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The Battle of Britain

Hitler was not going to play defense and wait patiently for the British to mellow and become more pacifistic. He was answering Britain's naval blockade in the West with an attempt to blockade Britain with Germany's submarines. And there had been the British bombing in Germany on May 11th (Britain's attempt to interdict German troop movements during their invasion of Belgium). Hitler was holding on to a military invasion of Britain (Operation Sea Lion) as an option. He described his planned invasion as defensive, in his words: "to eliminate the English Motherland as a base from which the war against Germany can be continued, and, if necessary, to occupy the country completely" — highly aggressive, of course, rather than the defense inside its borders that would have benefitted Germany during World War I, matching its claims then of fighting to defend itself.

The code name for his invasion was "Sea Lion." Hitler gave responsibility for Sea Lion's success to Admiral Raeder and his Air Force Commander-in-chief (and other high offices) Hermann Goering, both of whom did not hide their lack of enthusiasm for the venture.

In July 1940 the air and sea blockade began, with Germany's air force (Luftwaffe) targeting coastal-shipping convoys, ports and shipping centers, such as Portsmouth. From July 9th the Luftwaffe had been putting a strain on British pilots. On July 19th the British lost six planes, and on the 25th a coal convoy and escorting destroyers suffered heavy losses.

On the 1st of August, Hitler set 15 September as the day the invasion of Britain was to begin. But first Germany had crush what was described as "any appreciable aggressive force in opposition to the German crossing." Luftwaffe strategists believed that the British would be producing from 180 to 300 fighter planes and 140 bombers per month and that with Luftwaffe attacks this output would dwindle with the British running out of frontline fighter aircraft.

On August 7th, four German bombers were shot down while attacking British ships on Britain's east coast. The next day, 18 British coal ships and 4 destroyers were sunk, and German Stuka aircraft that day sank four British ships and badly damaged six, with only four British ships reaching their destination. The British lost 19 fighter planes and shot down 31.

Intelligence reports gave Goering the impression that the British Royal Air Force (RAF) was almost defeated. Goering explained to his commanders that bombing targets was his second priority, that his first priority was to draw the British fighters out into combat and destroy them.

On 12 August, the Germans attacked four radar stations. Three were briefly taken off the air but were back working within six hours. The Luftwaffe failed to hit supporting infrastructure such as phone lines and power stations.

On the 13th, the Germans attacked RAF airfields, focusing on the southeast of England. On the 18th there was a loss of RAF aircraft on the ground, and there were air battles between Germans and British fighter planes in the skies. The 18th was to be know as the "hardest day." Between August 8 and the 18th, the Germans lost 332 aircraft and the RAF 175. It was on the 20th that Churchill made his statement, "Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few."

On August 23 the Germans began attacking aircraft factories and fighter-plane bases. German pilots had been instructed not to bomb London, but on the night of the 24th a group of bombers got lost and dropped bombs on London by mistake and damaged a few buildings. The British showed that they were not going to take Berlin's action without retaliation and on the night of the 25th they sent bombers against Berlin. Cloud cover limited Britain's bombing and the damage to buildings was slight. But ten Germans were killed and twenty-nine wounded. It was the first bombing of Berlin. Germans were shocked, and Hitler was enraged. His mucking around with war on the British had consequences that he did not accept, and in a speech he described a revenge of his own. He told his audience that when the British declare they will raze "our cities" then we will "raze their cities to the ground."

Hitler gave new tactics for Goering's Luftwaffe: a bombing campaign against London. This change of tactics is said to have Britain's radar system, which British fighter pilots needed to warn them so they would not be caught on the ground. Attacking London rather than air bases was a reprieve for Britain's fighter pilots, and their morale improved.

Hitler's bombing of London did little damage to British industry or morale. Subway stations acquired a new use. The Germans lost aircraft and pilots. On September 17, a disappointed Hitler postponed his invasion of Britain "until further notice." His bombing of British cities continued but reduced in size and frequency.

On the night of November 14th, around 500 German aircraft attacked the English city of Coventry, a raid that lasted more than 10 hours. Incendiary bombs were dropped and more than 500 tons of high explosives. Reports describe 27 factories and 4,330 homes destroyed and three-quarters of the city, with 568 people killed and more than 400 burned so badly they could not be identified.

Two days later the British retaliated, sending more 200 British aircraft to the German city of Hamburg on two successive nights. On the first night, the Blohm & Voss shipyard was damaged and over 60 fires were started. On the second night, only 60 aircraft were able to find their target, and damage was far less. (The firestorm bombing of Hamburg would come in July 1943.)

What was described as the London Blitz would end in May 1941. The total deaths would be counted as 43,381 and injured as 50,856.

CONTINUE READING: Hitler decides to Invade the Soviet Union

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