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Battle of Britain - Movie, WW2 and Definition

Battle of Britain - Movie, WW2 and Definition

The Battle of Britain in World War II was between Britain’s Royal Air Force (RAF) and the Luftwaffe, Nazi Germany’s air force, and was the first battle in history fought solely in the air. From July 10 through October 31, 1940, pilots and support crews on both sides took to the skies and battled for control of airspace over Great Britain, Germany and the English Channel. The powerful, combat-experienced Luftwaffe hoped to conquer Britain easily, but the RAF proved a formidable enemy.

Herman Göring and the Luftwaffe

After World War I, the Treaty of Versailles forbade Germany to have an air force. With the help of the Soviet Union, however, Germany secretly defied the treaty and trained air force pilots and support staff on combat planes.

When Adolf Hitler and his Third Reich came to power, Nazi Germany began rebuilding their air force. He officially created the Luftwaffe in February 1935, placing former World War I fighter pilot and political ally Hermann Göring in charge.

Operation Sea Lion

By the start of World War II in 1939, the Luftwaffe was the strongest and best-trained air force in the world. They played a crucial role in Germany’s methodical and highly effective invasion of much of Western Europe, including Poland, Holland, Belgium and France.

After France fell to Germany on June 22, 1940, Hitler set his sights on the Soviet Union but still had to contend with Great Britain. He planned a massive invasion by land and sea, code named Operation Sea Lion, but knew he needed to defeat the RAF first.

Hitler hoped his Luftwaffe and its fierce reputation would intimidate Britain enough that they would surrender peacefully, and even dangled the prospect of a peace treaty. However, he underestimated the resolve of Britain’s people, its military and its combative new prime minister, Winston Churchill, who rejected the offer outright.

Churchill believed Hitler and the evils of Nazism had to be abolished no matter what. He knew that the RAF was Britain’s main defense against German troops crossing the English Channel.

Churchill's "Finest Hour" Speech

Days before France’s surrender, Churchill gave his famous “Finest Hour” speech to the House of Commons, making it clear he had no intention of capitulating to Hitler, although some members of Parliament hoped to negotiate peace.

In his speech, Churchill said, "the Battle of France is over. I expect the Battle of Britain is about to begin." He spoke of his certainty that the Luftwaffe would attack Britain hard, but also his confidence that the RAF, commanded by Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding, would hold their own and be victorious.

Churchill knew failure was not an option, and his powerful speech boosted the morale and patriotism of the British people, its military and Parliament.

READ MORE: 10 Things You May Not Know About Winston Churchill

Hawker Hurricane, Supermarine Spitfire, Messerschmitt BF-109

Hitler and many of his generals were unprepared to invade Britain. Göring, however, was confident his Luftwaffe would quickly destroy the RAF with his German bombers and prevent, or at least postpone, the need for a full-scale invasion; Hitler gave him the go-ahead to prove it.

On July 10, 1940, the Luftwaffe attacked Britain, performing reconnaissance missions and targeting coastal defenses, ports and radar stations. Their efforts, however, did little damage to the RAF.

In mid-August, using mostly single-engine Messerschmitt BF-109 combat planes, the Luftwaffe began attacking Britain’s airfields, air fighter production sites and targeting RAF Supermarine Spitfires and Hawker Hurricanes in the air.

Blitz Begins

Despite being outnumbered, the RAF retaliated by bombing Berlin. Enraged, Hitler and Göring changed tactics and ordered a bombing campaign known as “the Blitz” against London, Liverpool, Coventry and other major cities, hoping to decimate the morale of the British people. To ensure massive casualties, German bombing was carried out at night.

On September 15, the Luftwaffe began two massive raids on London, eager to force the British to the negotiating table, but they could not defeat the RAF or gain control of British airspace. The Luftwaffe was by then stretched too thin, poorly organized and unable to keep up with the demand for new fighter planes or overcome the RAF’s superior technology.

Who Won the Battle of Britain?

By the end of October 1940, Hitler called off his planned invasion of Britain and the Battle of Britain ended. Both sides suffered enormous loss of life and aircraft. Still, Britain weakened the Luftwaffe and prevented Germany from achieving air superiority. It was the first major defeat of the war for Hitler.

Although Britain stood alone against Germany after the fall of France, nearly a quarter of the RAF pilots who participated in the Battle of Britain were from other countries including Poland, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Belgium, France, the United States and South Africa.

Why Did the British Win the Battle of Britain?

The British won the Battle of Britain due to a confluence of factors. They were defending their home territory, so were more motivated to succeed, and also knew the local geography better than the invaders. Another major factor was the Dowding System, named after Sir Hugh Dowding, Commander in Chief of the RAF Fighting Command. The Dowding System’s pioneering use of radar (which could warn the RAF of enemy attacks), aircraft and ground defense gave Great Britain a competitive advantage.

Significance of the Battle of Britain

The Battle of Britain was a turning point in World War II; if the RAF had not held off the Luftwaffe, Hitler would have likely moved forward with his Operation Sea Lion invasion of the British Isles. This would have been devastating to the British people and all efforts to stem Hitler’s rise to power. Germany needed to control the English Channel to invade Britain, and the battle prevented them from gaining that valuable control.

Britain’s victory in the Battle of Britain demonstrated the courage and resilience of the country’s military and its people and allowed them to remain free from Nazi occupation. It also enabled the Americans to establish a base of operations in England to invade Normandy on D-Day in 1944.

READ MORE: D:Day: An Interactive

The Battle of Britain Movie

The Battle of Britain’s significance was not lost on Hollywood. In 1969, MGM released The Battle of Britain movie starring Laurence Olivier as commander Hugh Dowding.

Other notable productions include: Battle of Britain, a documentary produced by brothers Colin and Ewan McGregor to mark the event’s 70th anniversary; Voices of the Battle of Britain, a documentary which includes first-hand accounts of RAF veterans; and Mission of Honor, a movie which tells the story of RAF Hurricane Squadron 303.


Battle of Britain. International Churchill Society.
Battle of Britain. WW 2 Facts.
How the Luftwaffe Fought the Battle of Britain. Imperial War Museum.
The Battle of Britain: A Brief Guide. Military History Matters.

Why We Wrote This

For proponents of Brexit, World War II has come to frame the narrative about why Britain must leave the European Union – and why anything less is unacceptable. Why does the war loom so large in the debate?

Inside the museum, a retired police officer peers into a cabinet of medals, maps, and crockery. “This is why a lot of people voted to come away,” explains Robin, who didn’t want his surname used. “We would like to stand alone again. We’ve always been an island nation.”

That vote, of course, was the 2016 referendum that set the United Kingdom on its troubled Brexit path. Last week European leaders granted the U.K. a two-month extension on leaving the EU, but Parliament remains deadlocked over the terms of departure, or even if Brexit should happen at all. Members of Parliament are due to vote again on Brexit on Friday, the same day that the U.K. was supposed to leave.

From books to films to TV series, WWII looms large in modern Britain. For some Brits, the war is still living memory, or has been passed down to aging baby boomers like Robin, who were more likely to vote “leave.”

But the mythmaking that connects the Battle of Britain to Brexit has a particular strain. In this narrative, Britain is forever battling alone, bereft of allies, against a dominant continental European power. And anyone who settles for less than victory is an appeaser on par with those of the 1930s, before Churchill led the nation to its “finest hour.”

As Kamala Harris’ portfolio grows, so does the scrutiny

“It’s a sense of Britain as a plucky little island that stands up against the overwhelming might of Nazi Germany,” says Lucy Noakes, a social and cultural historian at the University of Essex. “That codifies for us something about what it means to be British, about British character.”

In reality, says David Edgerton, a historian at King’s College London, Britain was never really alone, even in the Battle of Britain, given its vast empire and support from the United States. “People want to remember the war, and especially the early years of the war, as a time when the nation stood alone without an empire or without allies. Nobody at the time would have believed this,” he says.


