To many the Battle of Britain is synonymous with the Spitfire and Britain’s invention of radar all of which is demonstrated in the 1969 film of the same name.
However I wish to show that these two factors only made a small part of the picture and in fact the real question was: did Germany ever have a chance of winning the Battle of Britain!Validity of opening statementAt first glance, we can see that the Spitfire and Hurricane were two fighter planes which outperformed the ME109. They were faster, better to manoeuvre with a high firepower. Yet the pilots that flew these planes lacked greatly in experience in comparison to the Luftwaffe. As the battle progressed death of pilots would mean even more inexperienced ‘boys’ taking planes up. Likewise Radar which had been developed greatly by the British did provide a good cover of British outer airspace and warn of incoming enemy. Yet when in British airspace enemy planes had to be observed by the observer corp.
It seems quite clear therefore that these two factors alone could not have been the reason for British victory.Counter factors about RAFRadar in fact made up part of a greater defence system known as the ‘Dowding System’ after Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding, the leader of RAF Fighter Command. Dowding’s system began with early warning detection of incoming raids by radar. Radar stations codenamed Chain Home lined the coast, watching enemy raids form up over France and warning when they began to move. Raiders that penetrated the radar chain were picked up by the Observer Corps which would track the raids visually from a network of ground posts.
Reports from radar and observers were passed back to ‘filtering stations’ that sorted and organised the information. This was then passed on to the Fighter Command headquarters at Stanmore and the HQ of each fighter Group. The information would appear on plotting tables: large maps on which counters marking the incoming raids would be moved. RAF officers known as Fighter Controllers could then order a response from their front-line squadrons.The fighters would then engage and reengage fighting over its own land bases, easy to refule and even bail-out and fuight again. The Germans had only 30 minutes fighting time before they had to cross the channel home. If shot down, they were captured or often drowned in the channel.
Counter factors about LuftwaffeIn fact it could be argued that Germany was in an un-winnable position. Their numerical superiority was not sufficient to achieve superiority while the theories of strategic bombing, which hinged on the collapse of public morale, were undone by British defiance in the face of the day and night Blitzes. The switch to a terror bombing strategy allowed the RAF to recuperate and to defend against the attacks. Even if the attacks on the 11 Group airfields had continued, the British could have afforded to withdraw to the Midlands out of German fighter range and continued the battle from there. Post-war records show that British aircraft were being replaced faster than those of the Germans; the RAF maintained its strength even as the Luftwaffe’s declined. In terms of losses of aircraft and experienced aircrew the battle was a blow the Luftwaffe never recovered from.Counter factors concerning British navyEven though it seems that German had no chance to win even if the unthinkable had of happened it has been argued that Britain’s main line of defence – its senior service, the navy, would have stopped the invasion.
It should not be forgotten that the main purpose of the Battle of Britain was to destroy the RAF as a prelude to the German invasion. Hitler and his generals were reluctant to invade Britain but had been forced into the position by Britain’s refusal to make peace. The Germany navy who would have been given the task of protecting the invasion barrages had had a recent taste of the Royal Navy in the Norwegian war. By asking for the destruction of the RAF they were putting off the need to attack the RAF head-on. Likewise Hitler was presented with a face-saving situation when Goring promised to destroy the RAF. It is Goring who was to start to slip from power with the failure of operation Sealion.
Final judgementIn answer to the statement made in the question, is that radar and fight planes played a part and a significant part in the myth which was to arise from the battle. Yet in reality the Battle’s victory was as much psychological as physical. It turned a tide of defeats and heartened the enemies of Nazism. Even though the threat to the RAF was very real and for the participants it seemed as if there was a “Narrow Margin” between victory and defeat the reality was that Hitler had been pushed into a war with Britain he did not want to make with a geographical probem, an island nation, which he could not sumount.