Battle of Britain is the name commonly given to the effort by the German Luftwaffe (Air Force) to gain air superiority over the Royal Air Force (RAF), before a planned sea and airborne invasion of Britain (Operation Sealion) during the Second World War. The Battle of Britain was the first major battle to be fought entirely by air forces. It was the largest and most sustained bombing campaign yet attempted, and the first real test of the strategic bombing theories developed since World War I. The failure of Nazi Germany to destroy Britain's air force or to break the spirit of the British government or people, is considered the Third Reich's first major defeat. Neither Hitler nor the Wehrmacht (German Army) believed it possible to carry out a successful amphibious assault on the British Isles until the RAF had been neutralized. Secondary objectives were to destroy aircraft production and ground infrastructure, to attack areas of political significance, and to terrorize the British people into seeking an armistice or surrender. Some historians have argued no invasion could have succeeded, asserting that the massive superiority of the Royal Navy (British Navy) over the Kriegsmarine (German Navy) would have made Sealion a disaster. They argue the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) would have been unable to prevent decisive intervention by British cruisers and destroyers, even with air superiority.
British historians date the battle from 10 July to 31 October 1940, which represented the most intense period of daylight bombing. German historians usually place the beginning of the battle in mid-August 1940 and end it in May 1941, on the withdrawal of the bomber units in preparation for the attack on the USSR.
Combatants United Kingdom
(including personnel from other countries and/or air forces)
754 single-seat fighters
149 two-seat fighters
1,107 single-seat fighters
357 two-seat fighters
27,450 civilians dead,
The Luftwaffe was facing a more capable opponent than it had met before: a sizable, highly-coordinated, well-supplied air force, fielding aircraft that could match the German Messerschmitt Bf 109E and Bf 110. The majority of the RAF's fighting would rest upon the workhorse Hurricane Mk I. More shocking to the German pilots was the newer Spitfire Mk I, which was quickly recognized as a nimble, world-class fighter. Most of the fighters they had encountered thus far in the war did not, despite mainly strong showings by their pilots, measure up to the performance of the Bf 109.
The British pilots were blessed to have the Hurricane and Spitfire fighter aircraft. These were fast, highly maneuverable, small fighter planes that had a great deal of speed. They could fly faster than bombers, and were used with great efficiency in the battle.
The Germans found the Bf 109E only marginally superior to the Hurricane, and the Spitfire was fully its equal, if not its superior in certain key areas. The Bf 109 had a slightly higher speed at high altitude, better dive speed, and a fuel injected engine (the Daimler-Benz DB 601), giving Germans the ability to perform negative-G maneuvers without the engine cutting out. The Spitfire was faster at medium heights and slightly more maneuverable, although (because of their carburetted engines) neither it nor the Hurricane could simply dive away from an opponent, as the 109 could. The German fighter had a heavier armament with its two 20 mm MG FF cannon. This gave it a greater punch than the eight machine guns of the British fighters, but the low muzzle velocity of the cannon, where the shells dropped quite quickly after firing, meant