Operation Sea Lion and the Battle of Britain

Employing fast-moving tanks backed up with air support, Germany defeated Poland in four weeks. This victory was followed by the occupation of Norway (four weeks), Netherlands (five days), Belgium (three weeks) and France (six weeks). The situation became even worse when Italy declared war on Britain on 11th June, 1940. General Henri-Philippe Pétain formed a government and at once asked the Germans for an armistice, which was concluded on 22nd June, 1940. Northern France and all her coastline down to the Pyrenees fell under German occupation. Pétain then agreed to head the Vichy government in occupied France, (1)

The English Channel meant that German's Blitzkrieg tactics could not be continued against Britain. Hitler had great respect for Britain's navy and airforce and feared that his forces would suffer heavy casualties in any invasion attempt. Hitler, who had not seen the sea until he was over forty, lacked confidence when it came to naval warfare. Hitler was prone to seasickness, with little aptitude for things nautical and told his naval commander-in-chief, Admiral Karl Donitz: "On land I am a hero. At sea I am a coward." (2)

At this stage Adolf Hitler still hoped that Britain would change sides or at least accept German domination of Europe. General Guenther Blumentritt later claimed that Hitler told him that his dreams of a large German empire were based on the empire created by the British during the nineteenth century. "He (Hitler) astonished us by speaking with admiration of the British Empire, of the necessity for its existence, and of the civilization that Britain had brought into the world.... He compared the British Empire with the Catholic Church - saying they were both essential elements of stability in the world. He said that all he wanted from Britain was that she should acknowledge Germany's position on the Continent. The return of Germany's lost colonies would be desirable but not essential, and he would even offer to support Britain with troops if she should be involved in any difficulties anywhere.... He concluded by saying that his aim was to make peace with Britain on a basis that she would regard as compatible with her honour to accept." (3)

Saving France - for GermanyPhilip Zec, The Daily Mirror (11th October, 1940)
Philip Zec, Saving France - for Germany, The Daily Mirror (11th October, 1940)

General Franz Halder, Chief of General Staff, wrote in his diary that Hitler was keen to reach a peace agreement with Britain: "The Führer is is greatly puzzled by Britain's persisting unwillingness to make peace. He sees the answer (as we do) in Britain's hope on Russia, and therefore counts on having to compel her by main force to agree to peace. Actually that is much against his grain. The reason is that a military defeat of Britain will bring about the disintegration of the British Empire. This would not be of any benefit to Germany. German blood would be shed to accomplish something that would benefit only Japan, the United States, and others." (4) The following day he added: "The Führer confirms my impressions of yesterday. He would like an understanding with Great Britain. He knows that war with the British will be hard and bloody, and knows also that people everywhere today are averse to bloodshed." (5)

On 19th July, 1940, Hitler made a speech to the Reichstag: "In this hour and before this body I feel myself obliged to make one more appeal to reason to England... I do this not as a victor, but for the triumph of common sense... "Despite my sincere efforts it has not been possible to achieve the friendship with England which I believed would have been blessed by both." Without delivering any ultimatum, Hitler said that it had never been on his desire or his aim to destroy the British Empire. He warned against interpreting his appeal as weakness and said that "Churchill may parry my words with the claim that I feel doubt or fear, but in any case I will have my knowledge that I acted rightly, according to my conscience." Hitler made it clear that rejection would mean an attack with all of the forces at the command of the Axis powers. (6)

Although Hitler spoke of peace the German air attacks were now a nightly feature of British life. In the first seventeen days of July, 194 British civilians were killed. Lord Halifax, the British Foreign Secretary, commented: "We never wanted the war... certainly no one here wants the war to go on for a day longer than is necessary. But we shall not stop fighting till freedom for ourselves and others is secure." (7) On 25th July, Winston Churchill signed an agreement with President Franklin D. Roosevelt that of the 33,000 aircraft being manufactured in the United States, 14,375 of them would be delivered to Britain. Similar ratios were being worked out for all American rifles, tanks, field guns and anti-tank guns. (8)

Operation Sea Lion

When he failed to receive a positive reply from the British government he ordered his generals to organize the invasion of Britain. The invasion plan was given the code name Operation Sea Lion. The objective was to land 160,000 German soldiers along a forty-mile coastal stretch of south-east England. "As England, despite her hopeless military situation, still shows no sign of willingness to come to terms, I have decided to prepare, and if necessary to carry out, a landing operation against her. The aim of this operation is to eliminate the English motherland as a base from which war against Germany can be continued and, if necessary, to occupy completely." (9)

