10 July - 31 October 1940: The Battle of Britain


The Battle of Britain, which began on July 10, 1940, was a pivotal point in World War II. This battle marked the first time in history that an air campaign was fought on a large scale, and it was a test of the strength and resilience of both the British Royal Air Force (RAF) and the German Luftwaffe. 

The summer of 1940 was the pinnacle of the Battle of Britain, a fierce air battle between the Royal Air Force (RAF) and Germany's Luftwaffe. Churchill's iconic speech acknowledged, "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few," honoring the valiant efforts of the RAF's fighter pilots and bomber crews who fought for control of the skies over England. Churchill's praise of the RAF's victories was intended to reinforce the British public's confidence in their war effort, highlighting Britain's enhanced readiness for contemporary warfare compared to the Great War. This readiness was evident in the army's numerical strength, naval supremacy, and technological progress in arms and intelligence. Furthermore, Churchill aimed to establish a moral superiority over the Nazi regime by promising to supply food and assistance to regions impacted by military blockades, setting the stage for future post-war recovery and aid initiatives. 

The War's early tragedies began for Great Britain in 1940, with air combat and bombing over the United Kingdom claiming 23,002 civilian deaths, and 32,138 civilians who were wounded. 1,542 Allied airmen (UK and Canada) lost their lives, while Germany's Luftwaffe lost 2,585 pilots and crew. "... on August 15, about a hundred bombers, with an escort of forty ME. 110's, were launched against Tyneside. At the same time a raid of more than eight hundred planes was sent to pin down our forces in the South, where it was thought they were already all gathered." (Churchill, 1959, p. 359) However, it was not until August 15 that the largest air battle of this period of the war erupted. 

"August 15 was the largest air battle of this period of the war; five major actions were fought, on a front of five hundred miles. It was indeed a crucial day. In the South all our twenty-two squadrons were engaged, many twice, some three times, and the German losses, added to those in the North, were seventy-six to thirty-four. This was a recognizable disaster to the German Air Force." (Churchill, 1959, p. 359) On that fateful day, around a hundred bombers, with an escort of forty ME. 110's, were launched against Tyneside, while a raid of more than eight hundred planes was sent to pin down British forces in the South. All twenty-two of Britain's squadrons were engaged in the South, and some were engaged twice or three times. The German losses, added to those in the North, were seventy-six to thirty-four. This was a recognizable disaster to the German Air Force. 

"This same period (August 24-September 6) had seriously drained the strength of Fighter Command as a whole. The Command had lost in this fortnight 103 pilots killed and 128 seriously wounded, while 466 Spitfires and Hurricanes had been destroyed or seriously damaged. (Chruchill, 1959, p. 361) Despite these losses, the British forces remained steadfast and continued to fight. Their tenacity and bravery ultimately led to a victory that was celebrated as a turning point in the war. The Battle of Britain demonstrated the effectiveness of the British air defence system and the importance of air superiority in modern warfare.

Top photo: Fire fighting during WWII Battle of Britain. Firemen at work in bomb-damaged street in London, after Saturday night raid, ca. 1940. Source:  War History Network license.

Middle photo: X4382, a late production Spitfire Mk I of 602 Squadron flown by P/O Osgood Hanbury, Westhampnett, September 1940.

Bottom photo: London, 28 September 2017: Memorial to the Battle of Britain pilots from Fighter Command. Source:  War History Network license.

RAF Fighter Groups and Airfields during the Battle of Britain

During the Battle of Britain, RAF fighter squadrons were strategically based at various stations. Their locations frequently changed depending on operational needs and the necessity for rest periods. The following lists detail the airfields used by the RAF Fighter Groups, along with the squadrons stationed there at different times throughout the Battle. By systematically relocating squadrons according to tactical requirements, the RAF ensured optimal coverage and readiness. This strategic mobility was crucial in maintaining air superiority during the conflict. 

12669764865?profile=RESIZE_710x10 Group

Wales and the West Country

  • RAF Middle Wallop:
  • No. 238 Squadron
  • No. 609 Squadron
  • RAF Filton:
  • No. 87 Squadron
  • No. 213 Squadron
  • RAF Pembrey:
  • No. 79 Squadron
  • No. 92 Squadron

11 Group

London and South East England

  • RAF Biggin Hill:
  • No. 32 Squadron
  • No. 79 Squadron
  • RAF Hornchurch:
  • No. 54 Squadron
  • No. 74 Squadron
  • RAF Northolt:
  • No. 303 Polish Fighter Squadron
  • No. 609 Squadron

10589336492?profile=RESIZE_710x12 Group

Midlands and East Anglia

  • RAF Duxford:
  • No. 19 Squadron
  • No. 310 (Czechoslovak) Squadron
  • RAF Wittering:
  • No. 266 Squadron
  • No. 504 Squadron
  • RAF Digby:
  • No. 29 Squadron
  • No. 46 Squadron

13 Group

Scotland, North of England, and Northern Ireland

  • RAF Leuchars:
  • No. 602 Squadron
  • No. 603 Squadron
  • RAF Turnhouse:
  • No. 141 Squadron
  • No. 232 Squadron
  • RAF Aldergrove:
  • No. 245 Squadron
  • No. 315 (Polish) Squadron



Churchill, Winston S. Memoirs of the Second World War: An Abridgement of the Six Volumes of the Second World War. Boston: HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY, 1987. 

Churchill, Winston. The Second World War: The Gathering Storm. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005.

"The Few." RAF Museum. Last modified October 16, 2023. https://www.rafmuseum.org.uk/research/online-exhibitions/history-of-the-battle-of-britain/the-few/.

"'Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few'." UK Parliament. Accessed July 1, 2022. https://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/transformingsociety/private-lives/yourcountry/collections/churchillexhibition/churchill-the-orator/human-conflict/.

Overy, Richard. Blood and Ruins: The Great Imperial War, 1931-1945. London: Penguin UK, 2021.

"The Second World War and the Blitz." Historic England - Championing England's Heritage | Historic England. Accessed July 2, 2022. https://historicengland.org.uk/whats-new/features/second-world-war-and-blitz/.

Weinberg, Gerhard L. A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

"WW2: What Was the Secret to Winning the Battle of Britain?" BBC Teach. Last modified August 12, 2022. https://www.bbc.co.uk/teach/articles/z7m3t39.


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