Battle of Britain: When was Battle of Britain and why is it called the Battle of Britain?

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Nearly 3,000 men of the RAF took part in the Battle of Britain – a group Winston Churchill referred to as ‘The Few’. Men came from all over the Commonwealth and Europe to stand among Fighter Command. And the Few were supported by ‘The Many’ – those working hard on the ground in support – be it ground crew, factory production staff, the Observer Corp and many thousands more. As the UK marks the poignant 80th anniversary of the attacks, takes a look back at what happened in the Battle of Britain.

When was Battle of Britain?

The Battle of Britain was not just held on one date. In fact, the defence of the UK was fought from July through September 1940.

The battle was the first in history fought solely in the air, as the Royal Air Force (RAF) and the Luftwaffe took to the skies in a deadly war to control the airspace over Great Britain.

Germany began the air combat battle with bomber attacks against shipping on July 10, 1940.

But soon the Luftwaffe unleashed a stream of air attacks against British convoys and ports.

And on August 13, Adolf Hitler launched the main offensive — Adlerangriff (“Eagle Attack”).

The Imperial War Museum explained: “Attacks moved inland, concentrating on airfields and communications centres. Fighter Command offered stiff resistance, despite coming under enormous pressure.

“During the last week of August and the first week of September, in what would be the critical phase of the battle, the Germans intensified their efforts to destroy Fighter Command.

“Airfields, particularly those in the south-east, were significantly 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.”

In the end, the Luftwaffe was dealt what the IWM described as “an almost lethal blow from which it never fully recovered.”

Fighter Command had suffered heavy losses in the latest round of attacks, but the British nation continued to outproduce the Germans.

While Germany struggled from constant supply problems, Great Britain delivered – maintaining a level or production that outnumbered their losses.

The Luftwaffe was stretched thin, but the attacks continued. On September 15 – the date we now mark as the anniversary of the Battle of Britain – the Luftwaffe began two massive raids on London as part of what we know as ’The Blitz’.

But it was to no avail. Despite the loss of hundreds of lives, the poorly organised Luftwaffe could not defeat the RAF. And by the end of October 1940, the bombing campaign ended.

The Battle of Britain became a turning point, Britain had held its own and saw off the Luftwaffe – marking a crucial blow to Hitler. And just four years later, the UK stood alongside the USA to invade Normandy on D-Day.

Why was it called the Battle of Britain?

The timing of the Battle of Britain is very significant, coming just after the fall of France.

By this point, in 1940, Germany had seized control of the ports of France – just a few miles away across the English Channel.

France fell to Germany on June 22, 1940, and Hitler set his sights on Great Britain – launching a land and sea mission called Operation Sea Lion. But first, he needed to fight the RAF.

He hoped his fearless Luftwaffe fighters could intimidate Britain – but she was not afraid.

Instead, Britain fought back. Winston Churchill delivered his rousing Finest Hour speech to the British House of Commons on June 18, 1940, to which gave the name for the Battle of Britain.

In it, he stated: “The Battle of France is over. I expect the Battle of Britain is about to begin.”

He added: “Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilisation.

“Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire.

“The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war.

“If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands.”

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