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/planepicture.com)
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)