieg’ tactics the weak countries between Germany and France were defeated in only three weeks, providing the German army with a clear opportunity to invade France through a relatively un-defended corridor. The invasion of France was a major event in world war 2, since it gave Germany a staging post from which to launch their invasion attacks against Britain, therefore beginning the Battle of Britain.

The British government knew this was a credible threat, and before Germany had completed their conquering of France, Britain acted to support French resistance against the Germans. In an attempt to strengthen Frances defenses against the invading army, and to halt their rapid advance, Britain deployed the B.E.F. (British Expeditionary Force) into northeast France. Despite several battles and defensive maneuvers, the deployment was a total disaster, German forces pushed around 500,000 allied troops to Dunkirk on France’s north coast, where a massive evacuation took place. The evacuation of Dunkirk between May 27 and June 4 1940, codenamed Operation Dynamo by the allied forces, was the huge rescue effort made by the British army and public alike to remove British and allied soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk before they were wiped out by the heavily advancing German forces. There was a total of 338,226 soldiers rescued from the beaches by the roughly gathered fleet of 850 ships, boats and other vessels. The operation itself is seen as a huge success, since it did not seem possible to evacuate so many troops in such little time, and it meant the allies could start preparing for a re-invasion plan of France to be executed in the future. However, in the long term, the fall of Dunkirk showed Germany’s relentless strength, as it finished off their victory over mainland Europe, and therefore left Britain stranded alone to face their might, the event we now know as the Battle of Britain.

Therefore, at this stage of the war Britain was the only force left to stop Germany from conquering the whole of western Europe, and hence creating staging posts from which to push her advancement into the American continents and further west. for that reason, it is fair to say that Britain holding its own against Germany would be the only thing capable of stopping a total German victory in the war. It can be argued at this point however, that Germany were powerful enough to pursue wishes of conquering Russia, had they chosen not to push forward towards Britain. “By the summer of 1940 invasion was a much more realistic threat” [2] 

The battle of Britain is seen by many as the decisive point in the war. It Began July 10 1940 and ended on October 31 1940. The battle was Britain’s last defense against a German invasion attack (Operation Sealion), and therefore the RAF met the Luftwaffe and their bombing raids in many conflicts throughout the three months. Hitler knew he had to dispatch the British air superiority if Germany were to have any chance of invading the island. Germany’s aims in the battle were to bomb strategic sites, such as airfields and defense networks on or near the south coast, and this along with the destruction of the RAF fighter planes would secure Germany’s air superiority.

During the battle, many fighters and bombers were lost by both sides, but Germany lost the majority of planes, one example being a total of 669 planes lost during the month of August. As a result of Germany being unable to gain air superiority due to Britain’s superior skills in air combat, Hitler called off the planned invasion on September 17 1940, thus bringing an end to the actual conflicts that took place. This did however, begin a series of bombing raids which lasted until late October time.

At the outbreak of war in 1939-1940 Germany’s production rate and current number of aircraft vastly outstripped Britain’s, with Britain holding a respectable 1660 planes against Germany’s 4000. After the Battle and occupation of France by Germany, the Luftwaffe vastly outnumbered the RAF. The Germans had 3,000 aircraft currently just in the north-west region of the European continent; 300 dive bombers, 1,400 bombers, 240 twin engine fighter bombers and 800 single engine fighter planes. Although Germany had a clear advantage in terms of numbers at this moment, there were a number of factors which could be seen as giving Britain the upper hand. The main one of these advantages, was a techonoligical one, with the use of radar technology, the British air force could see incoming Luftwaffe planes from a far distance, giving them enough warning to prepare for battle. This meant that Germany could not use the element of surprise in their attacks, and the RAF could plan their defense quickly before the Germans reached the shore of the south coast.

The official starting date for the Battle itself is July 10 1940, the commencement of the battle began with the Luftwaffe trying to command power in the skies through the Straits of Dover. The plan of the Germans was to force the RAF to come out to face them in a personal face-off, which the RAF was expected to lose. By the close of this month however, the Luftwaffe had lost 269 planes, whereas the RAF had lost just 150. This is already showing signs of the Battle’s affect on German forces, which will prove to be a decisive factor later on in the war effort for the allies. Therefore this helps to support the idea of the battle being a turning point in favour of the allies.

The Luftwaffe continued launching waves of tactical attacks only to be repelled by the efforts of the RAF, and on September 15 there was a critical victory for the RAF forces as they broke apart and defeated two large waves of attacks by German airplanes, with an impressive total of 60 German planes being shot down as opposed to the 26 RAF planes destroyed. This German defeat resulted in Hitler to order, two days later, the postponement of preparations for the invasion of Britain. Furthermore, due to multiplying losses in men, planes etc, the Luftwaffe could no longer keep up the face-to-face battles with the RAF, and consequently switched in favour of night bombing raids in south east England.

Victory in the Battle of Britain seemed inevitable for British forces when on October 13, Hitler further postponed the invasion “until the spring of 1941”; however, the invasion never happened, and October is regarded as the month regular bombing of Britain ended. It was not until Hitler’s Directive 21 was ordered on 18 December 1940, that the threat of invasion finally dissipated, and Britain became safe and could concentrate on preparing the counter attack in mainland western Europe.

