In June 1940, Britain was in serious danger of being invaded by the forces of Germany under the command of Adolph Hitler.
The British army had been forced to retreat from mainland Europe at a mass evacuation from the beaches of Dunkirk in Northern France. This narrow escape between the 27th May and the 4th June meant that soldiers were returning tired, injured and defeated without a lot of the equipment they needed to fight, which mean that the country was very easy to attack.
On 18 June 1940, Churchill made a famous speech in which he said "... the Battle of France is over. The Battle of Britain is about to begin." It wasn’t long before he was proved right, because four days later, France surrendered to Germany and Hitler turned his attention to Britain.
On 16th July 1940 Adolph Hitler ordered preparations for the invasion of Britain which he codenamed Operation Sealion and on the 1st August 1940 he said "The German Air Force is to overcome the British Air Force with all means at its disposal, and as soon as possible."
From that moment every effort of his air force, called the ‘Luftwaffe’, was focussed on destroying the English air defences in readiness for his ‘Sealion’ invasion which he was planning to eventually launch from the sea.
This was the most intense part of the Battle of Britain, with Hitler realising that an invasion from the sea would be made easier if Germany could take control of the air above Britain with great force and very quickly in the same way in which he had invaded Poland in September 1939.
Just like then with the Polish Army and Air Force, Hitler and his Luftwaffe General Hermann Göring had many more forces than the British with almost 1800 German planes compared to just 600 British planes, so Hitler was sure that he would soon triumph and Britain would be his.
For three months the attacks came, sometimes with many hundreds of fighter planes at a time attacking the airfields, defences and aeroplanes of Britain.
One of the most famous British planes was the Spitfire, with a Rolls Royce Merlin engine, which was able to turn quicker than the German Messerschmitt Bf 109E, although they were equally matched for speed. In addition, the British also had the Hurricane, which was not quite as fast and fancy as the Spitfire but a strong and reliable plane.
The first air attacks of what became known as the ‘Battle of Britain’ began on the 10th July 1940, when a convoy in the English channel was attacked by German fighter planes, together with an attack on the Welsh town of Swansea in which 30 civilians lost their lives.
These attacks gradually increased and lasted until the British pilots and ground defences managed to defeat the German forces, which forced Hitler to rethink his plans to invade Britain.
Spitfires in formation
Pupils in our workshop learning about the Battle of Britain
Britain also had the new detection system called Radar, which allowed them to plot and anticipate the routes of attacking German planes several minutes before they reached their targets. This was part of a bigger system of plane spotters from the Royal Observer Corps and also a range of air defence systems situated around the coast of the country.
In addition, the fact that the German planes had to travel so far and were fighting over a foreign land was a great advantage to the Royal Air Force, which found that it was easier to refuel planes more quickly and put pilots back into action when they had been shot down, while German pilots who were shot down were captured and sent to prisoner of war camps.
Eventually the combination of the determination, bravery and defiance of the British pilots and civilians, together with these home advantages made Hitler change his mind about his invasion plans and on the 12th October 1940 he called an official halt to Operation Sealion, postponing the planned invasion of Britain.
On the 20th August 1940, Winston Churchill made the famous speech "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few", referring to the ‘few’ pilots who had kept the ‘many’ people of Great Britain safe during the Battle of Britain.
Britain’s greatest day in the battle was the 15th of September which is now known and still commemorated each year as "Battle of Britain Day". On this day in 1940, the Luftwaffe embarked on their largest bombing attack yet on London and the South East, which resulted in a victory that many people believe was a turning point in Britain’s efforts to win the battle.
British WW2 coastal radar stations
British WW2 coastal radar stations
In August 1940, in the middle of the Battle of Britain, the Germans stepped up their bombing raids to focus more on the cities and targeted London. Britain then retaliated by bombing Berlin.
The German bombing soon escalated into the start of an eight month period known as the ‘Blitz’, which began properly on the 7th September 1940 and lasted until the 21st May 1941, in which many British cities were targeted with High Explosive bombs and firebombs called ‘Incendiary Bombs’. In this period, over 40,000 British people died and many more were wounded.
The new national curriculum 2014 for history offers an example of using the Battle of Britain as a 'significant event' to study after 1066.
Our workshop covers the Battle of Britain and all the other events that surrounded it such as evacuation, rationing, the blitz, the blackout and many other aspects of life in Britain in the Second World War, in a range of fun interactive activities that combine into an unrivalled learning experience.
Specifically in relation to the Battle of Britain, we have (completely safe) bomb parts and items such as air raid shelter receipts and working stirrup pumps, as part of a collection of many genuine Second World War artefacts for pupils to wear and to handle.
Please see our workshop page here for further details.