The Battle of Britain The Royal Air Force battles the German Luftwaffe

On 18 June, Churchill warned the British people that the ‘battle of France’ was over and the ‘battle of Britain’ was about to begin. His words were proved right. As early summer gave way to July and August, the threat of invasion loomed over Britain.

If this long island story of ours is to end at last, let it end only when each one of us lies, choking in his own blood upon the ground.
Churchill, as quoted in Hugh Dalton’s Second World War Diary, entry for 28 May 1940

Churchill, seeing that control of the skies was vital, put businessman Lord Beaverbrook in charge of Aircraft Production (as Minister) and encouraged British scientists to improve radar defences and counter German technology. In August, the Royal Air Force managed to inflict heavy casualties on the German Luftwaffe and, in September, the German pilots transferred their attention from the coastal airfields and those in south-west England to London, allowing the fighter bases respite from attack but putting British people in the city at much greater risk. In early September a massive series of raids involving nearly four hundred German bombers and more than six hundred fighters targeted docks in London’s East End almost continuously, day and night.

In early September a massive series of raids involving nearly four hundred German bombers and more than six hundred fighters targeted docks in London’s East End almost continuously, day and night. Listen to a reporter describing London in the Blitz, with St Paul’s Cathedral, its dome silhouetted against the ‘ruddy sky … almost like the Day of Judgement’.

For more on the Battle of Britain, see the BBC collection in their online Archive of programmes and documents (including interviews from some of the battle’s heroes and film footage of the Spitfire and Hawker Hurricane fighter planes in action).

The turning point in Britain’s fortunes in the war was captured by Churchill’s famous speech in praise of the British men of the under-resourced Royal Air Force. But more was still to come.

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