The Battle of Britain Saved England
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)