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Battle of Britain

-Phases of Battle-
-The London Blitz-
-Tactics on Both Sides-
-Key Ingredients to Battle-
-The Dowding System-
-The Battle of the Beams-
-Phases of Battle-
-Canada Contributes-
-End Results-

The Battle of Britain can be divided into phases:


®    10 July11 August: Kanalkampf, the Channel battles.

®    12 August23 August: Adlerangriff, the early assault against the coastal airfields.

®    24 August6 September**: the Luftwaffe targets the airfields.

®    7 September15: September attacks switch to London.

®    15 September31: December battles slowly wind down and the Blitz escalates.

®    10 May 1941: The Blitz finishes.


**critical phase of the battle


Planes flying overhead


The Kanalkampf, or Channel Battle, was a series of running fights above convoys of freighter vessels running through the English Channel. Usually, these battles off the coast favoured the Germans whose bomber escorts outnumbered the convoy patrols by a large amount. Eventually the number of ships sunk became so great that the head of the UK cancelled all convoys from travelling through the Channel. Nevertheless, these early fights provided both sides with experience. They also gave the first notice to some of the aircraft which would not be good enough to the harsh dogfighting that would define the battle.

In battle


The weather proved an important part of the campaign, delaying Adlertag until August 13th. But on the 12th the first attempt was made to blind the Dowding system. Aircraft from the specialist fighter-bomber unit Erprobungsgruppe 210 attacked four radar stations and of those three stations were briefly taken off the air but were back working within six hours. These raids prooved that the British radars were difficult to knock out for any length of time. The Luftwaffe's failure to have repeated attacks on the stations allowed the RAF to get the radar stations back on the air.

Adlertag started with a series of attacks on coastal airfields, that would be used as forward landing grounds for the RAF fighters. As the week went on, the airfield attacks moved inland and repeated raids were made on the radar chain. August 15th was "The Greatest Day" when the Luftwaffe mounted the largest number of flights by one plane of the campaign. This day saw the one major advance by Luftflotte 5 in the battle with an attack on the north of England. Thinking the strength of Fighter Command to be condensed away in the south, raiding forces from Denmark and Norway ran into strong defense. Poorly escorted by long-ranged Me 110 Zerstörers, the bombers were shot down in large numbers. As a result of the casualties Luftflotte 5 would not appear in strength again in the campaign.

August 18th, which saw the greatest number of casualties to both sides, has been called "The Hardest Day". Following the intense battles of the 18th, exhaustion and the weather reduced operations for most of a week, letting the Luftwaffe review their performance.

Luftwaffe targets RAF airfields

From August 24th onwards, the battle was mainly a grueling match between Kesselring's Luftflotte 2 and Keith Park's 11 Group. The Luftwaffe used all their strength on knocking out Fighter Command and making repeated attacks on the airfields. Of the 33 heavy attacks in the two weeks, 24 of them were against airfields. The key sector stations were hit repeatedly: Biggin Hill and Hornchurch four times each, Debden and North Weald twice each. Croydon, Gravesend, Rochford, Hawkinge and Manston were also attacked in strength. Seven attempts were made against Eastchurch, which was not a Fighter Command airfield but was thought to be by the intelligence-starved Germans. Certain times the raids knocked out the sector stations, endangering the coherence of the Dowding system. Emergency measures were taken to keep the sectors operating.

Times were desperate for the RAF, which was also taking many hits in the air. Aircraft production could replace aircraft but replacement pilots were hardly keeping place with losses, and novice flyers were being shot down in groups. Most replacements had as little as nine hours flying time and no combat training. At this point the multinational nature of the RAF came to the front.

The RAF they had home field advantage. Pilots who bailed out of their shot-down aircraft could be back at their airfields within hours. For Luftwaffe aircrews, a bail out over England meant capture, while parachuting into the English Channel often meant drowning or death from exposure. Morale began to suffer and Kanalkrankheit or 'Channel Sickness', a form of combat fatigue, began to appear amongst the German pilots. The Germans replacement problem was even worse than the British. Though the Luftwaffe always maintained its numerical superiority, the slow appearance of replacement aircraft and pilots put rising presure on the resources of the remaining attackers.

The Luftwaffe was winning the battle, although they didn’t know it. They only saw their force dwindling away in the confusion that the British were always sent where they were supposed to be. Something else had to be done to make thr RAF give in to Germany. Hitler order the Luftwaffe to bomb London. The Germans thought that it would panic British population or send the spitfires into t he sky to be wrecked. The attack was no longer a before step for Operation Sea Lion but it was important itslef.


For information on the fouth phase, the London Blitz, click here

Maggie Smith (June 2006)
History Summative