Aftermath

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Aftermath

Post by DIESEL on Fri Jun 12, 2009 11:43 am

The Battle of Britain marked the first defeat of Hitler's military forces, with air superiority seen as the key to victory. Pre-war theories led to exaggerated fears of strategic bombing, and British public opinion was invigorated by having come through the ordeal. To Hitler it did not seem a serious setback, as Britain was still not in a position to cause real damage to his plans, and the last minute invasion plan had been an unimportant addition to German strategy. However, for the British, Fighter Command had achieved a great victory in successfully carrying out Sir Thomas Inskip's 1937 air policy of preventing the Germans from knocking Britain out of the war. Fighter Command was so successful that the conclusion to Churchill's famous 'Battle of Britain' speech made in the House of Commons on 18 June, has come to refer solely to them: "...if the British Empire and its Commonwealth lasts for a thousand years, men will still say, 'This was their finest hour.'"

The Battle also signalled a significant shift in U.S. opinion. During the battle, many people from the U.S. accepted the view promoted by Joseph Kennedy, the U.S. ambassador in London, and believed the UK could not survive. However, Roosevelt wanted a second opinion, and sent "Wild Bill" Donovan on a brief visit to Britain, who became convinced Britain would survive and should be supported in every possible way.

Both sides in the battle made exaggerated claims of numbers of enemy aircraft shot down. In general, claims were two to three times the actual numbers, because of the confusion of fighting in dynamic three-dimensional air battles. Postwar analysis of records has shown between July and September, the RAF claimed 2,698 kills (against 1,023 fighters lost to all causes), while the Luftwaffe fighters claimed 3,198 RAF aircraft downed (against losses of 873 fighters and 1,214 bombers). To the RAF figure should be added an additional 376 Bomber Command and 148 Coastal Command aircraft conducting bombing, mining, and reconnaissance operations in defence of the country.

Three historians, Dr Christina Goulter and Dr. Andrew Gordon, who lecture at the Joint Services Command and Staff College, and a former lecturer Professor Gary Sheffield, have suggested the existence of the Royal Navy was enough of a deterrent to the Germans;[137] even had the Luftwaffe won, the Germans had limited means with which to combat the Royal Navy, which would have intervened to prevent a landing. Some veterans of the battle point out the Royal Navy would have been vulnerable to air attack by the Luftwaffe if Germany had achieved air superiority,[138] quoting the fate of Prince of Wales and Repulse which, in December 1941, were overwhelmed by air power alone.

Though the claims about the Royal Navy's ability to repel an invasion may be contested, there is a consensus among historians that the Luftwaffe simply could not crush the RAF, without which a successful invasion of Britain was impossible. Stephen Bungay[139] described Dowding's and Park's strategy of choosing when to engage the enemy whilst maintaining a coherent force as vindicated. The RAF, not the Luftwaffe, proved to be a robust and capable organisation which was to use all of the modern resources available to it to the maximum advantage. Richard Evans wrote:

Irrespective of whether Hitler was really set on this course, he simply lacked the resources to establish the air superiority that was the sine qua non of a successful crossing of the English Channel. A third of the initial strength of the German air force, the Luftwaffe, had been lost in the western campaign in the spring. The Germans lacked the trained pilots, the effective fighter planes, and the heavy bombers that would have been needed.

The Luftwaffe had 1,380 bombers on 29 June 1940, by 2 November 1940 this increased to 1,423 level bombers;[143] and to 1,511 by 21 June 1941, prior to Operation Barbarossa but showing a drop of 200 from 1,711 reported on 11 May 1940.i 1,107 single- and 357 twin-engined daylight fighters were reported on strength prior to the Battle on 29 June 1940, compared to 1,440 single-engined fighters and 188 twin-engined fighters and 263 night-fighter aircraft on 21 June 1941.

The Germans launched some spectacular attacks against important British industries, but they could not destroy the British industrial potential, and made little systematic effort to do so. Hindsight does not disguise the fact the threat to Fighter Command was very real and for the participants, it seemed as if there was a narrow margin between victory and defeat. The victory was as much psychological as physical. Alfred Price:

The truth of the matter, borne out by the events of 18 August is more prosaic: neither by attacking the airfields, nor by attacking London, was the Luftwaffe likely to destroy Fighter Command. Given the size of the British fighter force and the general high quality of its equipment, training and morale, the Luftwaffe could have achieved no more than a Pyrrhic victory. During the action on 18 August it had cost the Luftwaffe five trained aircrewmen killed, wounded or taken prisoner, for each British fighter pilot killed or wounded; the ratio was similar on other days in the battle. And this ratio of 5:1 was very close to that between the number of German aircrew involved in the battle and those in Fighter Command. In other words the two sides were suffering almost the same losses in trained aircrew, in proportion to their overall strengths...In the Battle of Britain, for the first time during the Second World War, the German war machine had set itself a major task which it had patently failed to achieve; and in failing it demonstrated that it was not invincible. In stiffening the resolve of those determined to resist Hitler the battle was an important turning point in the conflict.
The British triumph in the Battle of Britain was won at a heavy cost. Total British civilian losses from July to December 1940 were 23,002 dead and 32,138 wounded, with one of the largest single raids occurring on 19 December 1940, in which almost 3,000 civilians died.

The brilliant leadership of Dowding and Keith Park in successfully proving their theories of air defence, however, had created enmity among RAF senior commanders and, in a shabby episode, both were sacked from their posts in the immediate aftermath of the battle.
The end of the battle allowed the UK to rebuild its military forces and establish itself as an Allied stronghold. Britain later served as a base from which the Liberation of Western Europe was launched.
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