The Battle of Britain July - September 1940

As the Battle of France progressed, Churchill asked fighter command for more aircraft to send to the continent. Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding, recognizing that nothing could be done for France, refused. Churchill went to France on June 11 and told Pétain they would get no more aircraft.

As Britain stood alone, Dowding and Churchill took stock of their fighter force and recognized that the RAF must be destroyed if any invasion of Britain were to succeed. For three precious weeks, from June 22 to July 10, Churchill feigned interest in Hitler’s peace overtures.

In the spring of 1940 the Third Reich was the largest Empire the world had ever seen. It directly controlled or influenced almost all of continental Europe, large parts of North Africa, and had not been defeated.

Hitler was at the height of his power. Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe casualties in the Polish, Norwegian, and French campaigns were far less than anyone imagined, and the German people were delirious. He had brought them all he promised.

He felt he could be magnanimous and sent out peace feelers through Switzerland. The Americans contacted Churchill and asked if the Royal Navy would be sent to Canada when — not if — England fell. “We will survive, not surrender!” growled Churchill.

Meanwhile, Dowding poured every effort into building aircraft for Fighter Command. Nevertheless, Germany had almost 2,800 operational aircraft, against some 900 British fighters.

More critical was the shortage of pilots. Britain did not have a speedy training program before the war, and many trained pilots were lost over France. Additional pilots from the Dominions, America, and the occupied countries joined up; Bomber Command pilots were transferred to Fighter Command. Also, only one fully equipped division, commanded by General Bernard Montgomery, could oppose the coming invasion. The Home Guard —old men equipped with a range of personal weapons and old armory guns — would not withstand the concentrated efforts of a crack, battle hardened Wehrmacht.

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