Wednesday, July 15, 2015

World War Wednesdays: The Battle of Britain Anniversary

     This past week saw the 75th anniversary of the launch of the Battle of Britain during the Second World War, and that video of the Duke of Edinburgh definitely made sure it was in the news. The post for this week is all about what happened during that time, as part of the German plans for Operation Sea Lion. Winston Churchill was the new British Prime Minister at the time, so I hope you are a fan of his like I am, because he produced some of his greatest speeches during that period.
  1. Operation Sea Lion (German: Unternehmen Seelöwe) was Germany's plan to invade the United Kingdom during the Second World War, following the Fall of France. The entire plan relied on Germany having complete control of the English Channel, which, in turn meant that Germany had to have control of the skies so that the Royal Air Force could not attack German ships crossing the Channel. Hence victory in the Battle of Britain was an integral part of the plan.
  2. Head of the Luftwaffe Hermann Göering, on the right, overlooking the white cliffs of  Dover, England
         Operation Sealion looked simple in theory because geographically, Britain should have been an easy target. The Luftwaffe was very experienced in modern warfare, and the Wehrmacht had experienced astonishing success since the attack on Poland and the British had lost a vast amount of military hardware after the evacuation from the beaches of Dunkirk. The RAF and the Army in Britain looked weak; only the Royal Navy seemed to offer Britain some semblance of protection. It is said that Hitler was prepared to offer Britain generous peace terms. However, on May 21st, 1940, Admiral Raeder told Hitler about a plan to invade Britain and Hitler, it is said, was taken in by the plan. 
  3.      It was only when it became clear that Britain would not sign peace terms that Hitler gave his backing to an invasion. On July 2nd 1940, Hitler gave his first tentative orders regarding a possible invasion of Britain. It stated that
    “a landing in England is possible, providing that air superiority can be attained and certain other necessary conditions fulfilled…..all the preparations must be made on the basis that the invasion is still only a plan, and has not yet been decided upon.” Hitler, July 2nd 1940
  4.      Towards the end of June 1940, Hitler finally gave the order for the German military to make plans for an invasion of Britain, but they were one step ahead of him as all three branches of the German military had guessed that an invasion would be needed and had already started on their own plans. At a meeting with his service chiefs on July 21st, Hitler made it clear that he recognized that the plan had its dangers, but he was keen to press on with the plan so that he could turn his full attention to Russia once Britain had been defeated.
  5.      Beginning in July 1940, the Luftwaffe targeted its bomber campaign on coastal shipping convoys and shipping centres, such as Portsmouth. one month later, the attacks shifted to RAF airfields and infrastructure. As the battle progressed, the Luftwaffe also targeted factories involved in aircraft production and ground infrastructure. Eventually, it resorted to attacking areas of political significance and using terror bombing strategy such as the "Blitz" against British citizens to weaken morale.
  6. Children in the East End of London, made homeless by the Blitz
       Throughout the battle, the Germans greatly underestimated the size of the RAF and the scale of British aircraft production. Across the Channel, the Air Intelligence division of the Air Ministry consistently overestimated the size of the German air enemy and the productive capacity of the German aviation industry. As the battle was fought, both sides exaggerated the losses inflicted on the other by an equally large margin. However, the intelligence picture formed before the battle encouraged the Luftwaffe to believe that such losses pushed Fighter Command to the very edge of defeat, while the exaggerated picture of German air strength persuaded the RAF that the threat it faced was larger and more dangerous than was the case. Due to the failure of the Luftwaffe to establish air supremacy, a conference assembled on 14 September at Hitler's headquarters. Hitler concluded that air superiority had not yet been established and "promised to review the situation on 17 September for possible landings on 27 September or 8 October." Three days later, when the evidence was clear that the German Air Force had greatly exaggerated the extent of their successes against the RAF, Hitler postponed Sea Lion indefinitely. The Battle of Britain thus marked the first defeat of Hitler's military forces, with air superiority seen as the key to victory.
  7.      Ultimately, the Battle of Britain's legacy is that of utmost resiliency on the part of the British people during the darkest hour of their history. This can be attributed in part to the unwavering leadership of Winston Churchill, who coined the term "The Battle of Britain" before the attack began and used powerful speeches to bolster the spirits of the citizens. To conclude, here is a segment of one of his infamous pieces from July 14, 1940, called "War of the Unknown Warriors":
  8.  And now it has come to us to stand alone in the breach, and face the worst that the tyrant's might and enmity can do. Bearing ourselves humbly before God, but conscious that we serve an unfolding purpose, we are ready to defend our native land against the invasion by which it is threatened. We are fighting by ourselves alone; but we are not fighting for ourselves alone. Here in this strong City of Refuge which enshrines the title-deeds of human progress and is of deep consequence to Christian civilization; here, girt about by the seas and oceans where the Navy reigns; shielded from above by the prowess and devotion of our airmen-we await undismayed the impending assault. Perhaps it will come tonight. Perhaps it will come next week. Perhaps it will never come. We must show ourselves equally capable of meeting a sudden violent shock or-what is perhaps a harder test-a prolonged vigil. But be the ordeal sharp or long, or both, we shall seek no terms, we shall tolerate no parley; we may show mercy-we shall ask for none.
  9.      They are shattering words for undoubtedly the most shattering of times. Seventy-five years later, we are incredibly fortunate to recognize them as such.
  10. Thanks for reading,
  11. Delany


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