It may be almost impossible to imagine today, but not long before the Nazi campaign against Britain got underway, Hitler mused that England might capitulate to Germany without putting up much of a fight at all. Apparently he underestimated Winston Churchill, the British prime minister, much the same way he would later underestimate Josef Stalin, when he invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. Britain wasn’t about to give up control of the skies easily, quietly or quickly. Although Germany had the Luftwaffe, which was equipped with excellent aircraft, when up against the fighter planes of the Royal Air Force (RAF) it was no contest. German Heinkel He 111 bombers over the English Channel. 1940. [Bundesarchiv, Bild 141-0678 CC-BY-SA 3.0] Nonetheless, Hitler ordered the bombing of Britain to commence on July 10 th, 1940, and the two countries fought almost constantly until October 31 st, when victory went decidedly to Great Britain. It became known as the Battle of Britain, an aerial campaign that was, in some respects, a fight for Britain’s very soul as a military champion on the right side of history. By the time the conflict subsided, almost 3,000 civilians had lost their lives. It was a gruelling campaign for both sides. But the RAF had Spitfires and Hurricanes and skilled pilots to steer them, and it wasn’t long before Germany’s fantasies of an easy fight evaporated like so much dust in a sandstorm. VIDEO The Battle of Britain is not only an example of the RAF’s skill. It was the first battle fought solely in the air, a battle that cost Germany more than 1,500 fighter planes. Hermann Goering, chief of the Luftwaffe had mistakenly, just like his boss, thought that Britain would be quickly and easily defeated. He soon realized Germany was in for the fight of its life, a fight that of course it wound up losing, in 1945 when it completely surrendered to the Allies.
A still from camera-gun film taken from a Supermarine Spitfire Mark I of No. 609 Squadron RAF, flown by by Pilot Officer J D Bisdee, as he dives on a formation of Heinkel He IIIs of KG 55 which had just bombed the Supermarine aircraft works at Woolston, Southampton. 1940. [© IWM (CH 1826)] A still from camera gun film shows tracer ammunition from a Supermarine Spitfire Mark I of No. 609 Squadron RAF, flown by Flight Lieutenant J H G McArthur, hitting a Heinkel He 111 on its starboard quarter. These aircraft were part of a large formation from KG 53 and KG 55 which attacked the Bristol Aeroplane Company’s works at Filton, Bristol, just before midday on 25th September 1940. [© IWM (CH 1823)] Messerschmitt Bf110 fighter of Zerstörergeschwader 76 heavy fighter squadron over the English Channel, Aug 1940. These were the first fighters with the shark’s mouth that inspired the RAF in Africa and the AVG in China.
A flight of German Do-17 Z bombers of Kampfgeschwader 3 over France or Belgium, possibly en route to Britain, September-October 1940. [Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-343-0679-14A / Gentsch / CC-BY-SA 3.0] Supermarine Spitfire Mark Is of No. 610 Squadron based at Biggin Hill, flying in ‘vic’ formation, 24 July 1940. [© IWM (CH 740)] Hawker Hurricanes of No 1 Squadron, Royal Air Force, based at Wittering, Cambridgeshire, followed by a similar formation of Supermarine Spitfires of No 266 Squadron, during a flying display for aircraft factory workers, October 1940. [© IWM (CH 1561)] A still from camera-gun film taken from a Supermarine Spitfire Mark I of No. 609 Squadron RAF, flown by by Pilot Officer J D Bisdee, as he dives on a formation of Heinkel He 111s of KG 55 which have just bombed the Supermarine aircraft works at Woolston, Southampton. The rearmost aircraft of the leading ‘staffel’ receives a burst of machine gun fire from Bisdee, as shown by the streaks of light from the tracer bullets. Its port engine is also on fire. [© IWM (CH 1827)] A still from camera-gun film taken from a Supermarine Spitfire Mark I, flown by the Commanding Officer of No. 609 Squadron RAF, Squadron Leader H S Darley, as he opens fire amongst a formation of Heinkel He 111s of KG 55 which have just bombed the Supermarine aircraft works at Woolston, Southampton. [© IWM (CH 1829)] A still from camera-gun film taken from a Supermarine Spitfire Mark I of No. 609 Squadron RAF, flown by Flying Officer Tadeusz “Novi” Nowierski (formerly Polish Air Force) as he closes in on a formation of Dornier Do 17Zs of KG3 south-west of London at approximately 5.45 pm on 7 September 1940, the first day of the Blitz. Tracer bullets from the intercepting Spitfires can be seen travelling towards the enemy aircraft which were heading back to their base after bombing East London and the docks. [© IWM (CH 1820)] A Dornier Do-17 medium bomber dropping a string of bombs on London. 20 September 1940.