By late June 1940, Germany had defeated France. The British and their Commonwealth and Empire stood alone in warfare against Hitler and Mussolini.

The British Chiefs of Staff Committee concluded in May that if France collapsed, "we do not think we could continue the war with any chance of success" without "full economic and financial support" from the United States. [3] The US government was sympathetic to Britain's plight, but US public opinion then overwhelmingly supported isolationism to avoid involvement in "another European war". Reflecting on that sentiment, the US Congress had passed the Neutrality Acts three years earlier, which banned the shipment or sale of arms from the US to any combatant nation. US President Franklin D. Roosevelt was further constrained by the upcoming 1940 Presidential election, as his critics sought to portray him as being pro-war. Legal advice from the US Justice Department stated that the transaction was legal. [4]

By late May, the evacuation of British forces from Dunkirk, France, in Operation Dynamo caused the Royal Navy to need ships immediately, especially as it now fought the Battle of the Atlantic in which German U-boats threatened the British supplies of food and of other resources essential to the war effort.

With German troops advancing rapidly into France and many in the US government convinced that the defeat of France and Britain was imminent, the US sent a proposal to London through the British ambassador, the Marquess of Lothian, for an American lease of airfields on Trinidad, Bermuda and Newfoundland. [5]

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill initially rejected the offer on May 27 unless Britain received something immediate in return. On June 1, as the defeat of France loomed, Roosevelt bypassed the Neutrality Act by declaring as "surplus" many millions of rounds of US ammunition and obsolescent small arms and authorizing their shipment to Britain. Roosevelt rejected Churchill's pleas for destroyers for the Royal Navy.

By August, while Britain was reaching a low point, US Ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy reported from London that a British surrender was "inevitable". Seeking to persuade Roosevelt to send the destroyers, Churchill warned Roosevelt ominously that if Britain were vanquished, its colonial islands close to American shores could become a direct threat to the US if they fell into German hands.

Roosevelt approved the deal on the evening of August 30, 1940. [6] On September 2, 1940, as the Battle of Britain intensified, Secretary of State Cordell Hull signaled agreement to the transfer of the warships to the Royal Navy. On September 3, 1940, Admiral Harold Stark certified that the destroyers were not vital to US security. In exchange, the US was granted land in various British possessions for the establishment of naval or air bases with rent-free 99-year leases, on:

The agreement also granted the US air and naval base rights in:

No destroyers were received in exchange for the bases in Bermuda and Newfoundland. Both territories were vital to trans-Atlantic shipping, aviation, and the Battle of the Atlantic. Although enemy attack on either territory was unlikely, it could not be discounted, and Britain had been forced wastefully to maintain defensive forces, including the Bermuda Garrison. The deal allowed Britain to hand much of the defence of Bermuda to the still-neutral US, which freed British forces for redeployment to more active theatres and enabled the development of strategic facilities at US expense, which British forces would also use.

Both the Royal Air Force (RAF) and the Fleet Air Arm (FAA) maintained air stations in Bermuda at the start of the war, but they served only flying boats. The RAF station on Darrell's Island served as a staging point for trans-Atlantic flights by RAF Transport Command and RAF Ferry Command, BOAC, and Pan-Am and hosted the Bermuda Flying School, but it did not operate maritime patrols. The FAA station on Boaz Island serviced aircraft based on vessels operating from or through the Royal Naval Dockyard, but it attempted to maintain maritime patrols by using pilots from naval ships, RAF Darrell's Island, and the Bermuda Flying School.

The agreement for bases in Bermuda stipulated that the US would, at its own expense, build an airfield capable of handling large landplanes that would be operated jointly by the US Army Air Force and the Royal Air Force. The airfield was named Kindley Field after Field Kindley, an American aviator who fought for Britain during World War I. RAF Transport Command relocated its operations to the airfield when it was completed in 1943, but RAF Ferry Command remained at Darrell's Island. The US Navy had established the Naval Operating Base at Bermuda's West End, a flying boat station from which maritime patrols were operated for the remainder of the war (the US Navy had actually begun operating such patrols from RAF Darrell's Island by using floatplanes and was waiting for their own base to become operational). The RAF and FAA facilities were closed after the war, which left only the US air bases in Bermuda. The Naval Operating Base ceased to be an air station in 1965, when its flying boats were replaced by Lockheed P-2 Neptunes operating from the Kindley Air Force Base (as the former US Army airfield had become). Those US air bases were in fact only two of several US military facilities that operated in Bermuda during the 20th century. The US abandoned many of the bases in 1949, and the remaining few were closed in 1995.

The US accepted the "generous action. to enhance the national security of the United States" and immediately transferred in return 50 Caldwell, Wickes, and Clemson-class U.S. Navy destroyers, "generally referred to as the twelve hundred-ton type" (also known as "flush-deckers", or "four-pipers" after their four funnels). Forty-three ships initially went to the British Royal Navy and seven to the Royal Canadian Navy. In the Commonwealth navies, the ships were renamed after towns and so were known as the "Town" class, but they had originally belonged to three classes (Caldwell, Wickes, and Clemson). Before the end of the war, nine others had also served with the Royal Canadian Navy. Five Towns were manned by Royal Norwegian Navy crews, with the survivors later returned to the Royal Navy. HMS Campbeltown was manned by Royal Netherlands Navy sailors before her assignment to the St. Nazaire Raid. Nine other destroyers were eventually transferred to the Soviet Navy. Six of the 50 destroyers were lost to U-boats, and three others, including Campbeltown, were destroyed in other circumstances.

Britain had no choice but to accept the deal, but it was so much more advantageous to America than Britain that Churchill's aide John Colville compared it to the Soviets' relationship with Finland. The destroyers were in reserve from the massive US shipbuilding program during World War I, and many of the vessels required extensive overhaul because they had not been preserved properly while inactivated. One British admiral called them the "worst destroyers I had ever seen", [7] and only 30 were in service by May 1941. [3] Churchill also disliked the deal, but his advisers persuaded him merely to tell Roosevelt: [7]

We have so far only been able to bring a few of your fifty destroyers into action on account of the many defects which they naturally develop when exposed to Atlantic weather after having been laid up so long. [7]

Roosevelt responded by transferring ten Lake-class Coast Guard cutters to the Royal Navy in 1941. The United States Coast Guard vessels were ten years newer than the destroyers and had greater range, which made them more useful as anti-submarine convoy escorts. [8]

The agreement was much more important for being the start of the wartime Anglo-American partnership. Churchill said in the British Parliament that "these two great organisations of the English-speaking democracies, the British Empire and the United States, will have to be somewhat mixed up together in some of their affairs for mutual and general advantage". [3]

Northern America Edit

British West Indies Edit

A total of 50 ships were reassigned: 3 Caldwell-class, 27 Wickes-class and 20 Clemson-class destroyers.

Battle of Britain (film)

Battle of Britain is a 1969 British Second World War film directed by Guy Hamilton, and produced by Harry Saltzman and S. Benjamin Fisz. The film documents the events of the Battle of Britain. The film drew many respected British actors to accept roles as key figures of the battle, including Laurence Olivier as Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding, Trevor Howard as Air Vice-Marshal Keith Park, and Patrick Wymark as Air Vice-Marshal Trafford Leigh-Mallory, Air Officer commanding No. 12 Group RAF. It also starred Michael Caine, Christopher Plummer and Robert Shaw as Squadron Leaders. The script by James Kennaway and Wilfred Greatorex was based on the book The Narrow Margin by Derek Wood and Derek Dempster.

The film endeavoured to be an accurate account of the Battle of Britain, when in the summer and autumn of 1940 the British RAF inflicted a strategic defeat on the Luftwaffe and so ensured the cancellation of Operation Sea Lion – Adolf Hitler's plan to invade Britain. The film is notable for its spectacular flying sequences, in contrast with the unsatisfactory model work seen in Angels One Five (1952). It was on a far larger scale than had been seen on film before and this made the film's production very expensive.

