History’s most famous and arguably most important air battle was the Battle of Britain, where the outnumbered RAF fought against a formidable enemy attempting to nullify British opposition in preparation for a full scale invasion.
The Germans had launched air raids on Britain over the course of June and July 1940, but on August 8th, they unleashed the first of the intense raids that signified the battle.
These raids were meant to destroy British aerial defences, making the job of invading the island nation much easier. However, as history shows, despite superior numbers, the Germans failed in their objective, putting the plans of an invasion on hold indefinitely.
With the Luftwaffes’s strength at this time, how did the British defy the odds and prevail?
With the Help of Pilots From Europe
At the start of WW2, the British Royal Air Force (RAF) lacked trained pilots. The RAF nabbed pilots from the Fleet Air Arm and Coastal command to bolster numbers, but this still wasn’t enough. The rest of the ranks were made up of European pilots, who fled as their countries fell into Nazi control.
There enough to make four full squadrons of Polish pilots, and one full squadron of Czech airmen.
To begin with, the Luftwaffe were targeting the industries and infrastructure that maintained the RAF’s fighting abilities, like airfields, ports and factories. These attacks could have significantly wounded the RAF, but the German’s shifted focus between different strategies and targets one after another, unintentionally allowing the RAF to continue fighting.
One of the reasons for Britain’s victory is their arguably better aircraft. The Germans flew planes such as the twin engine Messerschmitt Bf 110 heavy fighter. This aircraft, while heavily armed, was much less manoeuvrable than single engine fighters involved in the battle, earning in the nickname ‘Göring’s folly’.
Other fighters, like the Bf 109 were much more suited to the fast paced aerial combat seen during the Battle. It was highly manoeuvrable and fast in a climb. It also carried a cannon in the nose that could bring down enemy fighters in just a few shots.
But the British had the Spitfire, which was incredibly manoeuvrable and carried eight .303 machine guns. Pilots in the cockpit of the Spitfire held a dogfighting edge over the Bf 109, which while it could climb faster, couldn’t beat it in a close-in dogfight.
During the battle, the RAF shot down an estimated 1887 German aircraft. Some of these were lost to the sea, while others were virtually evaporated from high speed crashes, but many manged land and keep the crew and aircraft mostly intact.
A side effect of fighting over friendly territory, is you have access to destroyed enemy equipment. The hulks of crashed planes were inspected and analysed to find their strengths and weaknesses, and then broken down and re-used in the production of more British aircraft.
Before being removed, many of these crashed aircraft were photographed. Here are 22 of those images!