Skip to main content
Select Source:

Britain, Battle of

Britain, Battle of, 1940. On 18 June 1940 Churchill declared ‘the Battle of France is over; I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin’. On 2 July Hitler reluctantly ordered planning for the invasion of England, preferring a peaceful acceptance by the British of German dominance in continental Europe. The Churchill government, supported by most public opinion, chose to fight on and challenge Hitler who knew, Churchill declared, ‘that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war’. The German army had ample resources to conquer the UK. Could they be landed, and, if landed, supplied when the Royal Navy had overwhelming superiority? The German navy thought they could not, even if the Luftwaffe could beat the RAF and then attack British warships. Certainly, the invasion was impossible without German air supremacy. The battle was a German attempt to destroy RAF Fighter Command and so win air superiority over the Channel and south-east England.

The single-seat aircraft in the decisive encounters were evenly matched. The Messerschmidt 109E was as fast as the British Spitfire and faster than the Hurricane; the British types were more manœuvrable. The British fought over their own air space with a chain of radar stations, supplemented by observers who reported approaching aircraft to sector headquarters, from which fighter squadrons were directed at the enemy by radio. The German bombers began by attacking shipping from mid-July to mid-August. The plan was to force the RAF to attack German fighter escorts. On 13 August, ‘Eagle Day’, the Germans began the main battle, attacking airfields and aircraft factories. The British came closest to defeat in late August and early September. The Germans made repeated attacks on airfields in the south-east and put out of action many sector control posts. British losses in aircraft and pilots began to exceed replacements. The Germans exaggerated their success and thought the RAF beaten: throughout the Second World War air crews constantly believed they had destroyed more hostile aircraft than post-war evidence confirmed. On 7 and 9 September heavy attacks hit London; the Germans lost 84 aircraft. Evidently the RAF was not defeated and Hitler postponed the decision to invade. On 15 September a renewed attack on London gave the RAF another success: 60 German aircraft and only 26 British were lost. On 17 September Hitler again postponed the invasion and on 12 October it was abandoned.

The Battle of Britain helped, especially since British successes were overstated, to reinforce British support for Churchill's decision to continue the war. The battle encouraged Roosevelt's decision to assist Britain to fight on. In 1941 it forced Hitler to attack the USSR without first solving the problem of the British and American threat. The Battle of Britain was a highly visible contest between small numbers in summer skies. The British lost fewer than 800 aircraft, the Germans nearly 1,400. It was a fierce, limited struggle. Fewer than 3,000 British air crew took part, of whom 507 were killed and about the same number seriously wounded. Churchill was correct: ‘Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.’

R. A. C. Parker

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Britain, Battle of." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Britain, Battle of." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 18, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/britain-battle

"Britain, Battle of." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Retrieved August 18, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/britain-battle

Battle of Britain

Battle of Britain, in World War II, series of air battles between Great Britain and Germany, fought over Britain from Aug. to Oct., 1940. As a prelude to a planned invasion of England, the German Luftwaffe attacked British coastal defenses, radar stations, and shipping. On Aug. 24 the attack was shifted inland to Royal Air Force installations and aircraft factories in an effort to gain control of the air over S England. Failing to destroy the RAF, the Germans began (Sept. 7) the night bombing, or blitz, of London. Heavy night bombings of English cities continued into October, when the attack was shifted back to coastal installations. The Germans gradually gave up hope of invading England, and the battle tapered off by the end of October. Though heavily outnumbered, the RAF put up a gallant defense; radar, used for the first time in battle by Britain, played an important role. The Germans lost some 2,300 aircraft; the RAF 900. The Battle of Britain was the first major failure of the Germans in World War II, and it thwarted Hitler's plan to force Britain to accept peace or face invasion.

See D. Wood and D. Dempster, The Narrow Margin (1961, repr. 1967); A. McKee, Strike from the Sky (1960, repr. 1971); R. Collier, Eagle Day (1966); T. Taylor, The Breaking Wave (1967); P. Townsend, Duel of Eagles (1970); R. Overy, The Battle of Britain (2001); M. Korda, With Wings like Eagles (2009).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Battle of Britain." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Battle of Britain." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 18, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/battle-britain

"Battle of Britain." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved August 18, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/battle-britain

Britain, battle of

Britain, battle of (1940) Series of battles fought in the skies over Britain. Early in World War II (as a prelude to invasion), the Germans hoped to destroy Britain's industrial and military infrastructure and civilian morale by a sustained series of bombing raids. Failure to eliminate the fighters of the Royal Air Force in August–September resulted in the abandonment of the plans for invasion, though bombing raids continued.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Britain, battle of." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Britain, battle of." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 18, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/britain-battle

"Britain, battle of." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved August 18, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/britain-battle

Britain, Battle of

Britain, Battle of a series of air battles fought over Britain (August–October 1940), in which the RAF successfully resisted raids by the numerically superior German air force. Winston Churchill said in the House of Commons, 18 June 1940, ‘What General Weygand called the ‘Battle of France’ is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin.’

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Britain, Battle of." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Britain, Battle of." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 18, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/britain-battle

"Britain, Battle of." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Retrieved August 18, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/britain-battle

Britain, Battle of

Battle of Britain: see Battle of Britain.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Britain, Battle of." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Britain, Battle of." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 18, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/britain-battle

"Britain, Battle of." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved August 18, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/britain-battle