Ultra–The Misunderstood Allied Secret Weapon

THE FULL CONTRIBUTION OF INTELLIGENCE to the winning of World War II is clear only now, nearly 75 years after that conflict. Over the intervening decades it has been discovered that throughout the war the intelligence services of the Western powers (particularly the British) intercepted, broke, and read significant portions of the German military’s top-secret message traffic. That cryptographic intelligence, disseminated to Allied commanders under the code name Ultra, played a significant role in the effort to defeat the Germans and achieve an Allied victory.

The breaking of the high-level German codes began with the efforts of the Polish secret service in the interwar period. By creating a copy of the basic German enciphering machine, the Poles managed to read German signal traffic throughout the 1930s with varying degrees of success. However, shortly before the Munich conference in September 1938, the Germans made alterations to their enciphering machine–the so-called Enigma machine–and in mid-September, darkness closed over German message traffic. The Poles continued their work, however, and after France and Britain’s guarantee of Polish independence in March 1939, they passed along to the British what they had thus far achieved. Considerable cooperation had also existed earlier between the Poles and the French. Building on what they had learned from their Continental allies, British cryptanalysts finally cracked some of the German codes in April 1940, just before the great offensive against France and the Low Countries.

Other successes soon followed and gave Allied intelligence officers and commanders valuable insights into German intentions and capabilities. Nevertheless, the British were only able to break a small proportion of the specific codes used by the Wehrmacht. At the end of 1943, the Kriegsmarine, for example, used up to 40 different ciphers, all requiring different Enigma machine settings. During the Battle of the Atlantic, the transmissions from U-boats to shore and from the commander of submarines to his boats received the highest priorities from cryptanalysts at Bletchley Park, the location of the British decoding efforts in Europe.

Even with the exceptional resources available there and at that time, it took experts several days and in some cases up to a week to find solutions for a particular day’s settings on the Enigma machine. The task of getting invaluable intelligence information out to the field where it could be of direct help was, of course, immensely difficult, especially given fears that if the Germans found out that their codes were being compromised on a daily basis, Ultra intelligence would dry up.

In 1940 during the Battle of Britain, this need for concealment was not great, but as the war spread throughout Europe and the Mediterranean, it became an increasing problem. Accordingly, the British and their American allies evolved a carefully segregated intelligence system that limited the flow of Ultra to a select number of senior officers. The Ultra information dissemination process lay outside normal intelligence channels. For example, the intelligence officers of the Eighth Air Force would not be aware of the existence of Ultra and would therefore not know the duties of the Ultra liaison officers. Those officers, in turn, would forward Ultra intelligence only to the commanders of the Eighth and Ninth Air Forces. The system seems to have worked, for the Germans never caught on to how extensively their ciphers had been compromised.

Unfortunately, there were drawbacks. Intelligence is used only if it reaches those who understand its significance. Three specific incidents underline this point with great clarity. The first occurred in early September 1944, as Allied armies pursued the beaten Wehrmacht to the Third Reich’s frontiers. On September 5, Bletchley Park made the following decryption available to Allied commanders in Western Europe:

For rest and refit of panzer formations, Heeresgruppe Baker [Army Group B] ordered afternoon fourth [September 4] to remain in operation with battleworthy elements: two panzer, one-six panzer [Second, Sixteenth Panzer Divisions], nine SS and one nought [Ninth, Tenth] SS panzer divisions, elements not operating to be transferred by AOK [controlling army] five for rest and refit in area Venloo-Arnhem-Hertogenbosch.

This intelligence, along with a second confirmation on September 6, indicated that at the very time when the British-planned Operation Market-Garden was moving forward, some of Germany’s best panzer divisions would be refitting in the town selected as the goal of the British First Airborne Division and the operation’s final objective on the Rhine–Arnhem. Putting this message together with intelligence that soon emerged from the Dutch underground in Holland that SS panzer units were refitting in the neighborhood of Arnhem, Allied commanders should have recognized that Operation Market-Garden had little prospect of success. Unfortunately, they did not put these pieces together, and officers at the highest level at Field Marshal Sir Bernard L. Montgomery’s headquarters who had access to Ultra also failed to draw the correct conclusions.

A second example comes from a period three months after Operation Market-Garden, in December 1944. An unfortunate result of the rush to publish after the existence of Ultra became known to the public in the early 1970s has been the appearance of a number of legends. One of the most persistent is the belief that Ultra gave no advance warning to Allied commanders in December 1944 that the Germans were about to launch a major thrust through the Ardennes. Admittedly, Hitler’s intuition suggested to him that German security had been compromised and led him to undertake a series of unprecedented measures to veil the Ardennes attack. Still, there were overt indications even in the high-level codes about German operational intentions. Ultra, however, pointed to a number of other indicators. These suggested that the Wehrmacht was moving supplies of ammunition and fuel into the region behind the Ardennes. Since the Germans were desperately low on such materiel, the allocations of resources could only portend major operations to come in the Ardennes. The German high command had no reason to expect that the Allies were planning to launch a major offensive in this area, especially since they were so obviously trying to kick in the door to the Reich at so many other points. Unfortunately, the mood in the higher Allied headquarters and in intelligence circles was euphoric–the war was almost over, and the Germans could not possibly launch an offensive.

The third case of Ultra information not being used occurred during the Battle of the Atlantic. By 1943 the Allies were using Ultra, when available, in moving their convoys across the North Atlantic, so that the great formations of merchant shipping could avoid submarine patrol lines. In one particular case, decodings had picked up a heavy concentration of German submarines north of the Azores. Thus, a major convoy of aviation fuel tankers from the refineries at Trinidad to the Mediterranean was rerouted to the south of the Azores. Unfortunately, because his escorts needed refueling and the weather was better north of those islands, the convoy commander disregarded his instructions, sailed north of the Azores, and ran smack into the U-boats. Only two tankers reached port. What made the episode even more surprising was the fact that the convoy commander had just served a tour of duty in the Admiralty’s convoy and routing section, where he surely must have had some awareness of the reasons for rerouting convoys.

If some commanders occasionally misused Ultra intelligence, such instances were the exception rather than the rule. It is, however, difficult to assess Ultra’s full impact on the conflict. At times, particularly early in the war, no matter how much Ultra informed the British of German intentions, the Wehrmacht’s overwhelming superiority made successful use of the information virtually impossible. For example, decoded Enigma messages in the spring of 1941 warned the British about German intentions against the Balkan states, first Greece and then–after the anti-German coup in Yugoslavia–against that country as well. Such intelligence, of course, was of extremely limited value due to the overwhelming forces that Hitler deployed in the region.

On the other hand, the intercepts and decrypts in the summers of 1941 and 1942 gave the British government, and Churchill in particular, an accurate picture of Erwin Rommel’s tank strength. That information indicated that the British army had considerable superiority in numbers in the North African theater against the Afrika Korps. These quantitative returns could not indicate, however, such factors as the technological superiority of German tanks and particularly the qualitative edge in doctrine and training that the Germans enjoyed. The intercepts, however, explain why Churchill kept consistent pressure on British Eighth Army commanders to attack the Afrika Korps.

In war, so many factors other than good intelligence impinge on operations that it is difficult to single out any one battle or period in which Ultra alone was of decisive import. Yet there was least one instance in which decrypted German codes did play a decisive role in mitigating enemy capabilities.

By the first half of 1941, as more and more U-boats were coming on line, the German submarine force was beginning to have a shattering impact on the trade routes on which the survival of Britain depended. The number of of British, Allied, and neutral ships sunk climbed ominously upward.