General Kurt Student, the highest-ranking member of Germany's parachute infantry, had a meeting with Hitler: "At first Hitler developed in detail his general views, political and strategical, about how to continue the war against his principal enemy... He (Hitler) had not wished to provoke the British, as he hoped to arrange peace talks. But as they were unwilling to discuss things, they must face the alternative. Then a discussion followed about the use of the 11th Air Corps in an invasion of Great Britain. In this respect I expressed my doubts about using the Corps directly on the South coast, to form a bridgehead for the Army - as the area immediately behind the coast was now covered with obstacles.... He then pointed to Plymouth and dwelt on the importance of this great harbour for the Germans and for the English. Now I could no longer follow his thought, and I asked at what points on the south coast the landing was to take place." Hitler replied that operations were to be kept secret, and said: "I cannot tell you yet." (10)

Hitler finally gave the order to land on a broad front from the Kent coast to Lyme Bay. Admiral Erich Raeder, the German naval commander-in-chief, declared that he could support only a narrow landing around Beachy Head and demanded air superiority even for this. The generals agreed to this, though they regarded Raeder's plan as a recipe for disaster and still accumulated forces for a landing in Lyme Bay. Hitler gave an assurance that the proposed landing would take place only when air attacks had worn down the British defences. (11)

Within a few weeks the Germans had assembled a large armada of vessels, including 2,000 barges in German, Belgian and French harbours. Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt was put in charge of the operation: "As the first steps to prepare for an invasion were taken only after the French capitulation, no definite date could be fixed when the plan was drafted. It depended on the time required to provide the shipping, to alter ships so they could carry tanks, and to train the troops in embarking and disembarking. The invasion was to be made in August if possible, and September at the latest." (12)

Hitler's generals were very worried about the damage that the Royal Air Force could inflict on the German Army during the invasion. Hitler therefore agreed to their request that the invasion should be postponed until the British airforce had been destroyed. On 1st August, 1940, Hitler ordered: "The Luftwaffe will use all the forces at its disposal to destroy the British air force as quickly as possible. August 5th is the first day on which this intensified air war may begin, but the exact date is to be left to the Luftwaffe and will depend on how soon its preparations are complete, and on the weather situation." (13)

William Joyce (Lord Haw-Haw) told his British listeners: "I make no apology for saying again that invasion is certainly coming soon, but what I want to impress upon you is that while you must feverishly take every conceivable precaution, nothing that you or the government can do is really of the slightest use. Don't be deceived by this lull before the storm, because, although there is still the chance of peace, Hitler is aware of the political and economic confusion in England, and is only waiting for the right moment. Then, when his moment comes, he will strike, and strike hard." (14)

Battle of Britain

Hitler instructed that there was to be no "terror bombing" of civilian targets but otherwise gave no direction to the campaign. On the 12th August the German airforce began its mass bomber attacks on British radar stations, aircraft factories and fighter airfields. During these raids radar stations and airfields were badly damaged and twenty-two RAF planes were destroyed. This attack was followed by daily raids on Britain. This was the beginning of what became known as the Battle of Britain. (15)

Hitler told Admiral Erich Raeder that: "The invasion of Britain is an exceptionally daring undertaking, because even if the way is short this is not just a river crossing, but the crossing of a sea which is dominated by the enemy... For the Army forty divisions will be required; the most difficult part will be the continued reinforcement of military stores. We cannot count on supplies of any kind being available to us in England. The prerequisites are complete mastery of the air, the operational use of powerful artillery in the Straits of Dover and protection by minefields. The time of the year is an important factor too. The main operation will therefore have to be completed by 15 September... If it is not certain that preparations can be completed by the beginning of September, other plans must be considered." (16)

In August, 1940, the Luftwaffe had 2,800 aircraft stationed in France, Belgium, Holland and Norway. This force outnumbered the RAF four to one. However, the British had the advantage of being closer to their airfields. German fighters could only stay over England for about half an hour before flying back to their home bases. The RAF also had the benefits of an effective early warning radar system and the intelligence information provided by Ultra. The Germans began their full attack on south-east England with fleets of bombers protected by fighters. (17)

