This Day in History – October 31st, 1940

The Battle of Britain (German: Luftschlacht um England, literally “Air battle for England”) is the name given to the Second World War air campaign waged by the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) against the United Kingdom during the summer and finally ended on October 31st, 1940. The Battle of Britain was the first major campaign to be fought entirely by air forces, and was also the largest and most sustained aerial bombing campaign to that date.

Dogfight Over Dover

The German objective was to gain air superiority over the Royal Air Force (RAF), especially Fighter Command. From July 1940, coastal shipping convoys and shipping centers, such as Portsmouth, were the main targets; one month later, the Luftwaffe shifted its attacks to RAF airfields and infrastructure. As the battle progressed, the Luftwaffe also targeted aircraft factories and ground infrastructure. Eventually the Luftwaffe resorted to attacking areas of political significance and using terror bombing strategy.

Battle of BritainBy preventing Germany from gaining air superiority, the British forced Hitler to postpone (and eventually cancel) Operation Sea Lion, an amphibious and airborne invasion of Britain. However, Germany continued bombing operations on Britain, known as The Blitz. The failure of Germany to achieve its objectives of destroying Britain’s air defenses, or forcing Britain to negotiate an armistice or even an outright surrender, is considered its first major defeat and a crucial turning point in the Second World War.

The Battle of Britain has an unusual distinction in that it gained its name prior to being fought. The name is derived from a famous speech delivered by Prime Minister Winston Churchill in the House of Commons more than three weeks prior to the generally accepted date for the start of the battle, “What General Weygand has called Battle of France is over . . . the Battle of Britain is about to begin.”

Flourish 3

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