The Bat­tle of Bri­tain Saved Eng­land

Flight Journal - - 10 AVIATION MYTHS OF WORLD WAR II -

Al­most 80 years later, the mythic leg­end per­sists: In the sum­mer of 1940, the Royal Air Force (RAF) staved off seem­ingly in­evitable de­feat by win­ning the Bat­tle of Bri­tain. It’s sim­ply not true.

Prime Min­is­ter Win­ston Churchill’s in­spired or­a­tory and lit­er­ate pen lauded RAF fighter pi­lots as “the few” to whom so many owed so much. Amid the ur­gent ten­sion of the pe­riod, the claim seemed valid, and it took root in the English- speak­ing world.

Yet a rea­soned as­sess­ment dis­proves the claim. Al­though Fighter Com­mand was out­num­bered, it never lost con­trol of the cru­cial airspace over south­east­ern Eng­land. The Luft­waffe air fleets in France and in Nor­way lacked the range and strate­gic punch to deal the RAF a crip­pling blow. And lack­ing heavy bombers, the Ger­mans were never po­si­tioned to de­stroy Bri­tish in­dus­try.

Apart from de­feat­ing the RAF in its home skies, the Luft­waffe would have had to deal with the Royal Navy (RN). The Kriegs­ma­rine had no hope of de­feat­ing the world’s might­i­est fleet in a sur­face bat­tle, and most of the main RN bases lay be­yond Ger­man air range.

Fur­ther­more, the pro­posed in­va­sion of Eng­land—Op­er­a­tion Sea Lion—never got go­ing. Hitler lacked the sealift and es­pe­cially the am­phibi­ous ca­pa­bil­ity to launch “D-Day in re­verse.”

Hitler’s heart was never in Sea Lion. His racial the­o­ries saw the Bri­tish as fel­low An­glo-Sax­ons whom he hoped to bluff into an ac­com­mo­da­tion, free­ing him for his true goal: the de­struc­tion of the Soviet Union.

The pi­lots in Hur­ri­cane and Spit­fire cockpits, plus the men and women in radar sta­tions and plot­ting rooms, ac­quit­ted them­selves gal­lantly. But Shake­speare’s scepter’d isle was never se­ri­ously in peril.

The He 111 was a ver­sa­tile bomber but had nei­ther the range nor the bomb load to elim­i­nate Eng­land’s abil­ity to fight. (Photo cour­tesy of EN-Archive)

Bri­tain de­vel­oped and main­tained an out­stand­ing early-warn­ing and de­fense sys­tem. (Photo cour­tesy of Wiki­me­dia Com­mons)

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