10 July 1940

The Battle of Britain begins.

“The Few.” Royal Air Force pilots run to their fighters to defend England from attacking German Luftwaffe bombers during the Battle of Britain. (Imperial War Museum)

Before Germany could mount Operation Sea Lion, a cross-channel invasion of the British Isles, it needed to have complete air superiority over the invasion fleet. Because of the Luftwaffe‘s greater numbers and modern aircraft, German military leadership believed this could best be accomplished by defeating the Royal Air Force in air-to-air combat.

The Royal Air Force had been conserving their limited numbers of pilots and aircraft up to this point in the war. Germany’s plan was to send its bombers against targets that the R.A.F. would be forced to defend. The escorting Messerschmitt Bf-109s (also referred to as Me 109) would then shoot down the Boulton Paul Defiants and Bristol Blenheims. But the Hawker Hurricanes and Supermarine Spitfires were up to the task. While the Hurricanes went after the Luftwaffe’s Dornier 17 and Heinkel He 111 bombers, the Spitfires engaged their Me 109 and Fw 190 fighter escorts.

Contrails over London during the Battle of Britain, 10 July–31 October 1940.
Contrails over London during the Battle of Britain, 10 July–31 October 1940.

Britain used a system of radar-directed ground control of its fighter squadrons. The result was that, although both sides lost about the same number of aircraft, the Battle of Britain was a decisive victory for Great Britain. Germany was forced to give up on its plans for an invasion of England.

During a speech the House of Commons, 20 August 1940, Prime Minister Winston Churchill referred to the pilots of Fighter Command when he said,

The gratitude of every home in our Island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the world war by their prowess and by their devotion. Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

Ever since, the Royal Air Force has been known as “The Few.”

Luftwaffe aircraft:

A flight of Dornier Do 17 bombers, circa 1940. (Deutsches Bundesarchiv)
A flight of Dornier Do 17 bombers, circa 1940. (Deutsches Bundesarchiv)
Heinkel He 111 bomber. (Deutsches Bundesarchiv)
Heinkel He 111 bomber. (Deutsches Bundesarchiv)
A flight of Messerchmitt me 109s carry external fuel tanks to extend their range and time over target. (Deutsches Bundesarchiv)
A flight of Messerchmitt Bf 109s carry external fuel tanks to extend their range and time over target. (Deutsches Bundesarchiv)
Messerschmitt Bf 110 twin-engine heavy fighter, circa 1942. (Deutsches Bundesarchiv)
Messerschmitt Bf 110 twin-engine heavy fighter, circa 1942. (Deutsches Bundesarchiv)

Royal Air Force aircraft:

Supermarine Spitfire fighters of No. 610 Squadron, RAF Biggin Hill, during the Battle of Britain. (Imperial War Museum)
Supermarine Spitfire fighters of No. 610 Squadron, RAF Biggin Hill, during the Battle of Britain. (Imperial War Museum)
Hawker Hurrican Mk.I P3408 (VY-K) of No. 85 Squadron, Church Fenton, Yorkshire, October 1940. (B.V. Daventry, RAF official photographer. Imperial War Museum CH 1501)
Hawker Hurricane Mk.I P3408 (VY-K) of No. 85 Squadron, RAF Church Fenton, Yorkshire, October 1940. Flying the same type, also with the identification letters VY-K, Squadron Leader Peter Townsend, DFC, was shot down by a Do 17 named Gustav Marie, over the English Channel, 10 July 1940. After the war, Townsend became good friends with the bomber’s gunner, Werner Borner. (Mr. B.J. Daventry, RAF official photographer. Imperial War Museum CH 1501)

Highly recommended: Duel of Eagles, by Group Captain Peter Townsend, CVO, DSO, DFC and Bar, Royal Air Force. Cassell Publishers Limited, 1970 and Castle Books, 2003.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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6 thoughts on “10 July 1940

  1. FW-190s were not employed during the period of time that encompasses the Battle of Britain. See any number of sources on this campaign, in particular, Stephen Bungay “The Most Dangerous Enemy” or http://forum.axishistory.com/viewtopic.php?t=45101

    No – this is false information.

    The first of 40 Fw190A-0 pre-production fighters were completed in October 1940 and tested at Rechlin in Germany. The Fw190A-0 did not reach France until March 1941 with the Fw190 testing squadron – and was never tested in combat. It was based near Paris at Le Bourget.

    The Fw190A-1 didn’t enter prodution until June 1941 and began reaching combat units in July.

    See: http://www.fighter-planes.com/info/fw190.htm

    So no, the Fw190 did not see combat during the Battle of Britain.

    In October 1940 the Fw190A-0 had severe engine cooling problems (fixed only with the Fw190A-1) and was not ready for combat.

    If the two available Fw190A-0 had been sent on a combat mission in October 1940, it would have been a complete waste of time. The engines would have probably failed and dropped the planes in the Channel (or even worse, forced one of them to crash-land in England, presenting the RAF with a Fw190 to test at Farnborough before it even reached Luftwaffe combat units! 😆

    In terms of combat effectiveness and damage done to the British, the two Fw190A-0’s in October 1940 would have been less effective than the two Fw190A-8’s that strafed Sword Beach on D-Day!

          1. I’m glad the submitter beat me to the FW190 comments. I only have one little nit: the picture of the BF109s appear to be the later ‘G’ model. I understand that the ‘E’ and ‘F’ models (squarish wingtips and horizontal tail support struts) were operational during late 1940. But perhaps you weren’t really tying the picture to the battle information? Great stuff.

          2. It was one of the best photos of the Bf 109 that I could find, and was over water, so I chose it. Is it the bulges on the cowling in front of the canopy that identifies the -109G? I’m no expert on identifying airplanes (try me on helicopters, though!) and I usually rely on information that comes with the photo. Thanks for keeping me on track, Kevin.

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