*** World War II air campaign -- Air Raid Precautions (ARP)

World War II Air Campaign: Battle of Britain -- Strategy

Figure 1.--Clutching toys and teddy bears, British children sit forlornly amidst belongings that were salvaged from their bombed out homes the morning after an evening German air raid on London. (September 15, 1940). Many Brit will recognize that date--after the War, it became celebrated as Battle of Britain Day. The Luftwaffe n this day the Luftwaffe mounted an all out attack against London. Around 1,500 aircraft took part in the air battles which went on until dusk. It proved to be the climax of the Battle of Britain. The Blitz or bombing attacks on London began (Deptember 7). This mean that while London was being pound, 11 Group was able to rapidly repair its air fields, mostly grrass fields. In addition, as the Luftwaffe has to fly longer to reach London, the ME-109 fighters with limited range could spend little time over London, leaving the bombers with limited protection. At the same time, 12 Group had the time to form its Big Wing and for the first time large numbers of British fighters coverged on Luftwaffe bomber squadrions who had only minimal fighter cover. The Germans who have been told that that the RAF was kargely destroyed were shocked. The RAF at the time claimed to have shot down 185 German planes, the actual count was 61. Even so the number was unsustainable. They were the highest losses the Luftwaffe had suffered for over a month. The RAF lost 31 planes, but mnany of the pilots mnaged to bail out and were in the air afain in a day or so. The Germans nevr again came in such numbers and began bombing at night. Hitler and G�ring did not understand that destroying houses such as the homes of these children did not win wars. Many homes were destroyed, but the German bombing did not weaken Britain's war effort. It did seriously weaken the Luftwaffe, a firce badly needed to support the Barbarossa invasion of the Soviet Union.

Strategic bombing was new to warfare. It was thought by many that no country with standthe strategic bombing of its cities, but until 1939 it was almost all theory. Air strategusts like Douhet had written about it. And the Allies were prepring a strategic bombing campaihn targetting Grman cities, but the Germans asked for an armistice before ghat was carried out. The first strategic bombing was conducted by the Japanese in China, but was inconclusive. Hitler's threat of bombing Prague convinced the Czechs, abandoned by Britain and French, to submit (September 1938). The Germans bombed Warsaw and other Polish cities, but surrender was due to a combination of land and air attacks (September 1939). The German terror bombing of Rotterdam convinced the Dutch to surrender (May 1940). After the fall of France, Marshall G�ring assured Hitler that the Luftwaffe could quickly force the British to capitualte or at least sue for peace. After the startling German victories in he West (spring 1940), any other course of action seemed irrational. Not only to the Germans, but to most military observers, including most American military observers. At the time, the grand Allied military alliance did not exist. The only country still at war with Germant was Britain. Hitler saw world politics in racial terms and wanted the Anglo-Saxon British as allies or at least neutrals for his planned invasion of the Soviet Union. We are not sure what or if he planned for Britain after defeating the Soviets, but the British after Munich understood that the F�hrer's assurances meant nothing. This attitude toward Britain may be why he stopped the Panzers before Dunkirk, although many historians doubt this. Unlike his strategy against the Poles and Dutch, there was at first no German terror bombing of London and other British cities. Only later did Hitler turn to terror bombing to subdue the British. The German strategy was to destroy the RAF and establish air supperority over the Channel Coast where an invasion could then be mounted. Based on the RAF's perforamance in France, this did not seem like a difficult undertaking. Key to the German strategy was the element of surprise and destroyng RAF fighters on the ground. This had worked in the asault upon Poland, the Netherlnds, Belgium, and France where large numbers of planes were destroyed on the ground (May 1940). It would also work against the Soviet Union (June 1941). We are not sure how seriously Hitler ever considered an actual invasion. It is more likely that he thought that once the RAF was destroyed that the potential bombing of British cities would force the British to agree to a Vichy-like arrangement. He would have probably agreed to Vichy-light knowing at any time he could return to a military sollition and occupation as he woukd do in Frnce (November 1942). Here Hitler did not fully assess Churchill, the RAF, or the British people. So confident was Hitler of success that on July 21 he told his top military commanders in great secrecy that he planned to invade the Soviet Union, perhaps motivated by Stalin's annexation of the three Baltic Republics on that day. He ordered General Enrich Marcks the next day to prepare the attack plan. [Gilbert, p. 333.] The British Chain Home Network prevented the Luftwaffe from catching the RAF on the gouond. The Luftwaffe, however, proceeded with a campaign to bomb 11 Group in southeast England out of existence. The Germans had a huge numerical superiority and battle-hardened air crews. The initial strategy was to pound the RAF into submission. The British strategy was to use the new Spitfires ro tke on the Me-109 fighters and have the Huricanes go after the bombers. If enough bombers could be shot down with their air crews, the hope was the Germns wiukd give up. The RAF had the aircraft, but a serious shortage of trained pilots and while the RAF was taking its toll on Luftwaffe raiders, 11 Group, both the pilots and air fields were being ground down when Hitler becoming impatient with the continued British resistance and angered by a British reprisal, ordered the destruction of London. He beieved that leveling London was a war-winning strategy and of course it fit perfectly into his brutal mindset.


Douhet, Giulio. Command of the Air (1921).

Gilbert, Martin. A History of the Twentieth Century Vol. 2 1933-54 (William Morrow and Company, Inc.: New York, 1998), 1050p.


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Created: 12:59 AM 1/4/2019
Last updated: 12:59 AM 1/4/2019