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The Battle of Britain - Leadership and Strategy

 The Battle of Britain - Leadership and Strategy

The Battle of Britain (1940)


Famous for...

  • The defeat of the German air force (the Luftwaffe) by Britain’s Royal Air Force (RAF, pictured right)
  • Saving Britain from German invasion (code named Sea Lion) during the Second World War.


When did it happen?

10th July – 31st October, 1940 

When Britain and its empire stood alone against Nazi Germany after the:The Battle of Britain - Leadership and Strategy

  • German defeat of France on June 14th 1940 - see below.
  • evacuation of British troops at Dunkirk (pictured right) in northern France on June 4th 1940 – see below.


Key events before the battle


30th January 1933

Adolf Hitler   becomes leader or Germany.


29th September 1938

The Munich Agreement, a peace agreement between:

  • the British prime minister, Neville Chamberlain (pictured right with Hitler).

Chamberlain declares that there will be “peace in our time”.


23rd August 1939

Germany and Russia (then called the Soviet Union) sign a non-aggression agreement.


3rd September 1939

Britain and France declare war on Germany after the German invasion of Poland on September 1st 

The Germans use Blitzkrieg with:The Battle of Britain - Leadership and Strategy

  • quickly advancing infantry and artillery.
  • Stuka dive bombers, pictured right.

These tactics are also used to defeat France in June 1940 (see below).


January 1940

Bletchley Park code breakers decipher the German Enigma code.


10th May 1940The Battle of Britain - Leadership and Strategy

Winston Churchill (pictured right on May 20th with his famous 'V' sign for victory) succeeds Neville Chamberlain as British prime minister.


27th May - 4th June 1940

Dunkirk - 338,000 British and French troops are evacuated from Dunkirk in north-eastern France.


The Battle of Britain - Leadership and Strategy

14th June 1940

The Germans enter Paris (pictured right).

Britain has lost half its fighter planes trying unsuccessfully to defend France.


3rd July 1940

Britain destroys the French fleet at Oran in north Africa, signalling its determination to fight.



Key people


Winston Churchill 

British prime minister.


Hugh Dowding

Chief of the British fighter planes (called Fighter Command) - see below.


Keith Park

Head of 11 Group, the RAF fighter stations defending south-east England.


Lord Beaverbrook

Churchill’s minister for aircraft production.

 The Battle of Britain - Leadership and Strategy


Reginald Mitchell (pictured right)

Designer of the Spitfire, Britain’s best fighter plane.


The Battle of Britain - Leadership and Strategy

Sydney Camm (pictured right)

Designer of the Hurricane, Britain’s other ace fighter.


The Battle of Britain - Leadership and Strategy

Robert Watson-Watt (pictured right)

Scottish inventor of radar.


Adolf Hitler

German leader.



Hermann Goering

Head of the Luftwaffe (the German air force).


The Battle of Britain - Leadership and Strategy

Albert Kesselring (pictured right)

Head of German fighter planes in north-eastern France.


The fighter pilots

The pilots were the heroes (on both sides).


The opposing air forces (around 9th August 1940)

BritainThe Battle of Britain - Leadership and Strategy

  • 1,032 fighters - Spitfires (pictured right) and Hurricanes (pictured right below)
  • 1,400 pilots.

Germany The Battle of Britain - Leadership and Strategy

  • 1,011 fighters (mainly the Messerschmitt 109 - the dive bomber Stuka was withdrawn in mid-August after heavy losses).
  • around 1,000 pilots.


Key events in the battle



Britain exceeds the German production of fighters by 1,900 to 775.


12th August- 6th September

German bombing of radar stations and airfields.


25/26th August

British night time bombing of Berlin.

 The Battle of Britain - Leadership and Strategy

7th September

Germans start bombing London in retaliation, the start of the Blitz (pictured right) which:

  • ended in May 1941.
  • hit other industrial cities
  • killed 40,000 people.

During the Blitz, Londoners are forced to shelter in the underground (or subway).

 The Battle of Britain - Leadership and Strategy

13th September

Buckingham Palace bombed, where King George VI (pictured right) lives.

This won him public support in the bombed areas like the East End in London (up until then he had been booed).


15th September

Decisive British victory with 25 British and 60 German planes shot down (now called Battle of Britain Day)

This led to Hitler’s indefinite postponement of invasion on 17th September.


Why did Britain win the Battle of Britain?


1. Winston Churchill

He turned Britain into a united nation of all conquering heroes through his:

  • inspirational speeches (see the quotes at the end).
  • enormous self-belief.
  • complete confidence in victory (when most British people had given up)
  • energy and courage

 The Battle of Britain - Leadership and Strategy

2. Hugh Dowding

The Scottish head of Fighter Command, Hugh Dowding (nicknamed “Stuffy”), pictured right, was a hero because of his:

  • insistence that all the RAF’s fighters weren’t used to defend France.
  • determined focus on victory.
  • promotion of radar (see point 9)
  • support for the production of Spitfires and Hurricanes in the late 1930’s (see point 5).
  • support of Keith Park’s successful strategy of fighting in single squadrons (see point 3).

