This year marks the 77th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. What exactly was it?

The name of the battle was actually coined by Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of Great Britain at the time. After Germany had overrun France, Churchill said, “The Battle of France is over. The Battle of Britain is about to begin.”

The Battle of Britain, an important battle in World War II, was a struggle between the German Luftwaffe (commanded by Hermann Goering ) and the British Air Force (headed by Hugh Dowding’s Fighter Command). 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 Britain’s Royal Air Force. July 10, 1940, is the day fixed as the beginning of the Battle of Britain. Although there was fierce fighting leading up to that date, “the engagements on that day were of such scope and scale that this was the date chosen for historical purposes. The day was marked by an attack on a British shipping convoy as it entered the Channel near Dover. The attacking force, a large force of Dornier 17 bombers escorted by several fighter squadrons, was opposed by British fighters. As each side was reinforced, a huge dogfight of over 100 airplanes – the largest engagement between two nations up until that time – was joined.” ( Battle of Britain Illustrated )


Heinkel He 111 bombers over Great Britain (credit: Imperial War Museum)


The battle continued over the next few months. German air strikes did substantial damage to radar sites, but in August, the Luftwaffe abandoned that avenue and began attacks on RAF air bases. A battle of attrition followed in which both sides suffered heavy losses… However, a combination of bad intelligence ( as a result of not continuing the strikes on British radar sites ) and British attacks on Berlin, led the Luftwaffe to change its operational approach to massive attacks on London. The first, on September 7th, was quite successful, but the second, on September 15th, failed with heavy losses. The Germans had underestimated the Royal Air Force reserves; British fighters appeared in large numbers and shot down many of the Germans. Hitler permanently postponed a landing on the British Isles and suspended the Battle of Britain. This didn’t mean the end to the bombing terror, however, as indiscriminate bombing of larger cities, including London, Plymouth and Coventry took place. Eventually, the raids slowed as the Germans realized they could not defeat the Royal Air Force.

Britain’s decisive victory not only saved the country from a ground invasion and possible occupation by German forces, but also proved that air power alone could be used to win a major battle.