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The Battle of Britain: How It Was Won & Lost

Updated on June 26, 2018
The British Spitfire
The British Spitfire

The Battle of Britain was one of the most crucial points within the Second World War. If Britain had fallen Germany would have face little resistance to its expansion. The German war industry would have been free to focus its might against Russia exclusively. Furthermore, when the USA joined the fighting there would not have been a staging ground for the allied forces to have off of the European coast for the air force or for any other armed forces. If the British had lost there is a great possibility that many people in the world would be speaking German or be lampshades (referring to how some of the SS used the skin of concentration camp inmates to make lampshades).

An early radar display.
An early radar display.
What the display looks like from top down.
What the display looks like from top down.

What the British had going for them was very little, but they took advantage of it. They had home territory advantage. This meant that anytime a pilot was shot down (if he survived) all he had to do was get a ride to the Royal Air Force base (RAF) and start flying again the next day. Due to the radar system in place the British had the advantage of knowing when the Germans were coming and could place fighters strategically to take them out. Furthermore, the British could produce a large amount of planes in a short amount of time so the loss of aircraft was not so much an issue as the loss of men. Additionally the planes the British produced were some of the best prop driven fighter planes ever made. The Spitfire was equipped with multiple machine guns in the wings allowing for increased chance of the pilot hitting his target while the Hawker Hurricane had several machine guns mounted in a single area making them ideal as a bomber killer. Both planes were pivotal in winning the Battle of Britain.

The British Hurricane
The British Hurricane
The German ME-109
The German ME-109

The major disadvantage the British had was the limitations with pilots. The loss of a pilot was more disastrous then the loss of 20 planes. Another disadvantage was a single failing within the engine of the Spitfire. The Spitfire, while being one of the best fighter planes produced to that point had a single disadvantage to its German counterpart the ME-109. The Spitfire was equipped with the Rolls Royce Merlin V12 engine which was carburetor run while its ME-109 counterpart was an inverted V12 with injected fuel. During normal flight this was not a problem for the Spitfire, but in situations where there was extreme diving or negative g-force placed on the planes the ME-109 came out ahead for maneuverability in regards to diving and climbing. A tactic that was successfully used against the Spitfire was for the ME-109 to wait for the RAF to attack inbound Luftwaffe bombers then to dive in from higher altitudes in the attack.

An example of the 20mm shells.
An example of the 20mm shells.

The greatest advantage the German Luftwaffe had over the RAF was man power. Germany had pilots in plenty and could have over whelmed the RAF easily. Also the ME-109 had superior maneuverability and speed due to the fuel injection system that was in its engine. Furthermore, not only was the plane equipped with machine guns, but also a cannon that shot 20 mm shells loaded with high explosives. The cannons proved effective against the Spitfire due to its aluminum body, but had little effect against the Hawker Hurricane due to its canvas body. The shells required a hard surface to impact against in order for them to explode. Despite this single disadvantage, Germany could have easily won the Battle of Britain but for the ultimate failing which was neither mechanical or man power related but rather was a result of poor strategy.

I suppose we can thank God that Adolf Hitler was a little off his rocker because otherwise the Second World War would have been lost very quickly. Hitler changed tactics on such a regular basis over the course of the Battle of Britain that this more than anything made it possible for the RAF to win it. There are several other factors that contributed to the Luftwaffe’s failure, but there are circumstantial by comparison to this first factor. If Hitler and his generals had focused their attacks upon a specific industry or military grouping such as the RAF’s airfields then the Battle of Britain could have been very short lived. The RAF’s limit with manpower especially could have resulted in a easy victory for the Luftwaffe if they had focused tactics upon killing as many pilots as possible and in destroying the RAF’s airfields.

The other things that contributed to the Luftwaffe’s failure are first that the German’s never developed anything more sophisticated than the twin engine bomber aircraft. While these aircraft were wonderful for battle field tactics and support of ground troops, they were very limited for bombing population and industrial centers in Britain. Second, the fighter aircraft support was very limited due to fuel consumption. By the time a fighter aircraft had made it across the English Channel and made contact with RAF fighters it only had fuel enough for 4 to 8 minutes of fighting before it had to turn back in order to make it home. Any pilots lost over British air space or over the channel almost always died or were captured which meant that the Luftwaffe was operating on an extreme disadvantage. What is more, German industry could not produce replacement aircraft as quickly as the British could. In 1940 the British could produce 500 fighters in a month while the Germans could only produce 150 in the same time. A final mistake that was made was the targeted attacks against British civilians. This more than anything galvanized the British populace against German and encouraged sympathy for the Allies caused on the part of the United States. History shows that when there are attacks upon civilian populations that rather than terrorizing the population into submission it normally bolsters the nations desire to resist such terror.

There are many ways that the Luftwaffe could have approached the Battle of Britain other than what was named above. There are things the RAF could have done to succeed sooner as well, but the fact of the matter is that the British winning this battle made it possible for the Allied Forces to continue fighting and eventually winning the Second World War. The free peoples of the world owe the RAF pilots and their support crews an enormous debt of gratitude.

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    • ibbarkingmad profile imageAUTHOR

      Brian Middleton 

      3 years ago from Southern Utah

      @tonyad60,intended s for not replying sooner. Thank you for your kind words. I intended no insensitivity. It was a reality many were unaware of. In truth, I wrote this when I was younger (about 5 years ago) and I was so outraged by it I wanted others to know. With age comes prospective. I understand now why people are so cruel. Perhaps I will write a hub on the topic, but I will let my original words stand because it reminds me of a different time, and because it is true.

    • tonymead60 profile image

      Tony Mead 

      5 years ago from Yorkshire

      hi

      an interesting hub which acknowledges the sacrifice and agony of the Raf pilots who came from around the world to fight the Germans at this time. I'm writing a book on the role of the RAF in the N. African campaign in support of the 8th army.

      good hub, I'm not sure the reference to lampshades is necessary or sensitive to anyone whose family was lost in the concentration camps.

      regards

      Tony

    • ibbarkingmad profile imageAUTHOR

      Brian Middleton 

      6 years ago from Southern Utah

      Yep, Hitler's constant change in strategy the primary reason for the German's failure. Like I can say. We should thank God Hitler was off his rocker otherwise we would be speaking German or be lamp shades.

    • Davesworld profile image

      Davesworld 

      6 years ago from Cottage Grove, MN 55016

      The story I always heard was shifting the focus from defeating the RAF to strategic bombing of civilian targets was the key to Germany's loss. This sent the bombers in without fighter protection and gave the RAF time to rebuild following heavy lasses in the initial phase of the air war.

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