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Reality Trumps the Myth

by William L. O'Neill

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The Battle of Britain: Reality Trumps the Myth

Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.

—Winston S. Churchill

Everyone interested in World War II knows the story of the Battle of Britain by heart. It runs as follows: The British Expeditionary Force’s evacuation from Dunkirk and environs in June 1940, as the Nazis swept through France, left England practically defenseless. The soldiers had been saved, but they left all their arms and equipment in Belgium and France. Triumphant Germany, having conquered France and numerous other countries, was poised to invade England and enslave the British people as Hitler had already done to so many others. The key to a successful invasion was control of the air over the English Channel and the beaches of southeastern England where the enemy would have to land. To achieve that superiority Germany’s air force, known as the Luftwaffe, would have to destroy the Royal Air Force’s Fighter Command, which alone stood between Hitler and total domination of Europe. The Germans very nearly won the battle by pounding away at Fighter Command’s air stations. Then, miraculously, Hitler sought revenge for RAF bombing raids on Berlin by changing the focus of his air attacks from Fighter Command to London. This gave Fighter Command an invaluable opportunity to rest and regroup, after which it fell on the Luftwaffe whose two-engine bombers could not seriously damage London but were extremely vulnerable by day as the range of German fighters allowed too little flying time to adequately protect them. The resulting heavy losses compelled Hitler to cancel Operation Sea Lion, his plan to invade England. Fighter Command thereby saved democracy and freedom everywhere since without the United Kingdom as an ally and base of operations America could never have liberated Western Europe and would ultimately have been hard pressed to defend itself.

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