Battle of Britain: Definition, Facts & Summary

Instructor: Flint Johnson

Flint has tutored mathematics through precalculus, science, and English and has taught college history. He has a Ph.D. from the University of Glasgow

Learn about World War II's famous Battle of Britain, one of the biggest air battles of all time and the first place where Adolf Hitler was ever defeated. Afterwards you can test your knowledge with a quiz!

What was the Battle of Britain?

The Spitfire, the Primary British Fighter during the Battle of Britain

'Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.' Those words, spoken by Winston Churchill on August 20, 1940, say it all. The Battle of Britain has been argued to be the greatest demonstration of courage the British people have ever shown.

By 1940, Germany had invaded and conquered Poland. Then they had turned west to overrun France, Belgium, and then Norway, each nation taking only weeks. By July 10, Great Britain was the only major power in Western Europe that hadn't been conquered by Germany. Britain was still free on October 31, when the Battle of Britain ended.

The Battle of Britain was actually a series of engagements that was fought totally in the air for the full three months. German planes would fly in from France to bomb military and, later, civilian targets and be intercepted by British planes. Raids would come in day and night, hitting London along with many other places.

Why Didn't the Germans Just Invade?

A Messerschmidt 109 group, they were the most used German fighters during the Battle of Britain

The Germans had been so successful because they were using a new technique to attack, Blitzkrieg, or Lightning Warfare. Blitzkrieg called for the German air force to swoop in and destroy all communications and power centers. Then tanks would then roll in to destroy any defenses, followed by infantry units who could secure locations.

The problem with attacking Britain was that the Germans had to cross the English Channel and that meant dealing with the Royal Navy while they tried to land tanks and troops. For over three hundred years, the British had controlled the oceans all over the world, so the Germans didn't take that lightly. The Germans walked in with a handicap, too: when they had taken Norway, they had lost many of their best ships.

What Was Hitler Thinking?

To put it lightly, Hitler had some crazy ideas about the races. You probably know that he thought Jews had to be exterminated. On the other hand, he considered the English to be 'brothers,' fellow Germans, because the English had originally been a group of Germanic tribes. Though he was practical, he didn't want to fight the English people. That was why he only ordered military targets to be hit for most of the battle. Hitler only allowed civilian targets when he realized the English wouldn't just surrender for him. So, in a twisted sort of way, he made a 'moral' decision.

Competing Strategies

The British were outnumbered during the battle, with over 1,900 planes against the 2,500 Germany had. That doesn't tell the whole story, though. While the Germans took a long peaceful flight to and from Britain and then slept comfortably in their beds, the British pilots were on call most of the time, with their nights and days constantly interrupted by bombings.

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