But sadly Dowding was dismissed in November 1940 because of his unsuccessful handling of the German night bombing.


3. Keith ParkThe Battle of Britain - Leadership and Strategy

Park (pictured right) , a New Zealander, was the brilliant commander of 11 Group, responsible for defending south-east England.

He inspired his pilots through his:

  • integrity and kind sensitivity.
  • good example (regularly flying a Hurricane into battle).

His strategy of quickly attacking the enemy in single squadrons was very successful, but criticized by...The Battle of Britain - Leadership and Strategy

Trafford Leigh-Mallory (commander of 12 Group, responsible for the Midlands, pictured right), who supported “Big Wing” - 3 to 5 squadrons attacking together.

His bitter dispute with Park contributed to Park’s dismissal in November 1940.


4. Poor German leadership

Goering (pictured right) and Hitler made serious mistakes:The Battle of Britain - Leadership and Strategy

  • over-estimating the Luftwaffe’s strength.
  • under-estimating the RAF’s strength and radar’s importance.
  • poor knowledge about the location of airfields and vital factories (like the Spitfire factory at Southampton).
  • bombing London from 7th September onwards instead of the airfields - the Blitz..


5. The Spitfire and Hurricane

The Hurricane was sturdy and reliable.The Battle of Britain - Leadership and Strategy

But the Spitfire was quicker, more manoeuvrable, and most feared by the Germans.

The best German fighter was the Messerschmitt 109, pictured right, but its range was limited (it could only fly over Britain for 30 minutes).

The Battle of Britain - Leadership and Strategy


The designers of the Spitfire (Reginald Mitchell), Hurricane (Sydney Camm) and their Rolls-Royce Merlin engine (Ernest Hives, pictured right) combined:

  • practicality, and
  • creative flair.

The Battle of Britain - Leadership and Strategy

The test pilot, Ralph Sorley, pictured right, crucially insisted the Spitfire and Hurricane should have eight machine guns instead of their original four.


The dynamic government minister for aircraft production, Lord Beaverbrook  (pictured right below):The Battle of Britain - Leadership and Strategy

  • ensured that the workers in the aircraft factories (mostly women) were making far more fighters than the Germans.
  • won public support by asking for people’s pots and pans, even though they were useless!



6. Teamwork

The British pilots worked brilliantly with the people on the ground:

  • ground crews (re-fuelling and aircraft maintenance).
  • the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, WAAF (for example, the women in the operations rooms showing the location of enemy aircraft).
  • army anti-aircraft gunners (to defend the airfields).



7. Morale and purpose

The pilots’ morale was fantastic and they, like everybody else in Britain, wanted to defeat Hitler.

They found spiritual fulfilment in having something worthwhile to die for.The Battle of Britain - Leadership and Strategy

People were also cheered up by


  • BBC radio singers and entertainers (like Vera Lynn, pictured right).
  • the cinema (30 million went every week).



8. Code breakingThe Battle of Britain - Leadership and Strategy

A team at Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire (led by Alan Turing, pictured right) deciphered the German Enigma code in January 1940.

So Britain knew exactly what the Germans were doing.



9. Radar and new technology

A team at Bawdsey Manor in Suffolk (led by the inspirational Scot, Robert Watson-Watt) developed radar which crucially detected German planes.The Battle of Britain - Leadership and Strategy

This project was encouraged by the government scientist, Henry Tizard,pictured right

In August 1940 (with Churchill’s approval), Tizard sent all of Britain’s technological defence secrets to the Americans, so that they could develop them further (called the Tizard Mission).



10. Pilots

Britain’s pilots (called “the few” by Churchill) were skilled and courageous.

414 were killed in the battle, and they included men from:

  • Poland.
  • New Zealand.
  • South Africa.
  • Canada.
  • Czechoslovakia.
  • France.
  •  Ireland.
  • Jamaica.
  • Palestine.
  • America (the seven Americans formed the Eagle Squadron).

Their morale was much higher than the German pilots who:

  • were worried about being captured and falling into the freezing English Channel.
  • weren’t trained for the battle (because their previous role had been to support the army).


Eight pilots

 The Battle of Britain - Leadership and Strategy

Douglas Bader (242 Squadron, Coltishall, Norfolk) - 1910-82

Made famous by the 1956 film, Reach for the Sky, Bader (pictured right) lost his legs in a plane crash in 1931 as a young RAF pilot.

In the Battle of Britain, he inspired the Canadians in his Hurricane squadron with his:

  • tough discipline.
  • energetic enthusiasm.
  • supreme self-confidence.

He proposed the controversial “Big Wing” idea of several squadrons flying together.

Captured in 1941, he was sent to Colditz, the famous German prisoner of war camp.


The Battle of Britain - Leadership and Strategy

Alan (“Al”) Deere (54 Squadron, Hornchurch, East London) - 1917-95

A New Zealand Spitfire ace (pictured right), his 1959 autobiography was called Nine Lives, because he had several narrow escapes including a collision with a German fighter on July 9th.

