Seventy-five years ago today marked the beginning of the end for our friends in the United Kingdom. As precursor to a planned airborne and amphibious invasion of the British Isles–known as Operation Sea Lion, Adolf Hitler’s Luftwaffe began a massive air campaign against England. The British flatly refused to go quietly, so thus began “the Battle of Britain.”
The hope was, once air supremacy was established and the Royal Air Force all but obliterated, the British would have no choice but to capitulate to Hitler’s whims and give up England. As one might imagine, that notion didn’t sit well with the RAF, who took to the skies with the willingness to fight to the last man and the last airplane to defend their homeland.
Between 10 July and 31 October 1940, the only major campaign fought exclusively with air forces raged in the skies above Great Britain. The ongoing aerial bombardment of England became known as The Blitz, with the Luftwaffe hell-bent on crushing Britain’s air defenses to continue the advance of Hitler’s Third Reich across Europe.
Prime Minister (Sir) Winston Churchill, one of the most renowned orators and statesmen of the time, gave a speech in the House of Commons three weeks prior to the battle, where he uttered the prophetic words: “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.”
In response, the Royal Air Force stood up with cheerful smiles on their faces, thumbed their noses in the face of total annihilation, and said, “Bring it on, you bloody huns!”
In the course of the next three and a half months, the RAF lost more than a thousand aircraft and well over five hundred of its pilots met their end. The Germans were expecting a short-lived tussle and what they ended up getting was….their asses handed to them. Nearly two thousand aircraft lost and more than 2,500 aircrew dead. Like the Little Engine that Could, the Brits never gave up, gave their enemy no quarter, and fought with such tenacity that the Third Reich never made it across the channel.
The fact the British don’t speak German as their first language is owed to fighter pilots–pure and simple. As Sir Winston Churchill went on to say, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”
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