Britain in 1940 was in danger of invasion. The British army had retreated back across the channel after a disastrous land campaign in France, and the German army now lay just over the channel, poised to invade. All Germany had to do now was gain air superiority, eliminating the threat of the RAF so they could float their invasion barges over to Blighty. The RAF, however, had other plans. The Battle of Britain was a moment in history where the nation's future was hanging in the balance, with the RAF's dogged defence putting paid to Hitler's plans and ensuring that Operation Sea Lion, the German invasion, couldn't go ahead.
On today, the 75th anniversary of the Battle beginning, we've put together a list of ten things you might not have known about the Battle of Britain.
Britain wasn't entirely defended by Britons. In fact, one of the deadliest Squadrons was made up entirely of Poles.
As countries across Europe fell to the Germans, a number of their pilots fled to Britain. These pilots-in-exile volunteered to fly for the RAF in great numbers. Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Poland, South Africa and America were among the nations fighting for the RAF in the skies. The most successful foreign contingent, however, was the Polish. Forming two fighter squadrons, the Poles downed just under 210 enemy aircraft while taking only 29 losses, meaning that for every Pole shot down, 10 German and Italian planes were knocked out of the sky.
The Hawker Hurricane was the main aircraft of the Battle of Britain, not the Supermarine Spitfire.
Contrary to popular belief, the Spitfire actually played second fiddle to the Hurricane in the Battle of Britain. At the time the battle was fought, and throughout the Second World War, the Hurricane remained the workhorse interceptor of the Royal Air Force. Although the Spitfire contributed greatly to British victory in the Battle of Britain, however the reality is that for every 2 kills achieved by a Spitfire, 3 were achieved by Hurricanes.
At one point, London was bombed 57 nights in a row
The Germans began to bomb London rather than RAF airbases as a means of breaking the spirit of the British people. As this bombing campaign intensified and night raids became common, the longest consecutive period of bombing endured by Londoners lasted 57 nights. Over a million houses were destroyed, and 40,000 civilians killed. However, the bombing had an unexpected effect: rather convincing the plucky British to give up, it galvanised the public's resolve. 'Blitz Spirit', the term used to describe this resolve, remains a part of the national vocabulary to this day.
The story about Carrots help you see in the dark is actually a myth designed to conceal the effectiveness of Radar.
RAdio Detection And Ranging, or RADAR, was the RAF's secret weapon in the Battle of Britain and the Blitz. Chain Home (the network of RADAR installations) coupled with Fighter Control Stations meant the British were able to intercept large columns of bombers destined for RAF airfields and cities accurately and quickly. In order to hide the fact that RADAR existed, the government began the rumour that carrots were good for your eyesight, and ordered their pilots to say the same if ever asked about how they could be so accurate in locating enemy aircraft. When your grandmother told you to finish your carrots so you could see in the dark, she was merely one of millions hoodwinked by carroty propaganda.
Goering was the last commander of Von Richthoven's Flying Circus, the fighter squadron of the Red Baron.
Looking at the somewhat portly frame of Hermann Goering, it's hard to believe that he was once a fighter pilot himself. A decorated ace of the First World War with 22 victories claimed, he took command of the fighter unit made famous by Manfred von Richthoven, better known as the Red Baron, after the latter's death (though his arrogance made him unpopular with the men in his command). It was this experience that convinced Hitler to make Goering Minister of Aviation and Reichsmarshal, Head of the Luftwaffe during the Second World War and the man who ordered the battle to commence.
Italian Aircrews also flew against Britain during the battle, without much success
Underequipped, undertrained, badly motivated and in aircraft still painted for camouflage in a Mediterranean environment, the Italian contribution to the campaign was token at best. Using mainly biplanes and slow, canvas aircraft, the Italians rarely found their targets, and even if they did, the bomb-loads carried rarely did any real damage. They mainly attacked civilian targets in the east of England, and scored no air to air kills against the faster, more agile RAF monoplanes.
There were female Pilots who participated in the battle
The Air Transport Auxiliary were in charge of getting aircraft from the factories to the units that required them, and that involved flying them there. A lot of these ATA pilots were women, as that freed up men for combat flying rather than transit flying. Without the women pilots of the ATA, aircraft would not have been moved as quickly to where they were required, and the battle could have had a different outcome.
There were over 1,400 barrage balloons over Britain by mid-1940, over 1/3 in London
Designed to deter low flying aircraft and prevent attacks by dive-bombers, forcing them up into the effective range of Anti-Aircraft Defences, Barrage balloons have become synonymous of the Battle of Britain and wartime Britain at large. Mainly crewed by the Women's Auxiliary Air Force, these balloons were grouped into Squadrons like fighter aircraft, and controlled by the wonderfully named Balloon Command. They were mainly clustered around targets of strategic importance, like London's docks and centres of government.
Feel that we've missed anything out? Let us know in the comments below!