Battle of Britain Lesson for Kids: Facts & Summary

Instructor: David Wilson

David has taught college history and holds an MA in history.

In summer and fall of 1940, British and Nazi German pilots fought for control of the skies in the Battle of Britain. Learn about this battle and how it proved to be one of the major turning points of the Second World War in this lesson.

Crowded Skies

If you look up above you, odds are good you can see a plane somewhere in the sky, with its cloud trail behind it. But what if these planes weren't just trying to get somewhere, but were trying to shoot each other down? The sky would look a lot more intense, for one thing, and you'd have to watch your step in case one of them crashed near you.

The first battle fought entirely by airplanes took place in World War II, when the German air force (called the Luftwaffe) fought the British Royal Air Force (RAF) in 1940. It was a crucial period in the war and ended in British victory.

German planes on their way to attack Britain
German planes

Preparing for Battle

Britain and Germany declared war on one another in 1939, kicking off World War II, but for the first year they didn't fight each other very much. Instead, Germany defeated France, Britain's only ally, or military partner, in western Europe. This left Britain open for attack, but the Germans didn't have a strong navy, or fleet of warships.

Because Germany couldn't use its own warships to invade, it decided to attack from the air instead. Britain's prime minister, Winston Churchill, claimed that ''the battle for France is over. The battle of Britain is about to begin.''

Winston Churchill, British prime minister
Churchill photo

Although Germany was forbidden from having warplanes after World War I, it had built up the Luftwaffe to be the most powerful air force in the world by 1940. However, the British had also upgraded their own RAF warplanes to be faster and deadlier, and were very well-organized. Additionally, the British had luck on their side: the Germans didn't have good intelligence and waited to attack.

Fighting Begins

At first, the Germans began by attacking ships and ports on the British coastline in July 1940. In August, they began to destroy British radar stations so that the enemy could not see them coming, along with attacking RAF bases. The Germans later realized they weren't being very effective and changed their strategy. The Luftwaffe decided to weaken morale, meaning fighting spirit, by attacking cities starting in September, trying to force Britain to surrender.

German attacks on London were known as The Blitz.
Photo of London bombing

British cities all over the island were attacked, but the main attacks came at London and are remembered as 'The Blitz', from the German word blitzkrieg, meaning lightning war. During the Blitz, German planes dropped huge amounts of bombs on the city for nearly two months, destroying buildings and killing innocent people.

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