Today in History: 10 July, 1940 - Battle of Britain Begins

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Today in History: 10th July, in 1940, Battle of Britain begins as Nazi forces attack shipping convoys in the English Channel.



The Battle of Britain was a military campaign of the Second World War, in which the Royal Air Force (RAF) defended the United Kingdom against large-scale attacks by Nazi Germany's air force, the Luftwaffe.

It has been described as the first major military campaign fought entirely by air forces.

The British officially recognise the battle's duration as being from 10 July until 31 October 1940.

The primary objective of the German forces was to compel Britain to agree to a negotiated peace settlement. In July 1940, the air and sea blockade began, with the Luftwaffe mainly targeting coastal-shipping convoys, ports and shipping centres, such as Portsmouth. 

Adolf Hitler had expected the British to seek a peace settlement after Germany’s defeat of France in June 1940, but Britain was determined to fight on. 

Germany had been banned from having an air force after the First World War, but the Luftwaffe was re-established by the Nazi government and by 1940 it was the largest and most formidable air force in the world.

It had suffered heavy losses in the Battle of France, but by August the three air fleets (Luftflotten) that would carry out the assault on Britain were at full readiness.

The RAF met this challenge with some of the best fighter aircraft in the world – the Hawker Hurricane and the Supermarine Spitfire.

Nearly 3,000 men of the RAF took part in the Battle of Britain – those who Winston Churchill called ‘The Few’.

While most of the pilots were British, Fighter Command was an international force.

Men came from all over the Commonwealth and occupied Europe – from New Zealand, Australia, Canada, South Africa, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Belgium, France, Poland and Czechoslovakia. There were even some pilots from the neutral United States and Ireland.

During the Battle of Britain, the Luftwaffe was dealt an almost lethal blow from which it never fully recovered.

The Battle of Britain was the first serious setback experienced by the Germans during the Second World War. This in itself was significant at a time when the German military forces seemed to be unstoppable, and it gave hope to conquered Europeans.

More than 3,000 aircraft were downed from both sides, that was 1,023 from the British side and 1,887 of the Luftwaffe, according to RAF statistics.

From an estimated crew of 3,000, only around half survived the four-month battle.

544 RAF Fighter Command pilots and crew were among the dead, as were more than 700 from Bomber Command and nearly 300 from Coastal Command.

The Battle of Britain Memorial is a monument to aircrew who flew in the Battle of Britain situated atop the White Cliffs at Capel-le-Ferne, near Folkestone, on the coast of Kent.


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