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BATTLE OF BRITAIN: The “Few”

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The Spitfire is the most famous British fighter aircraft in history. It became a symbol of freedom during the summer months of 1940 by helping to defeat the German air attacks during the Battle of Britain. It was the highest performing Allied aircraft in 1940. RAF Museum

BATTLE OF BRITAIN U.K. R.A.F.MOD

The RAF defended the UK from Nazi Germany’s air force, the Luftwaffe. It was the first major battle fought entirely in the air, and Nazi Germany’s first major military defeat.

This victory was made possible by the hard work and determination of ‘The Many’, to the courage and sacrifice of ‘The Few’ – the 2,945 RAF aircrew who faced the Luftwaffe from July to October 1940.

By summer 1940, much of Europe had fallen to Nazi Germany. Backed by its allies overseas, the British Government refused to make peace with Hitler. In this country’s darkest hour, the British Armed Forces prepared to defend the United Kingdom.

DETECT AND OBSERVE

By 1940, dozens of radar stations had been constructed along the British coastline. This system, called ‘Chain Home’, was the first early warning radar network ever built. Men and women in the radar stations could detect approaching German aircraft from up to 80 miles away.

Speed was crucial. Information gathered by radar and the Observer Corps went to RAF Fighter Command Headquarters at Bentley Priory in North London. They checked the information, and circulated this by phone to RAF Groups across the country. Each Group controlled the RAF aircraft, anti-aircraft guns, searchlights, and barrage balloons in their areas. Every action was plotted on a large map. Known as the ‘Dowding System’, it was the world’s most advanced air defence network.

At the height of the Battle of Britain, the RAF had only 749 fighter aircraft available, against 2,550 Luftwaffe aircraft.

Consisting of 2,945 aircrew, the RAF was joined by volunteers from 13 different nations, some of whom had battle experience against the Luftwaffe in their own air forces. This international force became known as ‘The Few’. Nine were Americans

The Few UK MOD

THE FIRST VICTORY

Facing unsustainable losses, the Luftwaffe abandoned its attempt to establish air superiority over the United Kingdom. It was the first major military defeat of Nazi Germany.

Unsubdued, the UK and its allies continued to wage war on Nazi Germany. Five years later, in May 1945, with the Allies advancing into Germany from all sides and Berlin in Soviet hands, Nazi Germany surrendered.

The Battle of Britain was an international victory. Aviators from across occupied Europe, the Commonwealth, and the wider world flew for the RAF during the Battle. Roughly a fifth of the RAF’s Battle of Britain aviators were not British.

Visit the Royal Air Force Museum to learn more about the Battle of Britain.

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