On 13th August, 1940, of the 1,485 German aircraft which crossed the English Channel that day, forty-five were shot down, for the loss of only thirteen British fighters. The Germans were surprised by the skill of the British pilots who opposed them. Almost all the German aircrew were killed or captured where they parachuted or crash-landed; only seven British pilots were killed, the rest crash-landing or parachuting to safety on British soil. The following day, seventy-five German aircraft were brought down, for thirty-four British planes lost. The same pattern was repeated on the third day, with seventy German losses as against twenty-seven British. In three days of air combat, the Germans had lost 190 aircraft. But in the first ten days of the German attacks, a hundred British aircraft had been destroyed on the ground. (18)

The German pilots had more combat experience than the British and probably had the best fighter plane in the Messerschmitt Bf109. They also had the impressive Messerschmitt 110 and Junkers Stuka. The commander of Fighter Command, Hugh Dowding, relied on the Hawker Hurricane and the Supermarine Spitfire. Helped by the Luffwaffe's unaccountable failure to destroy the fragile radar stations, Fighter Command just survived the onslaught. In the first three weeks of the battle it lost 208 fighters and 106 pilots, and by the end of the month wastage was outstripping production and the training of pilots. (19)

Supermarine Spitfire Mk.I
Supermarine Spitfire Mk.I

One experienced British pilot pointed out the differences between these different fighter planes: "The advantage of the Spitfire and the Hurricane in individual combat with the Me 109 was that both British aeroplanes could out-turn the German one which was why, when surprised from behind, the enemy's defensive manoeuvre was to push the stick forward into a dive which, in 1940, we could not follow. If we were surprised, our defence was to turn quickly and keep turning because the Me 109's radius of turn was bigger than that of a Spitfire or Hurricane and thus he could not keep you in his sights. If he was inexperienced enough to try, he would find the British fighter behind him after a couple of circuits. Nevertheless, the Me 109 was a good fighter in which the pilot and rear-gunner sat in tandem. It took little punishment and was easy to shoot down, because it was lightly built for performance. A burst from eight machine guns destroyed it quickly. It wasn't anything like so manoeuvrable as a single-engined, single-seater fighter and relied entirely on surprise to shoot us down." (20)

These dogfights were reported by Charles Gardner on the BBC. His words and tone were immediately controversial and it is claimed that he went too far in his descriptions, making the fighting between the RAF and the Luftwaffe seem like a contest on a sports field. For example: "There's one coming down in flames - there somebody's hit a German - and he's coming down - there's a long streak - he's coming down completely out of control - a long streak of smoke - ah, the man's baled out by parachute - the pilot's baled out by parachute - he's a Junkers 87 and he's going slap into the sea and there he goes - smash. Oh boy, I've never seen anything so good as this - the R.A.F. fighters have really got these boys taped." (21)

Messerschmitt Bf 109E-1
Messerschmitt Bf 109E-1

People would watch the drama of dog-fights from the ground. "There had been that day when two planes had appeared from behind a feathery, frothy white cloud. The sun was glinting on the wing tips, making both planes look as though they had been shot with silver. We stood there by the harbour walls with our eyes shaded against the sun to watch this drama being enacted over the water: the attacker and the attacked. As one streaked away, veering sideways to avoid the staccato burst of gun fire that could be plainly heard by those standing below on the ground, the other again zoomed upwards. There was a moment when both planes blotted out the sun so that they seemed like a purple shadow against the sky. In that momentary silence there was a tiny cough and a splutter as if the engine of that plane was emitting a half-strangled death cry before finally bursting into flames and beginning its dizzy spiral descent into the cold waters below. Witnessing this tragic episode affected me deeply. I watched the bystanders who were beginning to disperse, some shaking their heads sadly before walking on to attend to their own affairs. I felt suddenly very cold and empty. I wanted an answer to all this insane killing and aggression. I was very aware of being pregnant and creating life, while men were wasting it." (22)

