In May of 1940 Germany invaded France. The
French army and its British and Belgian allies were overpowered by the
German blitzkrieg. Toward the end of May, Allied troops were backed up
to the coast of France in the town of Dunkirk. In a daring rescue
attempt, an armada of ships from England picked up the soldiers and
brought them across the English Channel to safety. Ships of all kinds
were used, ranging from Royal Navy ships to fishing boats. The Royal
Air Force provided cover, protecting the troops from German planes.
Over 300,000 soldiers were saved from the oncoming German army. France
fell into German hands and only the English Channel separated Great
Britain from the enemy.
Hitler was planning to invade Britain -
Operation Seelow. But first the Luftwaffe had to destroy the RAF, to
prevent it posing a threat to German troops as they landed in Britain.
The battle of Britain was the first major battle fought entirely in
the air. Hermann Goring's air force began its assault on England in
July 1940 with more than twice the 600 aircraft available to Sir Hugh
Dowding's Fighter Command.
Every day between June and October 1940 the RAF and the Luftwaffe
clashed over Britain. The Luftwaffe's final effort to destroy
England's air force began on Eagle Day, August 13, 1940. Hermann Göring
thought his vastly superior forces could sweep the Royal Air Force
from the sky in just four weeks, but poor weather and bungled
communications hampered the Luftwaffe's raids. Eagle Day ended with 46
German aircraft destroyed, compared to only 14 RAF fighters.
The RAF inflicted on Germany their
first defeat of the war. The Battle of Britain was one of the greatest
moments in British history: although short of planes and pilots, the
Royal Air Force held off the Luftwaffe and prevented a German
invasion. Churchill called it Britain's "finest hour".
Britain triumphed because it had the first modern air-defense network
based on new technology-radar.
So Hitler turned to bombing Britain's
cities, hoping for a British surrender by reducing industry to rubble
and weakening the will of the British people. Although many were
killed, the factories kept working while the relentless only united
the British people in their determination to beat the Nazi foe.