The Battle of Britain

A German Bomber Gunner Tracks an Opposing Fighter

Following the Fall of France in 1940, Hitler made a peace offer which Prime Minister Winston Churchill summarily rejected. Plans were then initiated by the Germans for an invasion of Britain, code-named Operation Sea Lion. Such a plan could only be attempted, however, after the Luftwaffe had swept RAF Fighter Command from the skies eliminating air cover for any Royal Navy opposition to the invasion. By early August, the Luftwaffe had assembled 2,700 aircraft in the vicinity of the Channel.

In Phase I [12 August - 18 August 1940] about 500 aircraft a day were flown against coastal installations, convoys, aircraft factories and airfields in southern England. Heavy damage was done, but the much-feared Stuka dive bomber proved to be an easy target for the Hurricanes and Spitfires of Fighter Command. Goering's planners withdrew their Stukas and revised their target lists.

Phase II [24 August - 5 September 1940] proved the greatest threat to the RAF of the entire campaign since its elimination was the strategic objective of the Luftwaffe. The main targets were the air bases throughout southern England. Considerable damage ensued, the corps of pilots became exhausted and replacements were lacking. Hitler, though, saved the day by ordering a change of strategies. In retaliation for a Bomber Command mission against Berlin, London was to be razed.

Phase III [7 September - 30 September 1940] featured high level daylight raids against London with heavy fighter screens for the German bombers. Being much more predictable, the raids made Fighter Command's job easier and the Luftwaffe's toll began to mount. On 17 September, Hitler ordered the shelving of Sea Lion. The daylight raids continued until the end of the month; intense night raids followed throughout October and sporadic raids [known as The Blitz] continued well into 1941. Great Britain had been saved from invasion.

Canada's contribution to the victory was substantial. It is well summarized at the web site of Veterans Affairs of Canada:

RCAF Spitfire

Many Canadians served in the squadrons of Spitfires and Hurricanes which repulsed the Luftwaffe in the summer of 1940. No. 1 Fighter Squadron, RCAF, equipped with modern eight-gun fighters, became the first Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) unit to engage enemy planes in battle when it met a formation of German bombers over southern England on August 26, 1940. It shot down three of them and damaged four others with the loss of one pilot and one plane. Its next meeting with the enemy was not as fortunate as it was attacked out of the sun by Messerschmitts and lost three planes. By mid-October the squadron had accounted for 31 enemy aircraft destroyed and probably 43 more destroyed or damaged. It lost 16 Hurricanes; three pilots had been killed.

Other Canadians flew with the Royal Air Force during that difficult period. No 242 (Canadian) Squadron RAF, which had been formed in 1939 from some of the many Canadians who flew directly with the Royal Air Force, was not reinforced with veterans from the French campaign and joined in the battle. On August 30, nine of its planes met a hundred enemy aircraft over Essex. Attacking from above, the squadron claimed 12 victories and escaped unscathed.

Canadians also shared in repulsing the Luftwaffe's last major daylight attack. On September 27, 303 Squadron RAF and 1 Squadron RCAF attacked the first wave of enemy bombers. Seven, possibly eight enemy planes were destroyed, and another seven damaged. The Royal Canadian Air Force thus received its baptism of fire.

For some additional information visit:

RAF Battle of Britain Site

Canadian pilots that served in the Battle of Britain

Canadians in the Battle of Britain

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Copyright © 2001 Joyce M. Kennedy
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