Through spring 1941, the British had had little luck in solving the Kriegsmarine’s ciphers. But in mid-May 1941, they captured not only a German weather trawler with considerable material detailing settings for naval codes but also a U-boat, U-110, with its cipher machine and all accompanying material. With these seizures, British intelligence gained the navy Enigma settings for the next two months. As a result, the British were able to break into U-boat message traffic at the end of May. Because German submarines were closely controlled from shore, and a massive amount of signaling went back and forth to coordinate movement of ‘wolfpacks (groups of U-boats), the British gained invaluable information ranging from the number of U-boats available, to tactical dispositions and patrol lines. Moreover, once they had two months’ experience reading the naval message traffic, British cryptologists continued breaking submarine transmissions for the next five months. The impact of this intelligence on the Battle of the Atlantic was immediate and crucial.

The dramatic decline in sinkings (compared with those that had occurred during the first five months of 1941) cannot be explained other than that Ultra gave the British a crucial edge over their undersea opponents. No new technology, no increase in escorts, and no extension of air coverage can be credited. Ultra alone made the difference.

Unfortunately for the Anglo-American powers, within two months of the United States’ entry into the war the Germans introduced an entirely new Enigma key setting, Triton, that closed off Ultra decryptions for the remainder of 1942. Thus, right when the vulnerable eastern and southern coasts of the United States opened up to U-boat attacks, Ultra intelligence on German intentions and operations ceased. Direction-finding intelligence was available, of course, but it remained of limited assistance. The Battle of the Atlantic in 1942 was a disaster for the Allies.

When the Germans turned their full attention back to the North Atlantic in early 1943, enormous convoy battles occurred with increasing frequency. Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz had nearly 100 submarines in the North Atlantic. In opposition, the Allies possessed greater numbers of escort vessels, including escort carriers whose aircraft now made the shadowing of convoys by U-boats almost impossible. Moreover, long-range aircraft from Newfoundland, Iceland, and Northern Ireland were reaching farther into the Atlantic.

At the beginning of 1943, the Allied naval commanders enjoyed one further advantage. Bletchley Park had once again broken the German naval ciphers. That intelligence was not quite as useful as the Ultra intelligence of 1941 that had allowed the British to steer convoys around U-boat concentrations. At times, the Allies were able to carry out similar evasive operations, but the number of German submarines at sea at any given point made such maneuvers increasingly difficult and often impossible. From March to May 1943, the U-boat onslaught badly battered Allied convoys. In May, however, the Allies smashed the U-boat threat so decisively that Dönitz ended the battle. Ultra intelligence played a major role in the turnaround. Because of increases in Allied escort strength and long-range aircraft patrols, one must hesitate in identifying Ultra as decisive by itself. Yet the leading German expert on the Battle of the Atlantic, Jrgen Rohwer, does note:

I am sure that without the work of many unknown experts at Bletchley Park…the turning point of the Battle of the Atlantic could not have come as it did in May 1943, but months, perhaps many months, later. In that case the Allied invasion of Normandy could not have been possible in June 1944, and there would have ensued a chain of developments very different from the ones which we have experienced.

Belatedly, Ultra began affecting the air war on both the tactical and the strategic levels. British decoding capabilities during the Battle of Britain did not provide major help to Fighter Command. Similarly, for the first three years of Bomber Command’s war over the Continent, Ultra yielded little useful intelligence. On the other hand, throughout 1942 and 1943, Ultra provided valuable insights into what the Germans and Italians were doing in the Mediterranean and supplied Allied naval and air commanders with detailed, specific information on the movement of Axis convoys from Italy to North Africa. By March 1943, Anglo-American air forces operating in the Mediterranean had succeeded in shutting down Axis seaborne convoys to Tunisia. Allied information was so good, in fact, that after a convoy had been hit, the German air corps located in Tunisia reported to its higher headquarters, ironically in a message that was intercepted and decoded:

The enemy activity today in the air and on the sea must in [the] view of Fliegerkorps Tunis, lead to the conclusion that the course envisaged for convoy D and C was betrayed to the enemy. At 0845 hours a comparatively strong four-engine aircraft formation was north of Bizerte. Also a warship formation consisting of light cruisers and destroyers lay north of Bizerte, although no enemy warships had been sighted in the sea area for weeks.

As was to be the case throughout the war, the Germans then drew the conclusion that traitors either in their own high command or elsewhere–in this case, in the Commando Supremo, the Italian high command–had betrayed the course of the convoys.

In the battles for control of the air over Sicily, Ultra proved equally beneficial. It enabled the Allies to take advantage of German fuel and ammunition shortages and to spot Axis dispositions on the airfields of Sicily and southern Italy.

In regard to U.S. strategic bombing, however, Ultra may have exerted a counterproductive influence in 1943. Luftwaffe message-traffic intercepts indicated quite correctly how seriously Allied air attacks were affecting the German air wing, but these intercepts may have prompted Lt. Gen. Ira Eaker, the U.S. Eighth Air Force’s commander, to go to the well once too often. The second great attack on Schweinfurt in October 1943, as well as the other great bomber raids of that month, proved disastrous for the Eighth Air Force crews who flew the missions. The Eighth lost sixty bombers in the Schweinfurt run.

Moreover, the U.S. Army Air Forces’ theories about the vulnerability of the German economy to precision bombing proved somewhat unrealistic. While bomber attacks did inflict heavy damage on German aircraft factories, the industry was in no sense destroyed. Likewise, attacks on ball-bearing plants failed to have a decisive impact. True, damage to Schweinfurt caused the Germans some difficulties, but the batterings that the Eighth’s bombers sustained in the August and October raids were such that, despite intelligence information that the Germans would be back in business quickly, the Eighth could not afford to again repeat the mission.

In 1944, however, the Eighth’s capabilities and target selection changed. Most important, the Eighth Air Force received long-range fighter support to make deep penetration raids possible. The initial emphasis in American strategic bombing attacks in late winter and early spring 1944 lay first on hitting the German aircraft industry and then on preparing the way for the invasion of the Continent. In May, Lt. Gen. Carl Spaatz, commander in chief of U.S. Strategic Air Forces in Europe, persuaded Allied commander Dwight D. Eisenhower that he possessed sufficient bomber strength to support both the invasion and a new offensive that would be aimed at taking out Germany’s oil industry. In attacking that industry, Spaatz hit the Germans at their most vulnerable economic point. Not only did attacks on the oil facilities have an immediate impact on the Wehrmacht’s mobility, but fuel shortages soon prevented the Germans from training a new generation of pilots to replace those who were lost in the air battles of the spring.

On May 12, 1944, 935 B-24s attacked synthetic oil plants throughout Germany. Almost immediately, the Eighth’s commanders received confirmation from Ultra that these strikes had threatened Germany’s strategic position. On May 16, Bletchley Park forwarded to the Eighth an intercept canceling a general staff order that Luftflotten (Air Fleets) 1 and 6 surrender five heavy and four light or medium flak batteries each to Luftflotte 3, which was defending France. Those flak batteries were to move instead to protect the hydrogenation plant at Troglitz, a crucial German synthetic fuel facility. In addition, four heavy flak batteries from Oschersleben, four from Wiener Neustadt, and two from Leipzig-Erla, where they were defending aircraft factories, were ordered to move to defend other synthetic fuel plants.

This major reallocation of air defense resources was a clear indication of German worries about Allied attacks on the oil industry. On May 21, another Ultra decrypt noted: Consumption of mineral oil in every form [must] be substantially reduced…in view of effects of Allied action in Rumania and on German hydrogenation plants extensive failures in mineral oil production and a considerable reduction in the June allocation of fuel, oil, etc., were to be expected. On May 28 and 29, 1944, the Eighth Air Force returned to launch another attack on the oil industry. These two attacks, combined with raids that the Italy-based Fifteenth Air Force had launched against Ploesti, reduced German fuel production by 50 percent. On June 6, Bletchley Park passed along the following decrypted statement:

Following according to OKL [German Air Force high command] on Fifth [of June]. As a result of renewed interference with production of aircraft fuel by Allied actions, most essential requirements for training and carrying out production plans can scarcely be covered by quantities of aircraft fuel available. Baker four allocations only possible to air officers for bombers, fighters and ground attack, and director general of supply. No other quota holders can be considered in June. To assure defense of Reich and to prevent gradual collapse of German air force in east, it has been necessary to break into OKW [German Armed Forces high command] reserves.

