July 10-October 31, 1940 – Germany’s air force, the Luftwaffe, begins a bombing campaign of Britain designed to neutralise the defensive capabilities of the Royal Air Force and to pressure the British into accepting a negotiated peace settlement.
It has often been claimed that the Battle of Britain was a prelude to a German invasion of the UK but, although a theoretical invasion plan existed in the form of Operation Sealion, the Germans in reality had no ability to launch an amphibious invasion, as they lacked adequate landing craft and the naval forces necessary to force a crossing of the English Channel. Nevertheless, the Battle of Britain represented a major offensive against Britain and winning it was vital for the Allies.
Over three months of bitter combat, the Hurricanes and Spitfires of Fighter Command battle with the Luftwaffe over the skies of southern England.
Initially the Luftwaffe targets Channel shipping, before switching their attention to RAF airfields in an effort to neutralise the effectiveness of Fighter Command. They also target ports and aircraft manufacturing plants. During September, however, the Germans begin a sustained bombing campaign of London and other civilian areas, hoping to cause mass panic and as retaliation for British bombing raids on Berlin.
By October the RAF has gained the upper hand, and German losses in aircrew and planes become unsustainable. Hitler orders plans for an invasion to be abandoned, and for the Luftwaffe to shift their attention to his planned invasion of Russia the following summer.
Bombing raids on Britain continue for the rest of the war (the ‘Blitz’) but the Battle of Britain is over. The battle is considered the first major air war in history.