The most famous aerial battle in history, the Battle of Britain was a hard fought and desperate struggle to hold back Nazi Germany. Having launched air raids against Britain in June and July 1940, on the 8th of August, the Germans launched the first of the high-intensity raids that marked this battle. Intended to soften up the British ready for an invasion, these attacks eventually ended in failure. Britain and her allies held back the tide.
Faced with the might of the Luftwaffe, how did they win?
They Made Use of Pilots From Across Europe
At the start of the conflict, the Royal Air Force (RAF) faced a shortage of trained pilots. Some were drawn in from the Fleet Air Arm and from Coastal Command to make up numbers. But it was other European fliers who made the Battle of Britain into something for the whole of Europe.
Fighter pilots had fled Eastern European countries as they fell to the Nazis. Enough arrived in Britain to form four whole squadrons of Polish pilots and another made up of Czech fliers. With their allies at their side, the British took to the skies.
They Had Better Planes
One of the German planes was the twin-engine Messerschmitt Bf 110 “destroyer”, a plane so much slower and less maneuverable than its opponents that it earned the nickname “Göring’s folly”. The Messerschmitt Bf 1o9E was better, being about as fast as any British plane and able to climb faster than the famed Spitfires.
But it was the Spitfires that made the difference. More maneuverable than anything the Germans flew and armed with eight machine-guns, they were unrivaled in the skies.
The Germans Lacked Strategic Focus
At the start of the campaign, the Luftwaffe’s overall strategy was to focus on the infrastructure that kept the RAF in the air. Airfields, factories, and ports were targeted.
But there was still a lack of focus in these attacks, shifting from one target to the next. As a result, the effect of the attacks was blunted.
During the Battle of Britain, it is estimated that the Royal Air Force shot down 1887 German planes. Some planes crashed nose-first into the ground and were completely obliterated but other pilots managed to crash land and their planes remained relatively intact.
These planes were prized trophies for propaganda reasons but also to learn more about the German planes and technology. Last but not least, the remains were recycled back into new planes for the RAF, because the crashed planes were full of metals that Britain desperately needed to survive.
The design decisions of both sides gave the Allies the technological edge.
The crashed planes were photographed and cataloged and then removed, here are 22 of the best images we could find!