Close to Defeat

During the summer of 1940 Air Chief Marshal Trafford Leigh-Mallory came into conflict with Keith Park, the commander of No. 11 Fighter Group. Park, who was responsible for the main approaches south-east of London, took the brunt of the early attacks by the Luftwaffe. Park complained that No. 12 Fighter Group should have done more to protect the air bases in his area instead of going off hunting for German planes to shoot down. Leigh-Mallory obtained support from Vice Marshal William Sholto Douglas, assistant chief of air staff. He was critical of the tactics being used by Keith Park and Hugh Dowding, head of Fighter Command. He took the view that RAF fighters should be sent out to meet the German planes before they reached Britain. Park and Dowding rejected this strategy as being too dangerous and argued it would increase the number of pilots being killed. (23)

On 15th August, seventy-five German aircraft were shot down, for a British loss of thirty-four. However, the following day, the Luftwaffe managed to destroy forty-seven aircraft on the ground at fourteen airfields in southern England. General Hastings Ismay, Churchill's Chief of Staff, watched that day's events in the Operation Room of No. 11 Group Fighter Command, later recalled: "There had been heavy fighting throughout the afternoon; and at one moment every single squadron in the group was engaged; there was nothing in reserve, and the map table showed new waves of attackers crossing the coast. I felt sick with fear." (24)

On 19th August, there was no German air attack on Britain. Winston Churchill commented to one of his officials that "they are making a big mistake". The following day, in the House of Commons, Churchill spoke of how the gratitude "of every home in our island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of war by their prowess and by their devotion". He then went on to say, of these airmen: "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few." (25)

The Royal Air Force was desperately short of trained pilots and Douglas Bader later recalled he was posted to No. 19 Squadron (Spitfires). "There was no such thing as a two-seater Hurricane or Spitfire. You were instructed on an advanced training aeroplane called a Miles Master. It was a two-seater in which the instructor sat behind you. This Master was nothing like a Hurricane or Spitfire, for it had a wide undercarriage, was without vice, and easy to fly... At the beginning of February I arrived at Duxford, near Cambridge to get my first glimpse of the fabulous Spitfire. The next day I flew it. I sat in the cockpit while a young Pilot Officer, with little experience, showed me the knobs." (26)

Richard Hillary was studying at University of Oxford when he volunteered to be a pilot. In 1940 he became a member of 603 Squadron based at Hornchurch. Hillary later recalled being told he was to fly a Supermarine Spitfire: "It was what I had most wanted through all the long dreary months of training. If I could fly a Spitfire, it would be worth it. Well, I was about to achieve my ambition and felt nothing I was numb, neither exhilarated nor scared... I ran quickly through my cockpit drill, swung the nose into wind, and took off. I had been flying automatically for several minutes before it dawned on me that I was actually in the air, undercarriage retracted and half-way round the circuit without incident." (27)

Richard Hillary
Richard Hillary

The Luftwaffe sent fleets of bombers protected by fighters. Hugh Dowding concentrated on destroying the bombers. By 18th August the Germans had lost 236 aeroplanes against 95 British. They could not hope to secure air superiority until fighter command had been eliminated. The Germans now adopted a new tactic. They set out to destroy the fighter bases in Kent. Between 30th August and 6th September, the Germans were able to destroy 185 British aircraft. (28)

At the beginning of the war pilots were instructed at one of Britain's civilian flying schools operating to RAF contracts over a period of eight to twelve weeks, incorporating an initial twenty-five hours of dual pilot flight training followed quickly by twenty-five hours solo. This was followed by thirteen to fifteen weeks at the RAFs own Flying Training School. This involved some 100 hours of flying time. This changed dramatically with the heavy loss of pilots. Adam Claasen, the author of Dogfight: The Battle of Britain (2012), pointed out: "Between 20 August and 6 September twelve of the aces flying the Hawker-badged fighter were ushered from the battlefield by death or injury. More commonly though, it was the squadron rookies who were the casualties of this unforgiving battleground. The shortened training meant that men were lost in quick succession." (29)

Johnnie Johnson claimed that pilots tended to be either the hunters or the hunted: "It is fascinating to watch the reactions of the various pilots. They fall into two broad categories; those who are going out to shoot and those who secretly and desperately know they will be shot at, the hunters and the hunted. The majority of the pilots, once they have seen their name on the board, walk out to their Spitfires for a pre-flight check and for a word or two with their ground crews. They tie on their mae-wests, check their maps, study the weather forecast and have a last-minute chat with their leaders or wingmen. These are the hunters. The hunted, that very small minority (although every squadron usually possessed at least one), turned to their escape kits and made quite sure that they were wearing the tunic with the silk maps sewn into a secret hiding-place; that they had at least one oilskin-covered packet of French francs, and two if possible; that they had a compass and a revolver and sometimes specially made clothes to assist their activities once they were shot down. When they went through these agonized preparations they reminded me of aged countrywomen meticulously checking their shopping-lists before catching the bus for the market town." (30)