A number of arguments can be put forward for the case that the Battle of Britain was a turning point in the war, but in general terms, the Battle of Britain can be seen as a turning point in the war because the RAF dealt heavy losses on the Luftwaffe, which seriously dented the effectiveness of Germany’s ‘Blitzkrieg’. It is possible to say however, that if Germany didn’t attack the RAF, then the British may well have used their air force later in the war to stage a full-scale attack on Germany, and the Luftwaffe would have been stretched to stop them. Herman Goering (leader of the German Luftwaffe) informed Hitler that the British would have been swept aside by the German air force, then when the invasion attempt failed, Hitler reconsidered the possibility of being able to mount a full invasion on Britain. Therefore the Battle of Britain made an impact in this respect, because, and buckled Germany’s air force, and consequently forced Hitler to change his mind and his plans about Britain.

There are a number of things effects that would have come from a British defeat in the battle of Britain, for example if Britain had fallen, there would have been nowhere to stage a recovery effort of mainland Europe, and therefore Hitler would have effectively won. The only way for remaining allies to attempt an invasion would have been through the African continent, but this was under the control of the other Axis countries at the time.

Moreover, Russia would have become extremely susceptible to invasion, because they would have been under threat from the full combined power and might of the Axis countries, inevitably resulting in the fall of Russia, and Germany would have been well underway towards total global domination. In addition, there would be no remaining force able to fight in the Asian region of the world, since America was the only strong remainder of the allied forces left, and they would have been preoccupied with their own protection and survival. This would have overall enabled the Axis powers to continue growing in strength and size. As a result of this, German idealism would have spread rapidly around the new continents ruled by the Axis powers, such as the Holocaust and Nazi fascism. All these effects would have combined to make the Axis powers largest and most powerful force in the world, with their poor ruling, the Central and Eastern hemisphere would be plunged into an era of possible darkness and misery for the civilians living in these parts.

There are however, many historians who share the opinion that the Battle of Britain was not actually a turning point as such, since although the RAF stopped Germany controlling the skies, the British navy would have been able to stop any invasion force coming in from the channel, which is precisely where Hitler planned on attacking through. Historian Richard Evans says “Irrespective of whether Hitler was really set on this course, he simply lacked the resources to establish the air superiority that was the sine qua non of a successful crossing of the English Channel. A third of the initial strength of the German air force, the Luftwaffe, had been lost in the western campaign in the spring. The Germans lacked the trained pilots, the effective fighter planes, and the heavy bombers that would have been needed.” [3] 

Similarly, Derek Robinson argues that “the massive superiority of the Royal Navy over the Kriegsmarine would have made Sealion a disaster and the Luftwaffe could not have prevented decisive intervention by British cruisers and destroyers, even with air superiority” [4] . A further point to argue against the idea of the Battle of Britain as a turning point, is that the Axis powers still had the advantage at this point, since casualties were not so significant that they were forced to retreat, Hitler merely was forced to cancel his planned invasion of Britain.

Some arguments show that German aircraft losses were not as bad as it has been made out to be, and the failure of the Luftwaffe was due to a different factor. In the clashes themselves between the RAF and the Luftwaffe, in terms of numbers in their proportionate size, the Luftwaffe often came out of the clashes as the most dangerous air force. A number of separate battles ended with the numbers unbalanced in Germany’s favor by about 3:2 aircraft. Some historians believe that Britain were ready to give up the battle and abandon their campaign due to the cost of maintaining it, and they only managed to keep going due to financial support from the USA. This does not take anything away from the success of the RAF however, since being able to hold off such a large force was very impressive at the time, and brought about more moral and financial support from the Americans.

To conclude, there are many arguments, factors etc, for and against the Battle of Britain being a turning point in the Second World War. After the exponential growth of German occupied territory from 1939 to 1941, where German forces had remained undefeated, came a 2nd phase of the conflict. German defeat in the Battle of Britain sparked a chain of other axis failures that eventually led to their defeat.

The reason behind Germany’s loss in World War II cannot be credited solely to the Battle of Britain however. There are other factors that need to be considered to draw an answer in this case; there were numerous mistakes in German setup, which can be brought right down to the roots with strategic and economic issues. Despite Hitler’s early successes, Germany could not sustain a prolonged war and therefore when the element of surprise was eliminated, the victories turned to defeats. However, the Battle of Britain was the first defeat for Nazi Germany, which made clear to the allies that they were not invincible, and it was possible for them to be defeated. From the benefit of our position in time we can now see that from this point on Germany would fight a defensive war in the west for Hitler didn’t invade Russia instead of Britain, he was well aware that peace with Russia could not last. He had to strike at Russia when he did before she was ready to strike at him. But his failure to defeat Britain cost him dearly, since they themselves came back at Germany with they’re own heavy bombers, they’re commando raids and the various resistance groups it co-ordinated throughout Europe, Britain was slowly eating away at Germany’s strength and position in the war. Later, when America entered the war Britain became a huge storage depot for men and equipment, British and American bombers would carry the war to every town and city in Germany and when they were ready their armies would embark from British ports for D Day and the advance towards Germany. Trapped by his war against Russia and his failure to eliminate Britain Hitler was doomed. That is why the Battle of Britain was a turning point in World War 2, however not the only reason Germany was defeated.


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