The Battle of Britain Facts for Kids

  • The Battle of Britain was a battle that happened in 1940. 
  • It was between the German army and the British army. 
  • The Germans wanted to invade Great Britain, but they were defeated by the RAF.

In June of 1940, Prime Minister Winston Churchill said the British were going to fight Germany in the Battle of Britain. He gave the battle its name before it even started.

The Battle of Britain began on July 10, 1940, when German planes attacked British ships in the English Channel. 

Hitler wanted to take over British land. He had to first destroy the Royal Air Force and win air superiority over England. 

In this fight, the Luftwaffe’s bombers fought against Fighter Command’s Hawker Hurricanes and Supermarine Spitfires of Britain from the Royal Aur Force (RAF).

Hermann Goering thought it would be easy for Germany to beat England in a few days, but it lasted for three and a half months! 

Causes

Britain and France declared war against Nazi Germany on 3 September 1939, the same day it invaded Poland. For a few months, there were few battles. Then in 1940, that changed.

In April, the Germans invaded Norway and France. They went through the Ardennes and to the coast. This cut off French and British soldiers at Dunkirk. The Allies evacuated these soldiers in Operation Dynamo when they came back to England.

Adolf Hitler wanted to force Britain to give up and he tried. He tried bombing, a blockade, and invasion. But first, he needed air superiority. This was a small war compared to the later wars of World War II but the stakes were high – if Britain won, then they would survive and win the war.

Sealion invasion

In July 1940, Hitler ordered plans for a seaborne invasion of Britain. The invasion was called “Sealion.” He hoped that he could break the will of Britain through blockades and bombings. 

But many people thought it would not work out because it is very hard to invade when there are waves or the tide is up. It would be very dangerous for all the soldiers and boats.

In order to be successful, the English needed to win at the air. They probably would have faced many losses from bombs and mines. The German ground forces might have been stopped by the navy too, but they could not be sure of this.

The German Air Force or Luftwaffe

The German Air Force was made up of three fleets. These were spread out, and the one near Britain had about 2,800 aircraft. About two-thirds of these were bombers. 

The Luftwaffe had already defeated other countries’ air forces before fighting the RAF. Its crews were experienced and confident, and its commander predicted that it would be easy to beat the RAF.

The Luftwaffe had problems that made it less effective in the Battle of Britain. The plane was not designed to go up against strong people who were fighting back.

The Germans had a problem with their bombers. They didn’t have many heavy bombers. That is why they couldn’t damage the British in any big way. 

The Luftwaffe’s fighter force also had trouble finding the position of Fighter Command aircraft and couldn’t control them from the ground either.

Another problem was that there were not enough planes to go around for German forces, because they weren’t making enough or used too many of them early on during battle.

The Royal Air Force or RAF

In 1936, the RAF was split into four groups: Training, Coastal, Bomber, and Fighter. The Fighter Group was in the South East of England. It had 650 planes and 1,300 pilots at its disposal. 

When they were fighting in France, the RAF had suffered heavy losses. Hugh Dowding refused to send more planes to France because he wanted them for when they would fight again in England.

There were about 3,000 pilots who fought in the Battle of Britain and only 200 were from public schools while the other 2,800 came from a variety of backgrounds.

The RAF pilots were very young people mostly around 20 years of age. Not all were British: they came from New Zealand, Canada, Australia, and South Africa as well as Nazi-occupied countries.

The battle included radar. The Luftwaffe had more airplanes than the RAF at the beginning of the battle, but the RAF had radars. Radars were a way of finding airplanes. They were not perfect, but they helped a lot in this battle against the Luftwaffe.

Women in the Battle of Britain

Many women worked to build fighter planes. They did not fly in them, but they still had a job. One out of every eight pilots in the Air Transport Auxiliary were female. One of these was Amy Johnson, who died when her plane crashed into the Thames estuary.

Women in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) worked with the RAF doing jobs like driving, cooking and calling by telephone. Some women served at radar stations while others famously worked as plotters in the various Fighter Command operations rooms mapping friendly and enemy aircraft positions and helping to direct fighter planes. 

Many of the places these women worked at were destroyed by German attacks. More than 750 of these women died during the war.

The battle begins: channel invasion

Hitler thought that the British people would come to terms. But Winston Churchill said no. He was showing that they would not surrender. In response, Hitler could either bomb Britain or invade it. But he needed to control the sky first and so he planned a bombing campaign or naval blockade to force this change in opinion.

Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister, inspired his people in a public speech by saying:

We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.

The battle started with the Kanalkampf, or Channel Battles phase. Here, the Germans attacked British shipping and prevented supplies from going to the people in Britain who needed them.

Second phase: Attacks on Radar Stations

The Luftwaffe wanted to destroy Fighter Command’s aircraft, either on the ground or in the air. Airfields and radar stations were targets for German bombing. 

The raids destroyed aircraft and airfields, making it difficult for the RAF to continue to operate. The airfields of No.11 Group in the southeast of England were attacked more than other places because they were close to London. 

Small civilian airports had emergencies because they weren’t protected like military ones and got bombed a lot too sometimes but it was still better than nothing at all.

On August 13th, German planes also attacked airfields and other places to try to break down Britain’s connections with the world outside of Germany. The RAF had only 640 aircraft compared with 2600 for the Germans, but they still fought back hard.

In late August and into the beginning of September, the Germans increased the number and power of their attacks on RAF airfields. On August 31, 1940, the RAF suffered its worst damage and loss of life in all of World War II. 

Third phase: London bombing by mistake

The Germans continued to bomb towns and cities in England. 

The RAF bombed Berlin after the Germans bombed London by mistake. It was difficult for the British and their allies because they had so few men. But Winston Churchill said that they were grateful to them.

The Luftwaffe’s bombing campaigns in England were at first limited to military and industrial targets, but the strategy changed after the British RAF launched a raid against Berlin. 

Hitler became very angry and demanded that they focus on destroying cities. They did this by attacking London on September 7th and then many more times over the next few weeks.

Fourth phase: The Battle of Britain

The Germans bombed London and other major British cities with heavy bombing raids. 

During one of the toughest times in the battle over London, RAF Sergeant Ray Holmes saw a German bomber. He had already used up all his ammunition, but instead of giving up he steered his plane into the German fighter and cut its tail off with his wing. 

His Hurricane was also broken, but he managed to jump out the window and land on the roof of an apartment building. He became a hero for saving Buckingham Palace.

On 15th September 1940, the Germans had a hard time. They attacked again but the British fighters hit back hard and it became clear that the Germans could not win. 

This day is officially regarded as the end of the Battle of Britain and this day is commemorated each year.

The Battle of Britain day was when the Germans launched their heaviest bombing raids on London. Fighter Command successfully fought the attacking aircraft, resulting in heavy Luftwaffe losses. 

Hitler postponed the invasion of Britain (Operation Sealion) because they were denied air superiority by the RAF, and instead focused their bombing raids on British cities at night to reduce Luftwaffe casualties. Coastal towns, airfields, and other military targets were attacked during the day by the German Luftwaffe.

Consequences

German bombing raids continued after the battle had ended. The Battle of Britain ended in late October 1940 when Hitler stopped fighting for British airspace.

He turned his attention to attacking the Soviet Union. This was Germany’s first major defeat during World War II, but it did not end bombing raids on Britain. 

The Luftwaffe kept bombing at night over London, Coventry, and other cities for several more months trying to break their fighting spirit. This campaign finally ended in May 1941 with more than 40,000 casualties.

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