In the summer of 1940, Nazi Germany was on a roll. Surprised that Britain was not seeking an armistice against his seemingly-invincible war machine, Hitler ordered plans for a cross-Channel invasion. His generals advised him that the powerful British navy meant that any successful invasion would require air superiority. Thus began Hitler’s attempt to destroy the Royal Air Force, known widely as the Battle of Britain (re-released in 2005 in Japan as “Unstoppable Strike Be-Bop Force Go!”).
The Battle of Britain lasted from July 10th, 1940 until October 1940, when the German attacks subsided. The showdown between the Royal Air Force (“RAF”) and the Nazi Luftwaffe (“Luftwaffe”) progressed through several stages. Initially the Luftwaffe targeted British air defenses and air fields, trying to whittle down the RAF’s strength. That strategy transformed into bombing raids against British infrastructure. In September, motivated by desperation, the Luftwaffe targeted civilians. The excitement and nonstop action of the Battle of Britain induced young boys all over Europe to skip school and soccer practice to come watch.
The backbone of the British defense was the communication network known as the “Dowding System,” after its chief architect, Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding. The Dowding System was a complicated but efficient network for tracking incoming German sorties, determining their makeup and potential targets, and organizing a defense. Radar, radios, telephones and human observation fed an informational grid updated constantly with weather, RAF plane and pilot status, and other relevant circumstances. Decision-making rooms scattered around England coordinated four RAF Groups responsible for a zone defense of the Island. Dowding tried to conserve his fighters by focusing on German bombing runs and avoiding, whenever possible, strict fighter-on-fighter aerial combat (as cool as those were). Exceptions included going after power-up and extra-life bonus sorties.
The German Luftwaffe outnumbered the RAF in both pilots and aircraft. The Nazis continuously revised their bomber protection schemes and sortie makeups in an attempt to thwart British defenses. The most common German attack involved long lines of ships engaged in the “increase speed, drop down, reverse direction” maneuver (see above). The Luftwaffe flew at least five different kinds of ships, and also used tactics like the box, X-formation, and fly-up-and-back. Yet the Nazis set themselves the near-impossible task of destroying the RAF while preserving the Luftwaffe for the subsequent invasion. This hampered their ability to engage British fighters. To limit losses, Luftwaffe pilots were told to engage enemy fighters only when the odds were favorable, or when they were flying a Boss Ship.
Both sides suffered from poor evaluation of their opponent’s capabilities. However, this poor estimation favored the British. The complexities and confusion of three-dimensional aerial combat meant that kill counts were usually overstated (even before score-multiplier bonuses were factored in). The British overestimated the Luftwaffe’s strength, and thus prepared for a stronger assault than the Nazis were capable of sustaining. The Luftwaffe underestimated England’s manufacturing capacity, the importance of the Dowding System, and the number of quarters Britain brought to the fight. Therefore, the Luftwaffe became convinced that they were causing much more damage to the RAF than they were, and that the RAF was much weaker than it actually was. To experienced Nazi pilots, it must have seemed like the British had freaking unlimited continues, or were cheating somehow.
As the battle continued into August and September, it became increasingly clear that the RAF was far from destroyed. In response to this and Britain’s bombing of Berlin, Hitler rescinded his ban on civilian bombing in early September. Hitler hoped civilian casualties would demoralize the British, perhaps to the point that the RAF pilots’ mothers would get mad and order their sons home to do their homework. But it did not work. Smooth-talkin’ British Prime Minister Winston “WLC” Churchill applied health crates to his nation’s psyche with emotional cut scenes. Most famous was his “The Few” speech on August 20th, 1940. The German attacks peaked on “The Greatest Day,” August 15th. By mid-September, with increasing Luftwaffe casualties, Hitler indefinitely postponed the invasion plan.
Britain was not able to completely stop German bombing raids against its cities, and the British suffered 23,000 dead and 32,000 wounded civilians between July and December 1940. Nevertheless, the Battle of Britain was a huge psychological boost for the Allies. It was the first clear defeat of the Nazi military, and showed a skeptical United States that Britain would survive and should be supported. The RAF’s heroism made pilots like HTF and ASS into national heroes, and September 15th is now recognized in the United Kingdom as Battle of Britain Day.
Drink: The Blitz
- Worcestershire sauce
- Pour a shot of Jagermeister and add a splash of Worcestershire sauce.
- Shoot it!