The 20 year-old, Geoffrey Page, was shot down by a Messerschmitt Bf109 on 12th August, 1940: "The first bang came as a shock. For an instant I couldn't believe I'd been hit. Two more bangs followed in quick succession, and as if by magic a gapping hole suddenly appeared in my starboard wing. Surprise quickly changed to fear, and as the instinct of self-preservation began to take over, the gas tank behind the engine blew up, and my cockpit became an inferno. Fear became blind terror, then agonized horror as the bare skin of my hands gripping the throttle and control column shrivelled up like burnt parchment under the intensity of the blast furnace temperature. Screaming at the top of my voice, I threw my head back to keep it away from the searing flames. Instinctively the tortured right hand groped for the release pin.... Realising that pain or no pain, the ripcord had to be pulled, the brain overcame the reaction of the raw nerve endings and forced the mutilated fingers to grasp the ring and pull firmly. It acted immediately. With a jerk the silken canopy billowed out in the clear summer sky. Quickly I looked up to see if the dreaded flames had done their work, and it was with relief that I saw the shining material was unburned." (31)

Richard Hillary was another to be brought down: "One Messerschmitt went down in a sheet of flame on my right, and a Spitfire hurtled past in a half-roll; I was leaving and turning in a desperate attempt to gain height, with the machine practically hanging on the airscrew. Then, just below me and to my left, I saw what I had been praying for - a Messerschmitt climbing and away from the sun. I closed in to 200 yards, and from slightly to one side gave him a two-second burst: fabric ripped off the wing and black smoke poured from the engine, but he did not go down. Like a fool, I did not break away, but put in another three-second burst. Red flames shot upwards and he spiralled out of sight. At that moment, I felt a terrific explosion which knocked the control stick from my hand, and the whole machine quivered like a stricken animal. In a second, the cockpit was a mass of flames: instinctively, I reached up to open the hood. It would not move. I tore off my straps and managed to force it back; but this took time, and when I dropped back into the seat and reached for the stick in an effort to turn the plane on its back, the heat was so intense that I could feel myself going. I remember a second of sharp agony, remember thinking 'So this is it!' and putting both hands to my eyes. Then I passed out." (32)

Geoffrey Page and Richard Hillary both received serious burns to their face and hands and were sent to the Queen Victoria Burns Unit in East Grinstead, where they were treated by plastic surgeon, Archibald McIndoe. Page later recalled: "One of the prettiest girls I'd seen in my life came into the room to help with the dressings. She was unable to hide the expression of horror and loathing that registered on her lovely face at the sight of my scorched flesh. Following her hypnotized stare, I looked down watery-eyed at my arms. From the elbows to the wrists the bare forearms were one seething mass of pus-filled boils resulting from the disturbed condition of the blood. From the wrist joints to the finger tips they were blacker than any Negro's hands." (33)

Hillary found himself in a similar situation: "Gradually I realized what had happened. My face and hands had been scrubbed and then sprayed with tannic acid. My arms were propped up in front of me, the fingers extended like witches' claws, and my body was hung loosely on straps just clear of the bed. Shortly after my arrival in East Grinstead, the Air Force plastic surgeon, A. H. McIndoe, had come to see me. Of medium height, he was thick set and the line of his jaw was square. Behind his horn-rimmed spectacles a pair of tired, friendly eyes regarded me speculatively... He stated to undo the dressings on my hands and I noticed his fingers - blunt, captive, incisive. By now all the tannic had been removed from my face and hands. He took a scalpel and tapped lightly on something white showing through the red granulating knuckle of my right fore-finger. 'Four new eyelids, I'm afraid, but you are not ready for them yet. I want all this skin to soften up a lot first.' The time when the dressings were taken down I looked exactly like an orang-utan. McIndoe had pitched out two semi-circular ledges of skin under my eyes to allow for contraction of the new lids. What was not absorbed was to be sliced off when I came in for my next operation, a new upper lip." (34)

