Friday 10 July 2020

Imperial War Museums - IWM Stories: The Battle of Britain

Battle of Britain
© IWM C 5422
Our museums may be temporarily closed, but we'll continue to send you handpicked stories that resonate in remarkable times. Your support - as ever - is appreciated. 
It continued to be fought over southern England throughout the summer and autumn.

Adolf Hitler had expected the British to seek a peace settlement after Germany’s defeat of France in June 1940, but Britain was determined to fight on.

Hitler explored military options that would bring the war to a quick end and ordered his armed forces to prepare for an invasion of Britain – code-named Operation ‘Sealion’.

But before they could invade, Germany needed control of the skies over southern England.

Germany had been banned from having an air force after the First World War, but the Luftwaffe was re-established by the Nazi government and by 1940 it was the largest and most formidable air force in the world.

It had suffered heavy losses in the Battle of France, but by August the three air fleets (Luftflotten) that would carry out the assault on Britain were at full readiness.

Yet the RAF had some of the best fighter aircraft in the world – not least the Hawker Hurricane and the Supermarine Spitfire.

The Battle of Britain took place between July and October 1940. The Germans began by attacking coastal targets and British shipping operating in the English Channel.
With everything from talks and tours to ‘in the cockpit’ experiences and photography workshops, we have commemorative Battle of Britain events covered at IWM Duxford.

Book your tickets today, and learn more about how 'the few' protected Britain from invasion in 1940. 
They launched their main offensive on 13 August, which the RAF met with stiff resistance. During the last week of August and the first week of September, the Germans intensified their efforts to destroy Fighter Command. Airfields, particularly those in the south-east, were damaged but most remained operational.

On 31 August, Fighter Command suffered its worst day of the entire battle. But the Luftwaffe was overestimating the damage it was inflicting and wrongly came to the conclusion that the RAF was on its last legs. Fighter Command was bruised but not broken.

Eventually, the Germans shifted the weight of their attacks away from RAF targets and onto London. This was an error of critical importance. The raids were devastating for London’s residents, but they also gave Britain’s defences time to recover.

Fighter Command repelled another massive Luftwaffe assault on 15 September. In the process it inflicted severe losses that were becoming increasingly unsustainable for the Germans.

Although fighting would continue for several more weeks, it had become clear that the Luftwaffe had failed to secure the air superiority needed for invasion. Hitler indefinitely postponed Operation ‘Sealion’.

So why was the Battle of Britain so important?

Victory in the Battle of Britain did not win the war, but it made winning a possibility in the longer term. Four years later, the Allies would launch their invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe – Operation ‘Overlord’ – from British shores, which would prove decisive in ultimately bringing the war against Germany to an end.
© IWM A 29563
Hear our experts discuss and debate the characteristics of key innovators who shaped twentieth century history. Talking History is an exclusive members-only online event.

Not already a member? Join today and help us continue to tell the stories that deserve to be heard.
Battle of Britain Air Show
Battle of Britain Air Show
Book now for the 80th anniversary Duxford Battle of Britain Air Show. Step back in time to experience pure emotion, standing in the footsteps of the 'few' as they defended the skies of Britain, culminating in the now-famous Duxford Spitfire flypast.