Days of destiny: 5 key moments of the Battle of Britain

Kate Moore picks out five key moments from that fateful summer when a group of Allied pilots were engaged in desperate battles with their German foes, hoping to secure control of the skies and prevent a Nazi invasion of Britain

London burns behind Tower Bridge on 7 September 1940, the day of the first mass air raid on the capital. Some 448 Britons were killed in the raid.  (Photo by Fotosearch/Getty Images)
Following the collapse of France, the Luftwaffe had spent most of the latter half of June and early July 1940 preparing for the coming battle with the British. As Churchill electrified the nation with his soaring oratory, strengthened the resolve of the embattled British people and gave them hope, a small band of fighter pilots – just over 700 in total – would indeed act as that thin blue line of defence.
Tentative plans had been made for an invasion of England, codenamed Operation Seelöwe (Sea Lion), but Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring, commander of the Luftwaffe, believed that his air force alone could bring Britain to her knees. Göring, however, failed to recognise that the campaigns in the Low Countries and France had taken their brutal toll, and the Luftwaffe could now only muster 1,380 bombers and 428 dive-bombers, nowhere near the 5,000 he liked to boast of in his propaganda.
Supplemented by 1,100 fighters, the Luftwaffe still enjoyed a numerical superiority of almost five to one over the British defenders. But Göring’s bomber pilots should have taken little comfort in this. They were simply ‘potential kills’ for Spitfire and Hurricanes, incapable of attacking the British fighters effectively themselves. If the British pilots were deployed correctly, then the dice would not be as heavily stacked against Fighter Command as is commonly believed. It all came down to how the imminent battle would be fought.
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10 July 1940: Official start of the battle of Britain

The battle began with the Kanalkampf, or Channel Battles phase, when the Germans launched sustained attacks against British shipping to prevent much-needed supplies from reaching the beleaguered British Isles. Such attacks had been taking place since late June but early July saw a marked increase in the frequency and ferocity.

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