Europe 1939–45

Flight Journal - - FEATURES -

The air war against the Western Axis cov­ered the breadth of Europe and nearly all of North Africa. Amer­i­can, Bri­tish, and other Al­lied air forces fought Ger­man, Ital­ian, and Balkan forces in a grind­ing, san­guinary bat­tle of at­tri­tion that, in ret­ro­spect, only could have ended as it did. But in the early phases, Pres­i­dent Franklin Roo­sevelt’s “in­evitable triumph” ap­peared a dis­tant prospect.

Bat­tle of Bri­tain 1940

The first mod­ern aerial cam­paign usu­ally is reck­oned be­tween July and Oc­to­ber 1940. Part leg­end, part re­al­ity, the fa­bled “Few” of the Royal Air Force (RAF) Fighter Com­mand are cred­ited with sav­ing Shake­speare’s scept’red isle from Ger­man in­va­sion. But even had he pur­sued that goal, Adolf Hitler never pos­sessed the means of “D-Day in re­verse,” cross­ing the English Chan­nel with enough naval and air su­pe­ri­or­ity to force a mul­ti­fac­eted land­ing. He lacked the sealift and am­phibi­ous ca­pa­bil­ity, and his ul­ti­mate an­tag­o­nist—the Royal Navy—lay be­yond reach of Luft­waffe bombers.

The Bat­tle of Bri­tain was, how­ever, a land­mark event. For the first time, a ma­ture air de­fense net­work in­te­grated radar and radio with high­per­for­mance fighters that could in­flict heavy losses on en­emy bombers. It set the pat­tern for nearly every aerial con­flict that fol­lowed—a com­bi­na­tion of sen­sors, com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and air­craft that Spit­fire and Hurricane pi­lots would rec­og­nize to­day.

Top: The Hurricane and Spit­fire slugged it out sev­eral times a day for the en­tire bat­tle, which lasted nearly five months. (Photo by John Dibbs/planepic­

Above: Luft­waffe pi­lots over Bri­tain had com­bat ex­pe­ri­ence go­ing back to the Span­ish Civil War. (Photo cour­tesy of Stan Piet)

Left: The Heinkel 111 was a daily vis­i­tor to Lon­don and other parts of Eng­land for months on end. (Photo cour­tesy of EN-Ar­chive)

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