Britain appeared to be at the verge of losing the Battle of Britain. Once the RAF had lost control of British air-space, Hitler would have been in a position to launch Operation Sea Lion, the land invasion of Britain. Churchill decided to try and get Hitler to change his main target of destroying aircraft and airfields. Britain had a policy of using aerial bombing only against military targets and against infrastructure such as ports and railways of direct military importance as it wanted to reduce civilian casualties. (35)

Between 1st and 18th August the RAF lost 208 fighters and 106 pilots. The second half of the month saw even heavier losses and wastage now outstripped the production of new aircraft and the training of pilots to fly them. Those British pilots that did survive suffered from combat fatigue. In the last week of August, almost a fifth of the RAF's fighter pilots were either killed or wounded. Recently trained and therefore inexperienced men had to be sent to the front-line squadrons, which reduced operational effectiveness. The result was rising losses against the more experienced German pilots. (36)

Lord Beaverbrook, the press baron and Minister of Aircraft Production, came up with the idea of asking the public for money to build more aircraft. He argued that £5,000 would "pay for" a fighter and £20,000 for a bomber. It caught the public imagination and those who raised the required sum had the privilege of naming the aircraft. "City after city, town after town, colony after colony started Spitfire Funds; so did all manner of institutions and organisations - newspapers, magazines, factories, breweries, trades, sports clubs, hobby clubs." After one aerial battle over the English Channel, Garfield Weston, the biscuit manufacturer, contributing £100,000 to replace the sixteen Supermarine Spitfires and Hawker Hurricanes lost during the fighting. (37) Donations to what became known as the Spitfire Fund eventually raised about £13m (£650m at modern values)." (38)

It would take time to build these new aircraft and by the middle of August, 1940, British defences were near to breaking point. Senior figures in the RAF considered the idea of withdrawing fighter squadrons from Kent and Sussex to north of London. This would have significantly tipped the scales in favour of the Luftwaffe and given it local air superiority over the area where any invasion would be mounted. (39)

Change of Tactics

Churchill decided to change this policy and on 25th August 1940, Churchill ordered a RAF raid on Berlin and 95 aircraft were dispatched to bomb Tempelhof Airport and Siemensstadt, both based near the centre of the city. While the damage was slight, the psychological effect on Hitler was greater. Soon after this raid Hitler rescinded an order forbidding attacks on civilian targets and fell into the trap created by Churchill. The Luftwaffe's now shifted the target from British airfields and air defences to British cities. (40)

On 7th September, 1940, 300 German bombers and 600 escorting fighters raided London in daylight. This was expected to force the RAF to disclose how many aircraft it had left. Fighter Command No. 11 under Keith Park did not intercept the bombers in large numbers, thus masking their true strength. Over 335 tons of bombs were dropped on London. The docks were the principal target, but many bombs fell on the residential areas around them resulting in 448 Londoners were killed. At precisely 8.07 that evening, as the air bombardment was at its height, the code word "Cromwell" was sent to military units throughout Britain. The code's message was "the German invasion of Britain was about to begin." (41)

The following day 200 German bombers attacked London's electricity power stations and railway lines. This time Fighter Command fully engaged the enemy and 88 German aircraft were shot down, for British losses of 21. The Luftwaffe made its last great effort on 15th September. The British government reported that 185 German aircraft had been destroyed. The true figure was 56 but both sides were guilty of exaggerating the number of aircraft that had been shot down (42)

Day and night attacks on the capital over the next week, later described as the Blitz, seemed to confirm to the Luffwaffe that Fighter Command's collapse was imminent. Hitler now became convinced that the RAF no longer controlled British airspace and decided that the invasion of Britain should take place on 17th September. However, the relaxation of pressure on Fighter Command's airfields and production centres at this crucial moment quickly enabled it to regain its vigour. This was revealed to the Luftwaffe on 15th September, when heavy losses were inflicted on another mass daylight operation against London and German airmen began to doubt that they could after all remove the threat of the RAF. (43)

Operation Sea Lion was finally cancelled in January 1941. Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt later recalled: "The military reasons for its cancellation were various. The German Navy would have had to control the North Sea as well as the Channel, and was not strong enough to do so. The German Air Force was not sufficient to protect the sea crossing on its own. While the leading part of the forces might have landed, there was the danger that they might be cut off from supplies and reinforcements." (44)

