By Bill Bond(Founder of the Battle of Britain Historical Society) To understand the importance of the Battle of Britain one must firstly appreciate the consequences had it been lost. Nazi Germany was intent upon conquering Europe.
Trying to control the people of Europe by force is, of course, nothing new. There have been many attempts to invade Britain for example, or to defeat us in battle. Some examples are King Philip II of Spain in 1588, Napoleon Bonaparte of France at the turn of the Nineteenth Century (1800’s) and Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany during World War One. All of them failed. Had they not failed, the course of (our) history and our way of life would have been changed.
But - what of a Nazi victory during the Battle of Britain? Had the Battle of Britain been lost, then so would we have probably lost the Second World War. The Nazi leader, Adolf Hitler, made it known from the time that he became leader of Germany that he hated the Jews, Gypsies, Intellectuals, Homosexuals, Communists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Trade Unionists. But what wasn’t known was how cruel many Nazis would be towards those people in all of the countries that the Nazi’s occupied (took over). Six million Jews, men, women and children, were killed and hundreds of thousands of minority groups persecuted (singled out and mistreated).
So, that then was to be the fate of many hundreds of thousands of British citizens had Hitler successfully invaded and occupied Britain in 1940. In June of 1940 the Nazi conquest of Europe was virtually complete. France had just fallen and victorious German generals viewed the shores of England from the cliffs of the Pas de Calais. Just 22 miles of the English Channel separated the massed Nazi forces from a much weaker British Army. The British Expeditionary Force had left much of its equipment in France after being evacuated from Dunkirk.
Hitler now instructed his commanders to get ready to invade England. This plan was known as Operation Sealion. But, before he was able to launch cross-channel troop landing craft, he had to make sure that his barges would be safe from attack from the air. So, the order went out to the head of the Nazi Luftwaffe, Hermann Goering - ‘Destroy the Royal Air Force Fighter Command!’
At that particular time, the RAF had lost many fighter aircraft (as well as many brave young pilots) during the defence of France, and Goering considered that his considerably stronger air force would easily defeat the RAF. He assured Hitler that after two weeks of attack the British Air Force would no longer be a threat to be a threat to German forces.
Some historians have claimed that the two air forces were fairly well matched because although the Luftwaffe had more planes, two of their aircraft types were inferior to the British planes. Whilst this is to a certain degree true, the German fighter pilots were far more experienced than the British, and there was no shortage of them! After coming to power in 1933 Hitler, in defiance of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, built up the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) until it was the strongest in Europe. For three years during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) the Luftwaffe tested its fighter aircraft while giving its pilots the experience of flying combat missions. By the time that Germany invaded Poland in 1939 these battle skills had been perfected.
In contrast, RAF Fighter Command had relatively little experience in modern aerial warfare. Up until the late 1930s most of the operational flying was in slow, outdated bi-planes. What it did have though, were very good officers and a new invention called radar. The pilots from Britain and the Commonwealth (countries governed by Britain) were also dedicated and determined to defend their homeland. This combination was enough to tilt the balance and, after 16 weeks of relentless battle, the brave young men flying the Hurricanes and Spitfires of the RAF caused Hitler to postpone (not cancel) his proposed invasion plans. The Luftwaffe had not gained aerial superiority over Great Britain. The Battle of Britain was won and never again was Hitler in a position to entertain thoughts of an invasion.
More significantly, the loss of the battle contributed immensely to Hitler and the Nazis losing World War Two. When he invaded Russia in 1941 he now had to fight a war on two fronts. This meant he had to divide his forces which severely weakened their effectiveness. If Britain had been defeated he would have only had to fight a war on one front. Also, had his Luftwaffe been victorious in August 1940 he would not have had to delay his attack on Russia until June 1941. By invading Russia at this time German troops got caught out by the severe Russian winter before they had secured an all out victory. The weather literally stopped the Germans in their tracks. Had ‘General Winter’ not been the ally of the Russians there is little doubt that Russia would have fallen to the Nazi invaders.
Finally, had Britain fallen and then Russia, the Americans would have had to fight the war alone after they entered the war at the end of 1941. Germany, Italy and the Empire of Japan would most certainly have been too powerful for an isolated U.S.A. to resist. This may have resulted in its defeat within a matter of two to three years.
It should be remembered that by the time of its defeat in 1945 Nazi Germany was within weeks of perfecting an atomic bomb which, dropped on major cities in England and the U.S.A., would have certainly brought the Allies to its knees. Had the bombers of the Royal Air Force, and the American Air Force, not been free (as a result of the victorious Battle of Britain) to attack the rocket sites in Germany, there can be little doubt that the outcome of the war would have been very different.