Throughout the summer, German engineers and construction gangs scrambled to put Germany’s oil plants back together. Allied bombers, however, promptly returned to undo their efforts. During the remainder of the year, Allied eyes, particularly those of American bomber commanders, remained fixed on Germany’s oil production. The punishing, sustained bombing attacks prevented the Germans from ever making a lasting recovery in production of synthetic fuel. Clearly, Ultra played a major role in keeping the focus of the bombing effort on those fuel plants. Albert Speer, the German minister of armaments and munitions, had warned Hitler after the first attack in May 1944: The enemy has struck us at one of our weakest points. If they persist at it this time, we will no longer have any fuel production worth mentioning. Our one hope is that the other side has an air force general staff as scatterbrained as ours.

Speer’s hopes were not realized, largely because Ultra relayed to Allied air commanders the size and successes of German reconstruction efforts, as well as the enormous damage and dislocations to Germany’s military forces that the bombing of the oil industry was causing. The intelligence officer who handled Ultra messages at the Eighth Air Force reported after the war that the intercepts indicated that shortages were general and not local. This fact, he testified, convinced all concerned that the air offensive had uncovered a weak spot in the German economy and led to [the] exploitation of this weakness to the fullest extent.

On the level of tactical intelligence, during the execution of Operation Overlord, Ultra also provided immensely useful information. Intercepts revealed a clear picture of German efforts and successes in attempting to repair damage that the Allied air campaign was causing to the railroad system of northern France. A mid-May staff appreciation signed by Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, commander in chief West, warned that the Allies were aiming at the systematic destruction of the railway system and that the attacks had already hampered supply and troop movements. Ultra intelligence made clear to Allied tactical air commanders how effective the attacks on the bridge network throughout the invasion area were and the difficulties that German motorized and mechanized units were having in moving forward even at night.

Ultra also gave Western intelligence a glimpse of the location and strength of German fighter units, as well as the effectiveness of attacks carried out by Allied tactical aircraft on German air bases. Furthermore, these intercepts indicated when the Germans had completed repairs on damaged fields or whether they had decided to abandon operations permanently at particular locations. Armed with this information, the Allies pursued an intensive, well-orchestrated campaign that destroyed the Germans’ base structure near the English Channel and invasion beaches. These attacks forced the Germans to abandon efforts to prepare bases close to the Channel and instead to select airfields far to the southeast, thereby disrupting German plans to reinforce Luftflotte 3 in response to the cross-Channel invasion. When the Germans did begin a postinvasion buildup of Luftflotte 3, the destruction of forward operating bases forced it to select new and inadequately prepared sites for reinforcements arriving from the Reich. Ultra intercepts proceeded to pick up information on much of the move, which indicated bases and arrival times for the reinforcing aircraft. Another substantial contribution of Ultra to Allied success was its use in conjunction with air-to-ground attacks. Ultra intercepts on June 9 and 10 revealed to Allied intelligence the exact location of General Leo Geyr von Schweppenburg’s Panzer Group West headquarters. Obligingly, the Germans left their vehicles and radio equipment in the open. The subsequent air attack not only destroyed most of Panzer Group West’s communications equipment but also killed seventeen officers, including the chief of staff. The strike effectively eliminated the headquarters and robbed the Germans of the only army organization they had in the West that was capable of handling large numbers of mobile divisions.

Why were the British able to break some of the most important German codes with such great regularity and thereby achieve such an impact on the course of the war? The Germans seem to have realized midway through the conflict that the Allies were receiving highly accurate intelligence about their intentions. Nevertheless, like postwar historians, they looked everywhere but at their own encrypted transmissions. Enthralled with the technological expertise that had gone into the construction of Enigma, the Germans excluded the possibility that the British could decrypt their signals. After the sinking of the great battleship Bismarck in May 1941 and the rapid clearance of the supply ships sent out ahead of her from the high seas, the Kriegsmarine did order an inquiry. Headed by a signals man (obviously with a vested interest in the results), the board of inquiry determined that the British could not possibly have compromised the Enigma system. Rather, the panel chose to blame the disaster on the machinations of the fiendishly clever British secret services. By 1943, the success of British anti-submarine measures in the Atlantic once again aroused German suspicions that their ciphers had been compromised. In fact, the commander of U-boats suggested to German naval intelligence that the British Admiralty had broken the codes: B.D.U [the commander of U-boats] was invariably informed [in reply] that the ciphers were absolutely secure. Decrypting, if possible at all, could only be achieved with such an expenditure of effort and after so long a period of time that the results would be valueless. One British officer serving at Bletchley Park recalled that German cryptographic experts were asked to take a fresh look at the impregnability of the Enigma. I heard that the result of this ‘fresh look’ appeared in our decodes, and that it was an emphatic reassertion of impregnability.

The Germans made a bad situation worse by failing to take even the most basic security measures to protect their ciphers. In fact, a significant portion of Bletchley Park’s success was due to procedural mistakes that the Germans made in their message traffic. Among basic errors, the Germans started in midwar to reuse the discriminate and key sheets from previous months rather than generate new random selection tables. If that were not enough, they (particularly the Luftwaffe) provided a constant source of cribs, which were the presumed decrypted meanings of sections of intercepted text. They enabled the British to determine Enigma settings for codes already broken. The cribs turned up in the numerous, lengthy, and stereotyped official headings normally on routine reports and orders, all sent at regular times throughout the day. According to Gordon Welchman, who served at Bletchley Park for most of the war, We developed a very friendly feeling for a German officer who sat in the Qattara Depression in North Africa for quite a long time reporting every day with the utmost regularity that he had nothing to report.

The German navy proved no less susceptible to such mistakes. Dönitz’s close control of the U-boat war in the Atlantic depended on an enormous volume of radio traffic. The volume itself was of inestimable help to the cryptanalysts at Bletchley Park. Although the Germans introduced a fourth rotor into the Enigma in March 1943, thereby threatening once again to impose a blackout on their North Atlantic operations, the new machines employed only a small fraction of their technical possibilities. Unfortunately for the U-boats, there was also considerable overlap between old and new Enigmas. As a result of these and other technical errors, the British were back into U-boat radio transmissions within ten days of the changeover. Furthermore, at about the same time, Bletchley Park decrypted a signal to U-boat headquarters indicating that the Germans were breaking the Allied merchant code.

One final incident should serve to underline the high price of German carelessness where security discipline was concerned. Bismarck had broken out into the central Atlantic in May 1941 on a raiding expedition. After sinking the battle cruiser HMS Hood, the battleship managed to slip away from shadowing British cruisers. The pursuing British admiral decided at 1800 hours on May 25 that the German battleship was making for Brest. Within an hour, the Admiralty had confirmation of that opinion through a Luftwaffe, not Kriegsmarine, intercept. Luftwaffe authorities had radioed their chief of staff, then visiting Athens during the German invasion of Crete, that Bismarck was heading for Brest.

Obviously, there are important lessons that we can draw from these German errors. To begin with, as Patrick Beesly, who worked closely with the naval Ultra throughout the war, notes, While each nation accepted the fact that its own cryptanalysts could read at least some of their enemy’s ciphers, they were curiously blind to the fact that they themselves were being subjected to exactly the same form of eavesdropping. Above all, the Germans seem to have been overly impressed with their presumed superiority in technology. Thus, not only did they make elemental mistakes in their communications discipline, but they arrogantly refused to believe that their enemies might have technological and intelligence capabilities comparable to their own.