A. J. P. Taylor has pointed out that: "Pilots on both sides naturally exaggerated their claims in the heat of combat. The British claimed to have destroyed 2,698 German areoplanes during the Battle of Britain and actually destroyed 1,733. (45) There were 2,353 men from Great Britain and 574 from overseas who were members of the air crews that took part in the Battle of Britain. An estimated 544 were killed and a further 791 lost their lives in the course of their duties before the war came to an end. (46)


(1) A. J. P. Taylor, English History: 1914-1945 (1965) page 594

(2) David Fairbank White, Bitter Ocean: The Battle of the Atlantic (2006) page 21

(3) Basil Liddell Hart, The Other Side of the Hill (1948) page 200

(4) General Franz Halder, diary entry (13th July, 1940)

(5) General Franz Halder, diary entry (14th July, 1940)

(6) Adolf Hitler, speech in the Reichstag (19th July, 1940)

(7) Lord Halifax, speech (22nd July, 1940)

(8) Martin Gilbert, The Second World War (1989) page 112

(9) Adolf Hitler, Directive No. 16 (16th July, 1940)

(10) Basil Liddell Hart, The Other Side of the Hill (1948) page 229

(11) A. J. P. Taylor, English History: 1914-1945 (1965) pages 605-606

(12) Basil Liddell Hart, The Other Side of the Hill (1948) page 217

(13) Adolf Hitler, Directive No. 17 (1st August, 1940)

(14) William Joyce, Germany Calling , broadcast on the radio station Reichssender Hamburg (6th August, 1940)

(15) Clive Ponting, 1940: Myth and Reality (1990) page 132

(16) Alan Bullock, Hitler: A Study in Tyranny (1962) page 594-595

(17) A. J. P. Taylor, English History: 1914-1945 (1965) page 606

(18) Martin Gilbert, The Second World War (1989) page 117

(19) Elizabeth-Anne Wheal & Stephen Pope, The MacMillan Dictionary of the Second World War (1989) page 70

(20) Douglas Bader, Fight for the Sky (1973) page 12

(21) Charles Gardner, BBC Radio report (10th July, 1940)

(22) Joyce Storey, Joyce's War (1992) page 45

(23) Adam Claasen, Dogfight: The Battle of Britain (2012) page 188

(24) Martin Gilbert, The Second World War (1989) page 118

(25) Winston Churchill, speech in the House of Commons (20th August, 1940)

(26) Douglas Bader, Fight for the Sky (1973) page 21

(27) Richard Hillary, The Last Enemy (1942) pages 63-64

(28) A. J. P. Taylor, English History: 1914-1945 (1965) page 607

(29) Adam Claasen, Dogfight: The Battle of Britain (2012) page 135

(30) Johnnie Johnson, Wing Leader (1956) page 85

(31) Geoffrey Page, Tale of a Guinea Pig: The Exploits of a World War II Fighter Pilot (1981) pages 90-91

(32) Richard Hillary, The Last Enemy (1942) pages 101-102

(33) Geoffrey Page, Tale of a Guinea Pig: The Exploits of a World War II Fighter Pilot (1981) page 100

(34) Richard Hillary, The Last Enemy (1942) page 115

(35) Anthony Grayling, Among the Dead Cities: Is the Targeting of Civilians in War Ever Justified? (2006) page 24

(36) Clive Ponting, 1940: Myth and Reality (1990) page 133

(37) E. S. Turner, The Phoney War on the Home Front (1961) page 292

(38) Greig Watson, BBC report (12th March, 2016)

(39) Clive Ponting, 1940: Myth and Reality (1990) pages 13134

(40) Norman Moss, Nineteen Weeks: America, Britain and the Fateful Summer of 1940 (2004) page 295

(41) Martin Gilbert, The Second World War (1989) page 123

(42) A. J. P. Taylor, English History: 1914-1945 (1965) page 608

(43) Elizabeth-Anne Wheal & Stephen Pope, The MacMillan Dictionary of the Second World War (1989) page 71

(44) Basil Liddell Hart, The Other Side of the Hill (1948) page 217

(45) A. J. P. Taylor, English History: 1914-1945 (1965) page 608

(46) John Ellis, The World War II Databook (1993) page 259

John Simkin