He courageously overcame:

  • exhaustion and lifelong back pain (from crash landing into a farmer’s cess pool)
  • the tragic loss of his fellow pilots (particularly his close friend, Johnny Allen).
  • the fear of death (resisting the constant urge to withdraw from battle).

He was helped by the love of Joan, who married him in September 1945.


The Battle of Britain - Leadership and Strategy

Bob Doe (234 Squadron, Middle Wallop, Hampshire) - 1920-2010

The third most successful pilot in the Battle of Britain, pictured right, shooting down 14 German planes by the end of 1940.

His self-belief was just as important as his flying ability. He said:

“If you believe in yourself and believe in what you are doing, then you are twice as strong as if you don’t”.

In January 1945 he needed 22 plastic surgery operations after a plane crash.


Roger (“Sam”) Hall (152 Squadron, Middle Wallop, Hampshire) 1917-2002

He bravely overcame his constant fear of death, reflected in the title of his 1975 autobiography, Clouds of Fear.

But, after the death of his close friend, “Scottie”, a New Zealand pilot, in 1942, he finally cracked and had to stop flying.

He fully recovered (helped by his belief in God) and lived happily in Dover.


The Battle of Britain - Leadership and Strategy

Adolph (“Sailor”) Malan (74 Squadron, Hornchurch, East London) - 1910-63

A South African, Malan (pictured right) was the best Battle of Britain pilot and a great leader because of his:

  • brilliant example and tactics.
  • sensitive support for his men.
  • strict discipline.
  • dynamic personality.
  • character (given moral strength by his wife and baby son, born in June 1940).

His tips for success in battle were:

  • initiative.
  • aggression.
  • air discipline.
  • teamwork.
  • speed in attack and decision making.

He said:

“Go in quickly. Punch hard. Get out!”


The Battle of Britain - Leadership and Strategy

Richard Hillary (603 Squadron, Montrose, Scotland) - 1919-43

Australian pilot, who wrote about his wartime experiences in his book, The Last Enemy.

His love affair with Mary Booker inspired him to overcome his:

  • fear of death.The Battle of Britain - Leadership and Strategy
  • horrific burns (from being shot down on September 3rd 1940).

He was one of the many “Guinea Pigs” who were given excruciatingly painful plastic surgery for their burns by Doctor Archie McIndoe (pictured right) .


The Battle of Britain - Leadership and Strategy

Adolf Galland (1912-66)

German fighter ace (pictured right) who

  • flew a Messerschmitt 109.
  • enraged Goering by telling him that to win he needed a squadron of Spitfires!


The Battle of Britain - Leadership and Strategy

Werner Mölders (1913-41)

Mölders (pictured right) was:

  • the first German pilot to reach 40 aerial victories 

  • awarded the Knight's Cross (the highest Nazi military honour, by Adolf Hitler on September 23rd 1940). 



The results of victory in the Battle of Britain

 The Battle of Britain - Leadership and Strategy

1. D-Day

The invasion of Western Europe from Britain (pictured right) - see D-Day.


2. Germany fighting on two fronts 

(when Hitler invaded Russia in 1941).


3. Bombing of Germany from Britain

This bombing:

  • hit Germany's industry.
  • delayed its development of the atomic bomb.

 The Battle of Britain - Leadership and Strategy

4. America’s increased support for Britain

Americans (including President Franklin D. Roosevelt, pictured right) admired the courage of the British

This made Roosevelt's declaration of war against Germany in 1941 much easier.


Key quotes by Churchill in 1940


We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and streets. we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender

- June 4th (just after the evacuation of British and French troops at Dunkirk).


The Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin... Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour’,

- June 18th.


Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.

- 20th August (talking about the Battle of Britain).


Other key quotes


I had a feeling of the essential rightness of it all. He was dead and I was alive; it could so easily have been the other way round.

- Richard Hillary , Australian Battle of Britain pilot.


Taking a Spitfire into the sky in September 1940 was like entering a dark room with a madman waving a knife behind your back.

Sailor Malan, Battle of Britain pilot.


Anyone who said he felt no fear in action was not telling the truth...The Germans were doing their level best to try and kill or maim you.

- Al Deere, Battle of Britain pilot.

 The Battle of Britain - Leadership and Strategy

I’m glad we’ve been bombed. It makes me feel I can look the East End in the face.

- Queen Elizabeth, wife of King George VI (pictured right in 1939).


We do not want to be remembered as heroes, we only ask to be remembered for what we did....that's all.

Bob Doe, Battle of Britain pilot.

 The Battle of Britain - Leadership and Strategy

I regard it as a privilege to fight for all those things that make life worth living - freedom, honour and fair play.

Bill Millington, pictured right, Australian Battle of Britain pilot.


I must therefore request that... not one fighter will be sent across the Channel however urgent and insistent the appeals for help may be.

- Hugh Dowding (in a letter to Winston Churchill, 16th May, 1940).


No man in his RAF uniform failed to score.

- comment on RAF sex appeal at the Café de Paris in London, a servicemen’s club.


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