In recent years, considerable interest has arisen regarding German operational and tactical competence on the field of battle. There is an important subheading to that competence. While historians and military analysts tell us that the Germans were extraordinarily proficient in the operational and tactical spheres, we should also recognize that the Germans were incredibly sloppy and careless in the fields of intelligence, communications, and logistics, and consistently (and ironically) held their opponents in contempt in those fields. We would be wise to examine the German example closely in all aspects of World War II. We can learn much from the Germans’ high level of competence in the tactical and operational fields. Equally, we have much to learn from their failures in other areas. Above all, the German defeat in World War II suggests that to underestimate the capabilities and intelligence of one’s enemies is to suffer dangerous and damaging consequences to one’s own forces. MHQ

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2002 issue (Vol. 14, No. 3) of MHQ—The Quarterly Journal of Military History with the headline: Ultra–The Misunderstood Allied Secret Weapon

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Battle of Britain (1969)

Continuity mistake: It is 1940. Two pilots come out of a house - one of them has just lost his wife and family in the London Blitz, the other is an RAF Squadron Leader. The door they come out of has a modern electric bell push - a post 1965 version, white rectangular box with a round button.

Factual error: The German planes in the movie should be Messerschmitt Bf-109E. However they're actually Hispano Buchon, a post-war version of the Bf-109 model, built in Spain. The Bf-109 was powered by a Daimler-Benz inverted V, and exhaust ports were at the bottom of the nose, not at the top as seen here. That's because the Hispano Buchon used the same engine as the Spitfire.

Factual error: The door of the garage next to the house is of the aluminum up-and-over type, not available until the late 1960's.

Factual error: When Goring arrives at Calais by train, you notice there is a huge mountain in the background. There are no mountains anywhere near Calais.

Factual error: The He-111s shown in the movie were in fact produced in Spain after World War II and powered by RR Merlin engines instead of Jumo 211, which had smaller radiators moved backwards, up to the landing gear bays.

Factual error: The message at the end of the film acknowledging the contribution by pilots from outside the UK is wrong in a number of details. Most obviously they mention a pilot from Israel, a country which did not exist until 1948 (In fact he was from the British Palestinian Mandate). They also omit any mention of the nine pilots from Denmark, and two Jamaican pilots who took part in the battle, and there was one from Egypt and one from Austria involved, who was also forgotten.

Factual error: In an early scene, there are some Spitfires which catch fire. They burn fiercely like the fabric covered Hurricane not the metal skinned Spitfire. Quote from my mother who served in WW2 on a Naval Air Station and saw them both burn. "Those Spitfires are burning like Hurricanes".

Continuity mistake: During the slaughter of the German bombers by Christopher Plummer's Spitfire squadron, the same footage appears twice. There is a shot of burning Heinkel plunging into the sea. Then there is another bomber being attacked by Spitfires and that one, too, begins to go down. We see it go into the sea, only it's the exact same footage as before.

Factual error: Early in the movie as the Germans are moving landing crafts up to the coast in preparation for the invasion of England. At least one of the trucks hauling landing crafts is a "B" Model Mack which was not introduced by Mack Trucks until 1953.

Continuity mistake: When Michael Caine gets shot down, it starts with a shot from inside the pursuing BF109. You can see the Spitfire on the port side. The next shot is of it passing in front of the 109's gunsight, however the plane you see is a Hurricane. The shot after this, show the Spitfire back again and on fire flying quite straight. However, when you see Michael Caine's aircraft explode, it has again turned into a Hurricane and is diving.

Revealing mistake: Technical Glitch: In the opening scene before the opening credits. The British are being run out of one of the last remaining fields in France. The Sergeant is burning the "lame ducks" when German planes attack. A German plane attacks almost directly toward the camera, you hear machine gun noises but no effects. Next a plane attacks from right to left, you hear machine gun noises and see the effects indicating the bullets striking the target. After the second plane has gone you see the effects of the first planes attack.

Continuity mistake: When Christopher Plummer gets shot down, you see him burning in his Spitfire. The shot after this shows an aircraft spiraling out of control. The plane you see is a Hurricane, although he is flying a Spitfire. When you see him bail out, it is a Spitfire again turning gently to the left and is not on fire. When the plane blows up, it has again turned into a Hurricane and is pointing straight down.

Factual error: In the sequence where German bombers are flying in daylight over the Thames approaching West Silvertown two high rise council flats called Dunlop and Cranbrook Point are visible. They did not exist until 1966.

Factual error: Most of The Spitfires in the film are not the correct type - Mark 1's and 2's should be used but you get a mixture of mark 9's and 14's. You can tell the mark 1's from the 3 exhaust stacks, the later models had 6. There is one genuine Battle of Britain veteran spitfire in the film, P7350, a Mk IIA the only BoB veteran spitfire still flying and operated by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.

Revealing mistake: In this scene we see a hangar exploding twice. In the first explosion we see what appears to be a white spray of water when the hangar explodes. In the next shot the doors appear as normal, then the hangar explodes again. This time the hangar explodes with flames and smoke.

Factual error: When first introduced to the Poles' training flight and they break stating "repeat please", the front 2 aircraft are Hurricanes but the 3 remaining aircraft are the stand in 109's. If you look closely you can see the rear wing struts to the fuselage.

Revealing mistake: In the opening scene when the Hurricanes take off from the makeshift airstrip in France, well established earth-banked aircraft pens can be seen in the background. This indicates that the Hurricanes took off from a well established military airfield.

Continuity mistake: When the Senior Civil Servant is reading Dowding's letter there is a knock at his door. In the next frame the Civil Servant has removed his glasses, appears more leaned back in his chair, and the position of the letter/page has also changed. (00:06:00)

Other mistake: When Archie parachutes into the greenhouse he is wearing socks or runners.

Suggested correction: Pilots often lost their boots or shoes due to the shock of the parachute opening.

Continuity mistake: When Schmidt interrupts and delivers a report to a Luftwaffe meeting, the presenter is holding a wooden stick used for pointing on the table map. When Schmidt enters the room with the camera facing towards the door, the presenter puts his two hands at the top of the stick, supporting with his palms. Just before the next shot watch carefully and you will see both hands move off the stick. In the next shot with the camera now facing towards the table, the presenter has his left palm resting on the back of his right hand with the right palm supporting the stick. (00:51:35)

More for Battle of Britain


Warr. Off. Warrick: Put that cigarette out! The mains have gone, can't you smell gas?
Section Officer Maggie Harvey: Don't you yell at me, MR Warrick.


Trivia: During the scenes dealing with the dive bomber attacks on the RAF radar stations, the filmmakers used rather un-convincing radio-controlled models to portray the German Ju87 Stukas. Originally, the producers had intended to use Proctor trainers, modified to resemble the Stuka. However the British aviation authorities refused to pass them as airworthy, forcing the producers to resort to using the models.


Question: Did Sgt. Pilot Andy loot the mantle clock he can be seen carrying when he is returning from helping to rescue bomb victims, to the refuge shelter?

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Battle of Britain in rare pictures, 1940

The dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral (undamaged) stands out among the flames and smoke of surrounding buildings during heavy attacks of the German Luftwaffe on December 29, 1940 in London, England.

In the summer and fall of 1940, German and British air forces clashed in the skies over the United Kingdom, locked in the largest sustained bombing campaign to that date. Victory for the Luftwaffe in the air battle would have exposed Great Britain to invasion by the German army, which was then in control of the ports of France only a few miles away across the English Channel.

In the event, the battle was won by the Royal Air Force (RAF) Fighter Command, whose victory not only blocked the possibility of invasion but also created the conditions for Great Britain’s survival, for the extension of the war, and for the eventual defeat of Nazi Germany.

