In the summer of 1940, following the Fall of France and the evacuation from Dunkirk, Hitler ordered the German military to prepare for an invasion of Britain. With Germany in complete control of the European coastline all the way from Norway down to France, they were in a strong position to launch an invasion of the British Isles. Whilst the German Army and Navy made preparations for the assault, the German Air Force, the Luftwaffe, was given the task of destroying the Royal Air Force. If the Royal Air Force was destroyed, Germany would be able to dominate the skies of Britain and the North Sea, allowing them to attack Royal Navy warships and British Army positions when they invaded.
On the 18th June 1940, Winston Churchill stood in the House of Commons and addressed the Members of Parliament gathered there. In the first year of the war Germany had invaded and conquered Poland, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and most recently France; Britain was alone as the only nation in Western Europe that stood against Nazi Germany. Churchill in his speech famously said that “the Battle of Britain is about to begin”, and in the next month it did. On the 30th June 1940 the Luftwaffe was instructed to destroy the Royal Air Force in its entirety, which led to a series of strikes against RAF bases and RADAR Stations. Royal Air Force Hurricane’s and Spitfires entered into dogfights with German fighters and bombers, with both sides taking heavy losses. Eventually the Luftwaffe switched from targeting RAF stations and began attacking cities such as London in what would become known as the Blitz.
The culmination of the Battle of Britain came on 15th September 1940, when the Luftwaffe launched a daytime raid consisting of 600 fighters and 500 bombers against London. The RAF responded by sending up 620 fighter aircraft to intercept them, and over the course of the day the skies above London and the south east were filled with dogfighting aircraft. Following the failure of the raid, and the continued failure of other raids to destroy the RAF or British spirit, Hitler cancelled the planned invasion of Britain and the Luftwaffe stopped carrying out raids during daylight hours.
The Battle of Britain served not only as an example of the importance of airpower in warfare, but also highlighted the important role played in the battle by the members of allied nations. Pilots who had escaped from Poland, France and Norway joined British and Commonwealth pilots in defending Britain from invasion, as well as beginning the fight back against Germany.