The Battle of Britain was a turning point in World War Two, when 3,000 fighter pilots were Britain's last line of defence against a Nazi invasion. Just when Britain's civilians thought the worst was over, the Luftwaffe started bombing cities in The Blitz.
In May and June 1940, Britain had evacuated its troops from France, helped by a flotilla of small private boats and a lot of "Dunkirk spirit". After the Nazis took Paris on 14 June, Hitler set his sights on Britain. The Royal Navy was still a formidable barrier to pass. So the Nazis decided to destroy Britain's air defences first, to make the naval battle easier.
On 10 July, the first attacks began on British air bases. The Luftwaffe had more pilots and planes than the RAF. If they could destroy the air bases, invasion seemed imminent. Until late October, the 3,000 men of Fighter Command battled against the odds to keep the skies safe. More than 500 gave their lives in the attempt. Winston Churchill summed it up when he declared, "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few."
By September 1940, the Nazis' focus began to shift from military bases to civilian targets. On 24 August, some German bombs had landed on residential districts in London. This was probably simply an error, but Churchill responded by bombing Berlin. That opened the floodgates. From 7 September, London was bombed for 57 consecutive nights. This war of terror, aimed at sapping public morale and leading to surrender, was dubbed the Blitz (from Blitzkrieg, "lightning war" in German).
The RAF could do little against night time raids – the heroic "dogfights" in the air could only take place in daylight. From now on, the combatants would be the British public, in London and many other cities as the months dragged on. Keeping their spirits up, continuing to be active, would become a major war effort.
Imperial War Museum
The Royal Mint
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