World War Two was in many ways a war of progress and revolution. In a desperate bid to dominate, both sides commissioned intensive research into medicine, arms, energy sources and just about anything that could help with the war effort. While planes were used for combat as early as World War One, WW2 saw the introduction of several iconic models, such as the English Spitfire and the Japanese Zero. What is interesting about the Battle of Britain in this regard, is that it was the first military campaign in history to be fought entirely airborne. No infantry engagements occurred, seeing as the objective of the battle for Hitler was to gain control of Britain’s skies before staging a land invasion.
The Battle of Britain was a fierce airborne engagement which occurred entirely within the airspace of southern Britain. While it was ultimately a victory for Britain, the losses suffered by both sides were extremely costly. In total, around two thousand men were killed on both sides, and both also lost roughly two thousand aircraft. British civilian casualties mounted to over twenty thousand as a result of Germany’s night-bombing operations, which would become infamously known as the Blitz.
Despite the fact that World War Two is known primarily for the collaboration of the great Allied nations who came together to triumph over Hitler, key players in the war such as the Soviet Union and the United States of America had remained decisively neutral by the time the Battle of Britain had begun. This left England alone, in Prime Minister Churchill’s words, against “the menace of tyranny” and was considered worldwide to be a militarily hopeless situation for the allies. Against all odds, however, Britain succeeded, paving the way for an Allied recovery.
In spite of their considerable war record and major successes in the war up to this point, Germany entered the Battle of Britain unprepared. Perhaps as a result of Hitler’s own hubris, the German military severely underestimated the fighting capacity of Britain’s own airforce, which in reality possessed superior technology and superior tactics. The RAF planes were extremely deadly for the Germans, and Luftwaffe (the German Airforce) aircraft were shot down faster than German factories were able to replace them. This eventually left to a shift in focus to night raids in which the civilian population were bombed relentlessly by German planes. While this caused a great number of civilian casualties and destruction across the southern cities of the UK, it did little to ensure Germany’s aerial dominance.
Having suffered an embarrassing defeat at the hands of a nation who the entire world had considered to be greatly militarily inferior to the seemingly unstoppable German war machine, Hitler called off Luftwaffe forces and shifted his attention eastwards to Russia. For the remainder of the war, the war effort against Britain would involve mostly naval blockades supplemented by the Luftwaffe as opposed to any direct fighting, until British-American forces invaded the coastline of France just a couple of years later.
Unfortunately for the Germans, many of their military branches were rife with infighting as a result of egotism and disputes between the old Prussian militarist generation and the younger, newer German officers. The German Intelligence Service was no different and, in the buildup to the Battle of Britain, the effectiveness of their operations was seriously diminished by the fact that there was no large coordinated effort among their ranks and leadership to commence a spying operation in Britain. While there were a few spies in operation, most attempts to deploy more were easily foiled, and the intelligence secured by those who were already there was of little relevance to the war effort. This gave Britain a much-needed edge over the encroaching enemy forces.
Before the fighting had even began, Hitler had little intention of fighting Britain. He knew that the British Empire was an opponent to not be underestimated, and that in order to attain military dominance of the continent a war with Britain was not necessary. Thinking that the British government would act to preserve the Empire rather than the old world order they had established in Europe, he made numerous offers of peace to the British - all of which were rejected.
An often-excluded fact of the reality of the war was that the British military employed a great many hundreds of thousands of men from the Commonwealth realms, most specifically India, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Of the roughly three thousand RAF pilots, around two-thirds of this number were non-British. In fact, these divisions proved to be highly deadly in the skies, with the Polish No. 303 fighter squadron downing the most German planes of any allied unit participating in the battle.
The Battle of Britain saw an extremely fierce and deadly bombing of the civillian population of London, and a great many buildings were destroyed. During one of the most crucial points in the battle, a British fighter pilot named Sergeant Ray Holmes spotted a German bomber flying in the direction of Buckingham palace. Despite realising that he had no ammunition left in his aircraft, Holmes most bravely resolved to intervene, ramming his own plane into the German bomber and taking it out of the skies for good. Miraculously, he survived the ordeal, managing to escape from his plane before it was destroyed, and he was praised as a national hero for his efforts in averting a potential royal tragedy.
Despite the fact that the Blitz is known infamously as one of the most trying times for Britain during the war, the reality is that it was an impulsive military operation ordered by Hitler as an act of petty revenge for the bombing of Berlin by Allied fighter pilots. The aim of the Luftwaffe - to secure aerial dominance over Britain - was not actually assisted in any way through the bombing of civilian infrastructure in London, and military historians have considered it to be one of the greatest blunders of Hitler’s military career. As a result of the raids on the civilian population, the RAF were able to easily recuperate their losses, and were relieved of much of the pressure they had faced before.