On July 16, 1940, Hitler issued a directive ordering the preparation and, if necessary, the execution of a plan for the invasion of Great Britain. But an amphibious invasion of Britain would only be possible, given Britain’s large navy, if Germany could establish control of the air in the battle zone.

To this end, the Luftwaffe chief, Göring, on August 2 issued the “Eagle Day” directive, laying down a plan of attack in which a few massive blows from the air were to destroy British air power and so open the way for the amphibious invasion, termed Operation “Sea Lion”.

A formation of low-flying German Heinkel He 111 bombers flies over the waves of the English Channel in 1940.

The forces engaged in the battle were relatively small. The British disposed of some 600 frontline fighters to defend the country. The Germans made available about 1,300 bombers and dive bombers, and about 900 single-engined and 300 twin-engined fighters.

These were based in an arc around England from Norway to the Cherbourg Peninsula in northern coastal France. The preliminaries of the Battle of Britain occupied June and July 1940, the climax August and September, and the aftermath—the so-called Blitz—the winter of 1940–41.

In the campaign, the Luftwaffe had no systematic or consistent plan of action: sometimes it tried to establish a blockade by the destruction of British shipping and ports sometimes, to destroy Britain’s Fighter Command by combat and by the bombing of ground installations and sometimes, to seek direct strategic results by attacks on London and other populous centers of industrial or political significance.

Three anti-aircraft guns flash in the dark in London, on September 20, 1940, throwing shells at raiding German planes. Shells in stacked rows behind the guns leap about as the concussions from the firing loosen them.

The British, on the other hand, had prepared themselves for the kind of battle that in fact took place. Their radar early warning, the most advanced and the most operationally adapted system in the world, gave Fighter Command adequate notice of where and when to direct their fighter forces to repel German bombing raids. The Spitfire, moreover, though still in short supply, was unsurpassed as an interceptor by any fighter in any other air force.

These London schoolchildren are in the midst of an air raid drill ordered by the London Board of Education as a precaution in case an air raid comes too fast to give the youngsters a chance to leave the building for special shelters, on July 20, 1940. They were ordered to go to the middle of the room, away from windows, and hold their hands over the backs of their necks.

The British fought not only with the advantage—unusual for them—of superior equipment and undivided aim but also against an enemy divided in object and condemned by circumstance and by lack of forethought to fight at a tactical disadvantage.

The German bombers lacked the bomb-load capacity to strike permanently devastating blows and also proved, in daylight, to be easily vulnerable to the Spitfires and Hurricanes.

Britain’s radar, moreover, largely prevented them from exploiting the element of surprise. The German dive bombers were even more vulnerable to being shot down by British fighters, and long-range fighter cover was only partially available from German fighter aircraft since the latter were operating at the limit of their flying range.

A German twin propelled Messerschmitt BF 110 bomber, nicknamed “Fliegender Haifisch” (Flying Shark), over the English Channel, in August of 1940.

The German air attacks began on ports and airfields along the English Channel, where convoys were bombed and the air battle was joined. In June and July 1940, as the Germans gradually redeployed their forces, the air battle moved inland over the interior of Britain.

On August 8 the intensive phase began when the Germans launched bombing raids involving up to nearly 1,500 aircraft a day and directed them against the British fighter airfields and radar stations.

In four actions, on August 8, 11, 12, and 13, the Germans lost 145 aircraft as against the British loss of 88. By late August the Germans had lost more than 600 aircraft, the RAF only 260, but the RAF was losing badly needed fighters and experienced pilots at too great a rate, and its effectiveness was further hampered by bombing damage done to the radar stations.

The condensation trails from German and British fighter planes engaged in an aerial battle appear in the sky over Kent, along the southeastern coast of England, on September 3, 1940.

At the beginning of September, the British retaliated by unexpectedly launching a bombing raid on Berlin, which so infuriated Hitler that he ordered the Luftwaffe to shift its attacks from Fighter Command installations to London and other cities.

To avoid the deadly RAF fighters, the Luftwaffe shifted almost entirely to night raids on Britain’s industrial centers. The “Blitz,” as the night raids came to be called, was to cause many deaths and great hardship for the civilian population, but it contributed little to the main purpose of the air offensive—to dominate the skies in advance of an invasion of England.

Fires set by bursting German bombs lit up the docks along the River Thames in London, on September 7, 1940, and brought into vivid relief the merchant ships lying alongside the many docks which line London’s busy port. British sources said the bombing that night was the heaviest of the war to date.

A great column of smoke billowing upward from a fire started at Plymouth, South West England, in November 1940, as a result of heavy enemy bombardment.

On September 3 the date of invasion had been deferred to September 21, and then on September 19, Hitler ordered the shipping gathered for Operation Sea Lion to be dispersed. British fighters were simply shooting down German bombers faster than German industry could produce them.

The Battle of Britain was thus won, and the invasion of England was postponed indefinitely by Hitler. The British had lost more than 900 fighters but had shot down about 1,700 German aircraft.

During the following winter, the Luftwaffe maintained a bombing offensive, carrying out night-bombing attacks on Britain’s larger cities. By February 1941 the offensive had declined, but in March and April there was a revival, and nearly 10,000 sorties were flown, with heavy attacks made on London. Thereafter German strategic air operations over England withered.

The tail and part of the fuselage of a German Dornier plane landed on a London rooftop shown Sept. 21, 1940, after British fighter planes shot it down on September 15. The rest of the raiding plane crashed near Victoria Station.

The Battle of Britain marked the first major defeat of Hitler’s military forces, with air superiority seen as the key to victory. Pre-war theories had led to exaggerated fears of strategic bombing, and UK public opinion was buoyed by coming through the ordeal.

For the RAF, Fighter Command had achieved a great victory in successfully carrying out Sir Thomas Inskip’s 1937 air policy of preventing the Germans from knocking Britain out of the war.

Churchill concluded his famous 18 June ‘Battle of Britain’ speech in the House of Commons by referring to pilots and aircrew who fought the Battle: “… if the British Empire and its Commonwealth lasts for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour’“.

Workmen fit a set of paraboloids in a sound detector for use by anti-aircraft batteries guarding England, in a factory somewhere in England, on July 30, 1940.

The British victory in the Battle of Britain was achieved at a heavy cost. Total British civilian losses from July to December 1940 were 23,002 dead and 32,138 wounded, with one of the largest single raids on 19 December 1940, in which almost 3,000 civilians died.

With the culmination of the concentrated daylight raids, Britain was able to rebuild its military forces and establish itself as an Allied stronghold, later serving as a base from which the Liberation of Western Europe was launched.

The biggest shipping center for London’s food-supplies, Tilbury, has been the target of numerous German air attacks. Bombs dropping on the port of Tilbury, on October 4, 1940. The first group of bombs will hit the ships lying in the Thames, the second will strike the docks.

Two German Luftwaffe Ju 87 Stuka dive bombers return from an attack against the British south coast, during the Battle for Britain, on August 19, 1940.

A bomb is fitted to the wings of a British raider prior to the start of an assault on Berlin, on October 24, 1940.

A ninety-minute exposure taken from a Fleet Street rooftop during an air raid in London, on September 2, 1940. The searchlight beams on the right had picked up an enemy raider. The horizontal marks across the image are from stars and the small wiggles in them were caused by the concussions of anti-aircraft fire vibrating the camera. The German pilot released a flare, which left a streak across the top left, behind the steeple of St. Bride’s Church.

People shelter and sleep on the platform and on the train tracks, in Aldwych Underground Station, London, after sirens sounded to warn of German bombing raids, on October 8, 1940.

The Palace of Westminster in London, silhouetted against the light from fires caused by bombings.

The force of a bomb blast in London piled these furniture vans atop one another in a street after a raid on December 5, 1940.

