Battle of Britain of 1940–41

Battle of Britain of 1940–41

 

the air battle over the British Isles from August 1940 to May 1941, which went down in the history of World War II under this name.

In order to secure its rear for the forthcoming war against the USSR, the government of fascist Germany tried unsuccessfully in the summer of 1940 to make peace with Great Britain. Then, on July 16, Hitler issued directive No. 16 on the preparation of Operation Sea Lion against Britain, and, on August 1, directive No. 17 on carrying out a broad air war against Britain, with the objective of destroying the British Air Force, wrecking the economy, terrorizing the populace, and forcing Great Britain to capitulate. For this purpose three air fleets were allotted: Fleet 3 (Lieutenant General H. Sperrle, in northwestern France), Fleet 2 (Lieutenant General A. Kesselring, in northeastern France), and Fleet 5 (Lieutenant General H. Stumpff, in Norway), a force which totaled 2,800 planes, including 1,600 bombers. For the country’s air defense, Britain deployed four fighter groups under the overall command of Air Chief Marshal Dowding (704 planes, including 620 fighters, and 289 more in reserve); deployed along the coast was a network of radar installations that provided an antiaircraft defense system (80 radar installations). On Aug. 12–13, 1940, German aircraft carried out the first massive raids on British airfields (on August 13 there were 1,485 raiding planes against 727 for the British); on August 15 there were 1,786 raiding planes (against 975 for the British). In these air encounters the supremacy of the British Air Force emerged. Damage from the bombing was relatively minor, and German losses amounted to 75 planes against 34 for the British. From August 24 to September 6 the German Air Force carried out an average of 1,000 sorties a day, making strikes mainly against British airfields. On September 7 it initiated bombings of Britain’s large cities, primarily London (the September 15 raid was especially heavy). The British antiaircraft defense put up stubborn resistance: from August to October 1940 a total of 1,103 German planes were shot down (the British lost 642 planes). In November the German Air Force took its main thrust to the outlying cities and ports of Britain (Birmingham, Southampton, Liverpool, Bristol, Plymouth). On the night of November 15 the city of Coventry was almost totally destroyed. Thereafter the raids became lighter, except for certain ones (for example, the raid by 685 planes on London on Apr. 17, 1941). In 1940 German aircraft dropped about 37,000 tons of bombs on Britain, and in 1941 (mostly before May), about 22,000 tons. In one year (from June 1940 to June 1941) more than 43,000 people were killed and about 51,000 were seriously injured as a result of the raids. A number of cities were heavily damaged. However, the main objective—to put Great Britain out of the war—was not achieved, since the British people displayed courage and the will to resist. The German Air Force suffered heavy losses. Of no small importance was the fact that the fascist German command, because it was preparing for war against the USSR, could not throw all of its air force against Great Britain.

REFERENCES

Vtoraia mirovaia voina. Moscow, 1958.
Richards, D., and H. Saunders. Voenno-vozdushnye sily Veliko-britanii vo vtoroi mirovoi voine: 1939–1945. Moscow, 1963. (Translated from English.)

I. E. ZAITSEV

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