The Battle of Britain begins
With the evacuation of Dunkirk completed by June 3 1940 , Churchill in a speech on June 18 warned the British that the Battle of France was over, and theBattle of Britain was about to begin. For several weeks relative quiet followed. Hitler had hoped the British would exit the war once forced from mainland Europe, but this did not come about. Plans were thus set in train to bring the British to their knees.
For the early part of the war Germany had blitzed its way across Europe, the Luftwaffe enjoying numerical superiority and generally technical superiority into the bargain. The Royal Navy was, however, undoubtedly capable of defeating the Axis seaborne forces in any full scale battle, and would have to be dealt with before Operation Sealion, the invasion of Britain, could begin. British convoys were still sailing through the channel at this point, a tempting target for the Luftwaffe.
Thus the decision was made to attack British shipping in the channel as the first phase of the conquest of the British Isles. This was intended to have two consequences: the sinking of convoys and their escorts would weaken British morale, hit supplies, and eat away at the navy; it would also draw out the RAF to defend the ships, enabling the Luftwaffe to erode British aerial power at the same time.
On July 10 the Germans launched dawn raids on RAF airfields in the South East and East Anglia, and then at 11.00 the first attack on a channel convoy began off Manston. Two and a half hours later more than 100 German planes zeroed in on a convoy off Dungeness. The attacks were met by Spitfires, Hurricanes and Defiants. Britain was fighting for its life, but almost by proxy, for during the entire Battle of Britain only about 3,000 aircrew took part, more than 500 pilots dying in the Battle.
The Allies were to lose more than 1,500 planes, the Germans almost 1,900, though contrary to general belief Britain lost 150 more fighter aircraft than the Germans, not surprising given that the Nazi air force had more than double the number of planes available to the Allies. Churchill ’s famous homage to the aircrews will never be forgotten: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”