The Battle of Britain: July – October 1940

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From July - September 1940, the Luftwaffe attacked the RAF in order to gain air superiority as a prelude to invasion. This involved the bombing of English Channel convoys, ports, RAF airfields and supporting industries across the country including London.

Initially, attacks took place in daylight. Hitler was frustrated air superiority was not happening quickly enough. With no sign of the RAF weakening, and Luftwaffe air fleets taking punishing losses, the Germans changed strategy. Attacks would take place at night, to give the bombers greater protection undercover of darkness.

Night attacks became official policy on 7 October. The air campaign soon got underway against London. On paper, it had all the means at its disposal to achieve victory, but the problem for the Luftwaffe was its poor intelligence and its unclear strategy which became increasingly aimless over the winter of 1940 -1941.

On 15 September 1940, the Luftwaffe made two large daylight attacks upon London. Battles lasted most of the day. The first attack merely damaged the rail network for three days, the second attack failed altogether. The air battle later became commemorated by Battle of Britain Day. The Luftwaffe lost 18% of the bombers sent on operations that day, and failed to gain air superiority.

On 14 October, 380 German bombers hit London. Around 200 people were killed and another 2,000 injured. They returned on 15 October. Around 900 fires were started and five main rail lines were cut.

By mid-November 1940, 12,000 tons of high explosive and nearly 1,000,000 incendiaries had fallen on London. The London docks and railways communications had been pounded and heavily damaged. But the great bulk of the traffic went on and resolute Londoners still got to work.

Probably the most devastating night strike occurred on 29 December 1940, when German aircraft attacked the City of London with incendiary and high explosive bombs, causing a firestorm that has been called the Second Great Fire of London.

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