The Battle of Britain

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The Battle of Britain

For many centuries before World War II, aggressors had attempted to invade and conquer the island nation of Great Britain. The last successful invasion, however, had occurred almost 900 years earlier, when William the Conqueror conquered Britain in 1066 at the Battle of Hasting. In 1588, Spain tried to invade the island, sending the greatest naval fleet of the time against the British. But the Spanish Armada was defeated by the well-organized British Navy which, although smaller than the Spanish, was aided by a communication system of beacon fires across the country to signal fleet locations. This was a history lesson that Adolf Hitler chose to ignore when, fresh from victory in  he targeted England as his next conquest. He prepared a mighty force but, in the end, was defeated by a small air force and another system of "beacon fires," this time composed of radios and .


Hitler assumed that with the surrender of the mainland Allies, England would be unable to continue fighting. To conquer England, he planned an invasion, which would be preceded by intensive aerial attacks by the Luftwaffe intended to destroy the Royal Air Force (RAF) and gain air superiority. The plan was named Operation Sea Lion and its launch day was termed Aldertag (Eagle’s Day). Until then, the Luftwaffe would attack shipping in the English Channel, hoping to draw the RAF into skirmishes and begin to deplete their strength. Although the Luftwaffe was spread thin by a large war theater and constant battles, it still possessed almost 2,000 airplanes, many more than Britain’s 675. The German aerial fleet included the , at that time the most feared airplane in the world. But the British boasted the Submarine Spitfire and the , two previously little-known airplanes that came into their own as the fighting over England got underway.

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Despite appearances, the British were ready to fight. In June 1940, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill had promised the world that even though his nation now stood alone, it was ready to fight the Battle of Britain to save the world from defeat and a new Dark Age. He encouraged his country to "brace ourselves to our duties, and men will say, ‘This was their finest hour.’" Fighter Command, led by Air Marshall Hugh Dowding, was ready, having been preparing for such an event since 1937. They had a well-developed radar system and the Filter Room at Fighter Command--a ...

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