War with Hitler: The Battle of Britain

Aircraft spotter searches the London sky with binoculars during the Battle of Britain.
Flight formation during the Battle of Britain.
A destroyed railway station in Westminster Bridge Road, London, during the Battle of Britain.
Britain’s Prime Minister, Winston Churchill.
Adolf Hitler.

As explained in the previous chapter, the German military had forced British troops to hastily retreat from France in 1940. The humiliating escape made Britain look rather weak, and Prime Minister Winston Churchill now feared the worst for his country. His fear was that Hitler, sensing weakness in his enemies, would soon also attack Britain itself to try to force them to accept an armistice or make them surrender. Ahead of the anticipated attack, in an attempt to boost morale, Churchill therefore gave a speech in which he boldly stated: “We shall defend our island, whatever the price may be.”

Fighting in the sky

Not long after Churchill’s speech, as the prime minister had anticipated, Germany attacked. The German offensive focused on air attacks on the Royal Air Force, and as a natural consequence, fierce man-to-man fighting took place in the sky. Later to be called the Battle of Britain, this aerial war dragged on for months, causing heavy casualties in both the RAF and the Luftwaffe. Furthermore, German aerial bombing of British cities caused great hardship and many deaths on the ground, with civilian Brits having to spend countless nights in bomb shelters, nervously waiting for the next strike.

As a response to the bombing of British cities, Britain dropped bombs over Berlin. This, however, didn’t change the fact that Britain was so exposed that she eventually might have to sue for peace. No surrender came, though, and when Germany finally decided to give up their air attacks, it was seen as a sign that Hitler was not as unstoppable as many had previously believed.

Churchill lobbying for American involvement

Interestingly, looking back at the Battle of Britain, much of the bloodshed during this fighting could have been avoided had Churchill shared Hitler’s desire for an Anglo-German peace treaty. However, Churchill did not fancy the idea of negotiating with Hitler. Instead, he chose confrontation, and at the same time lobbied for the United States to join the war on the side of the Allies to help crush the German military. Eventually, as Churchill had desired — albeit after the fearsome Battle of Britain — the United States did join the war, and after years of hard fighting and millions of deaths, the combined Allied forces achieved a Nazi surrender.