This smiling girl, dirtied but apparently not injured, was assisted across a London street on October 23, 1940, after she was rescued from the debris of a building damaged by a bomb attack in a German daylight raid.

Firemen spray water on damaged buildings, near London Bridge, in the City of London on September 9, 1940, after a recent set of weekend air raids.

Hundreds of people, many of whom have lost their homes through bombing, now use the caves in Hastings, a south-east English town as their nightly refuge. Special sections are reserved for games and recreation, and several people have “set up house”, bringing their own furniture and sleeping on their own beds. Photo taken on December 12, 1940.

Undaunted by a night of German air raids in which his store front was blasted, a shopkeeper opens up the morning after for “business as usual” in London.

All that remains of a German bomber brought down on the English south-east coast, on July 13, 1940. The aircraft is riddled with bullet holes and its machine guns were twisted out of action.

British workers in a salvage yard break up the remains of wrecked German raiders which were shot down over England, on August 26, 1940.

A huge scrap heap where German planes, brought down over Great Britain, were dumped, photographed on August 27, 1940. The large number of Nazi planes downed during raids on Britain made a substantial contribution to the national scrap metal salvage campaign.

A Nazi Heinkel He 111 bomber flies over London in the autumn of 1940. The Thames River runs through the image.

Mrs. Mary Couchman, a 24-year-old warden of a small Kentish Village, shields three little children, among them her son, as bombs fall during an air attack on October 18, 1940. The three children were playing in the street when the siren suddenly sounded. Bombs began to fall as she ran to them and gathered the three in her arms, protecting them with her body. Complimented on her bravery, she said, “Oh, it was nothing. Someone had look after the children.”

Two barrage balloons come down in flames after being shot by German war planes during an aerial attack over the Kent coast in England, on August 30, 1940.

Air raid damage, including the twisted remains of a double-decker city bus, in the City of London on September 10, 1940.

A scene of devastation in the Dockland area of London attacked by German bomber on September 17, 1940.

An abandoned boy, holding a stuffed toy animal amid ruins following a German aerial bombing of London in 1940.

A German aircraft drops its load of bombs above England, during an attack on September 20, 1940.

One of many fires started in Surrey Commercial Dock, London, on September 7, 1940, after a heavy raid during the night by German bombers.

Fires rage in the city of London after a lone German bomber had dropped incendiary bombs close to the heart of the city on September 1, 1940.

London children enjoy themselves at a Christmas Party, on December 25, 1940, in an underground shelter.

The effects of a large concentrated attack by the German Luftwaffe, on London dock and industry districts, on September 7, 1940. Factories and storehouses were seriously damaged the mills at the Victoria Docks (below at left) show damage wrought by fire.

The Record Office in London, lit by flames ignited by a German air in 1940.

Princess Elizabeth of England (center), 14-year-old heiress apparent to the British throne, makes her broadcast debut, delivering a three-minute speech to British girls and boys evacuated overseas, on October 22, 1940, in London, England. She is joined in bidding good-night to her listeners by her sister, Princess Margaret Rose.

Soldiers carrying off the tail of a Messerschmitt 110, which was shot down by fighter planes in Essex, England, on September 3, 1940.

Through bombs and sirens, the Windmill Theatre carried on providing music, revue, and ballet performances for the people of wartime London. The artists sleep on mattresses in their dressing rooms, living and eating on the premises. Here, a scene behind the scenes shows one of the girls having a wash while the others sleep soundly surrounded by their picturesque costumes, after the show on September 24, 1940, in London.

A German raid smashed this hall in an undisclosed London district, on October 16, 1940.

A huge crater was made in a road at Elephant & Castle, London on September 7, 1940, after a night raid on London.

Two girls on the south coast of England look out toward the beach through a barbed wire fence constructed as part of Britain’s coastal defenses.

The artist Ethel Gabain, newly appointed by the Ministry of Information to make historical war pictures, at work among bombed ruins in the East End of London on November 28, 1940.

A forward machine gunner sits at his battle position in the nose of a German Heinkel He 111 bomber, while en route to England in November of 1940.

A boy sits amid the ruins of a London bookshop following an air raid on October 8, 1940, reading a book titled “The History of London.

Behold destruction wrought by the Third Reich in World War II's Battle of Britain

NARRATOR: But first, Britain had to take a blasting of her own. To invade successfully, Germans first had to control the air--and so began the Battle of Britain [music out]. The Luftwaffe, with twice the number of planes, intended to sweep the RAF from the skies. But they underestimated the British and Canadian pilots [music in]. Soon the Germans were losing two planes for every one lost by the RAF.

Then the Luftwaffe tried to smash British ports and industry. These daylight raids were damaging, but again, the RAF took too heavy a toll, and Goering's air force turned to indiscriminate night bombing. Its purpose--to strike terror into the people, and to break their spirit by turning their cities into rubble. Many lived like moles, taking to the subways for shelter. Although thousands were crippled or buried alive in the flaming ruins, all faced the ruthless attack with courage.

Aerial Reconnaissance in World War Two Gallery

During World War Two, aerial reconnaissance was one of the key methods of obtaining intelligence about the enemy and their activities. Photographs provided concrete evidence - fast. Within hours of a reconnaissance sortie, the film could be developed, printed and interpreted.

Allied reconnaissance, for the most part, was classified under two main headings: mapping and damage assessment. Enemy activity was recorded and new installations were located, so that accurate maps, to be used by the ground forces, could be made. From damage assessment photographs, the exact moment when a target that had been previously hit should be re-attacked could be calculated, and the effectiveness of the enemy's rebuilding programme could be assessed.

Photographic reconnaissance and intelligence work played a tremendous role in helping the Allies to victory in World War Two. Significantly, in 1938 General Werner Von Fritsch of the German High Command prophetically observed: 'The military organisation with the best aerial reconnaissance will win the next war.'

Battle of Britain - Movie, WW2 and Definition - HISTORY

The Battle of Britain was an important battle in World War II. After Germany and Hitler had conquered most of Europe, including France, the only major country left to fight them was Great Britain. Germany wanted to invade Great Britain, but first they needed to destroy Great Britain's Royal Air Force. The Battle of Britain was when Germany bombed Great Britain in order to try and destroy their air force and prepare for invasion.

Heinkel He 111 during the Battle of Britain
Photo by Unknown

The Battle of Britain started on July 10th, 1940. It lasted many months as the Germans continued to bomb Britain.

How did it get its name?

The name comes from a speech by the Prime Minister of Great Britain, Winston Churchill. After Germany had overrun France, he said that "the Battle of France is over. The Battle of Britain is about to begin."

Germany needed to prepare for the invasion of Britain, so they first attacked towns and army defenses on the southern coast. However, they soon found that Britain's Royal Air Force was a formidable opponent. The Germans decided to focus their efforts on defeating the Royal Air Force. This meant they bombed airport runways and British radar.

Although the German bombings continued, the British did not stop fighting back. Hitler began to get frustrated at how long it was taking to defeat Great Britain. He soon switched tactics and started bombing large cities including London.

Soldier on the lookout for German planes
Source: National Archives

Battle of Britain Day

On September 15, 1940 Germany launched a large bombing attack on the city of London. They felt that they were closing in on victory. The British Royal Air force took to the sky and scattered the German bombers. They shot down a number of German planes. It was clear from this battle that Britain was not defeated and that Germany was not being successful. Although Germany would continue bombing London and other targets in Great Britain for a long time, the raids began to slow as they realized they could not defeat the Royal Air Force.

Who won the Battle of Britain?

Although the Germans had more planes and pilots, the British were able to fight them off and win the battle. This was because they had the advantage of fighting over their own territory, they were defending their homeland, and they had radar. Radar allowed the British to know when and where German planes were coming to attack. This gave them time to get their own planes in the air to help defend.

A bombed London street by Unknown

Watch the video: Battle of Britain in 90 Seconds (January 2022).