This Day in History… October 31, 1940

Item #M11154 – The Battle of Britain was the first battle to be fought entirely in the air and the longest aerial bombing campaign in history.

Battle of Britain Ends

On October 31, 1940, the nearly four-month-long Battle of Britain came to an end.

By the summer of 1940, the German Army had pushed the Allied forces to the coast of France, and England was the next target. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill refused to consider a peace agreement with Germany, and Britain braced for an attack. In the words of Churchill, “The Battle of France is over, the Battle of Britain is about to begin.”

U.S. #1264 – Prior to the battle, Churchill delivered his inspiring “Finest Hour” speech, which you can listen to here.

On July 16, 1940, German Chancellor Adolph Hitler issued Directive Number 16, which stated, “The objective of this operation is to eliminate the English home country as a base for the continuation of the war against Germany.” The invasion plan was code-named “Operation Sea Lion.” Hitler knew the first step was to destroy the Royal Air Force (RAF) so German ships could cross the English Channel without being attacked from the air. Once the RAF was rendered incapable of defending England, 160,000 German soldiers were to invade a 40-mile stretch of Great Britain’s coastline. Hitler’s generals estimated Operation Sea Lion would take four days to defeat the RAF, followed by four weeks to destroy England’s military installations and aircraft industry. The plan was intended to force Great Britain into agreeing to an armistice or surrender.

On August 13, 1940, called “Eagle Day” by the German High Command, the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) began bombing raids on English air bases. When the Royal Air Force runways were bombed, the pilots used private airfields. The servicemen on the ground worked tirelessly to gather supplies and repair the planes.

British Antarctic Territory #16-19 – In August, Churchill commended the RAF, stating “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

The German bombers began to fly around the clock so repairs couldn’t be made on the airfields. The outskirts of London were hit during a night raid, and English planes bombed Berlin in retaliation. Hitler ordered his air force to change their focus from airfields to industries and cities. He hoped the Royal Air Force would gather to protect the cities, making them easy targets.

Instead, the change in tactics worked in England’s favor. Without the constant bombing, the air bases and planes were repaired. The new German flight path was closer to another British base that engaged the German planes. By October, increased German losses led to Operation Sea Lion being postponed indefinitely. Germany abandoned Britain on October 31.

The victory of the British Royal Air Force in the Battle of Britain was the first defeat for Germany’s military. It boosted the morale of those who were valiantly fighting the advance of Nazism.

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