A portrait of Air Vice Marshal Sir Keith Park while commanding RAF squadrons on Malta, September 1942. In Germany, he was supposedly known as “the Defender of London”. [© IWM (CM 3513)] A Spitfire aircraft going down after being hit by a German Heinkel III in a dog fight. [© AWM 044727] A Spitfire pilot of No. 610 Squadron recounts how he shot down a Messerschmitt Bf 110, Biggin Hill. September 1940. [© IWM (HU 104450)] Bf-109 after an emergency landing on its way back to France across the English Channel. 1940. [Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-344-0741-30 Röder CC-BY-SA 3.0] Bomb with sign Extra-Havanna für Churchill. August 1940. [Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-342-0615-18 Spieth CC-BY-SA 3.0] British fighter Supermarine Spitfire flies in front of the cab of the German Heinkel He 111.
British pilots running towards their fighters (Spitfires) on the air-raid alarm.
Camera gun footage of a Ju 87 Stuka being shot down by an RAF fighter, 1940. [© IWM (C 2418)] Destroyed German bomber Heinkel HE 111 [Av Franz Hollerweger CC BY-SA 2.0] German Do 17 bomber and British Spitfire fighter in the sky over Britain. December 1940. [Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1969-094-18 Speer CC-BY-SA 3.0] German Heinkel He 111 flying towards their targets in the United Kingdom.
German Heinkel He 111s which went into service in 1937. Some 6000 Heinkel He 111s were built but were found to be a poor match for Hurricanes and Spitfires during the Battle of Britain.
German Officer examines the bullet holes on the fuselage of Heinkel He 111. The damage was caused by 7.69mm machine guns of British aircraft. [Via] Ground staff refueling a Messerschmitt Bf 110. [Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-404-0521-19A Koster CC-BY-SA 3.0] Hawker Hurricane Mk I aircraft of No 85 Squadron, Royal Air Force on patrol during the Battle of Britain. [© IWM (CH 1510)] Hawker Hurricane Mk Is of No. 242 Squadron during the Battle of Britain, 1940.
Hawker Hurricanes of No. 85 Squadron RAF, October 1940. [© IWM (CH 1500)] Heinkel HE-111 aircraft of the Luftwaffe being shot down during the Battle of Britain. [Canada. Dept. of National Defence Library and Archives Canada PA-] Hurricanes of No. 85 Squadron in flight in search of the enemy, October 1940. [© IWM (CH 1499)] Sergeant Schnell Siegfried of the 4.JG2 Squadron presents the marks of victories on the tail of his Messerschmitt fighter Bf 109E. [Via] KG 76 on their way to the target, 18th August 1940.
Pattern of condensation trails left by British and German aircraft after a dog fight. [© IWM (H 4219)] Spitfire pilots pose beside the wreckage of a Junkers Ju 87 Stuka, which they shot down as it was attacking a Channel convoy, 1940. [© IWM (CH 2064)] Supermarine Spitfire Mark Is of No. 610 Squadron based at Biggin Hill, flying in ‘vic’ formation, 24 July 1940. [© IWM (CH 740)] Supermarine Spitfire Mk VBs of No. 131 Squadron RAF being prepared for a sweep at Merston, a satellite airfield of Tangmere, Sussex. June 1942. [© IWM (CH 5879)] The Crew and a ground staff of the Luftwaffe prepare the start of the bomber Junkers Ju-88. [Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-402-0265-03A Pilz CC-BY-SA 3.0] The front of a Heinkel He-111 medium bomber in flight during a bombing mission to London. November 1940.
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Two Dornier Do 17Z of the KG76 Squadron on London’s West Ham sky.