Tag Archives: Second World War

Atomic Bombings – 6th & 9th of August 1945 Hiroshima and Nagasaki

This Thursday is the 70th Anniversary  of the Atomic Bombings

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Atomic Bombings –  6th & 9th of August 1945 Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Effects of a nuclear bomb  HD

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HOW IT WORKS: The Atomic Bomb

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On the 6th of August 1945, during the final stage of the Second World War, the United States dropped atomic bombs on the  Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The two bombings, which killed at least 129,000 people, remain the only use of nuclear weapons for warfare in history.

 

Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Aerial view of an atomic bomb explosion

In August 1945, during the final stage of the Second World War, the United States dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The two bombings, which killed at least 129,000 people, remain the only use of nuclear weapons for warfare in history.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bomb documentary

As the war entered its sixth and final year, the Allies had begun to prepare for what was anticipated to be a very costly invasion of the Japanese mainland. This was preceded by an immensely destructive firebombing campaign that obliterated many Japanese cities. The war in Europe had concluded when Nazi Germany signed its instrument of surrender on May 8, 1945, but with the Japanese refusal to accept the Allies’ demands for unconditional surrender, the Pacific War dragged on. Together with the United Kingdom and China, the United States called for the unconditional surrender of the Japanese armed forces in the Potsdam Declaration on July 26, 1945; this was buttressed with the threat of “prompt and utter destruction”.

By August 1945, the Allied Manhattan Project had successfully detonated an atomic device in the New Mexico desert and subsequently produced atomic weapons based on two alternate designs. The 509th Composite Group of the U.S. Army Air Forces was equipped with a Silverplate Boeing B-29 Superfortress that could deliver them from Tinian in the Mariana Islands.

A uranium gun-type atomic bomb (Little Boy) was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, followed by a plutonium implosion-type bomb (Fat Man) on the city of Nagasaki on August 9. Little Boy exploded 2,000 feet above Hiroshima in a blast equal to 12-15,000 tons of TNT, destroying five square miles of the city. Within the first two to four months of the bombings, the acute effects of the atomic bombings killed 90,000–166,000 people in Hiroshima and 39,000–80,000 in Nagasaki; roughly half of the deaths in each city occurred on the first day. During the following months, large numbers died from the effect of burns, radiation sickness, and other injuries, compounded by illness and malnutrition. In both cities, most of the dead were civilians, although Hiroshima had a sizable military garrison.

On August 15, just days after the bombing of Nagasaki and the Soviet Union‘s declaration of war, Japan announced its surrender to the Allies. On September 2, it signed the instrument of surrender, effectively ending World War II. The bombings’ role in Japan’s surrender and their ethical justification are still debated.

Pacific War

Main article: Pacific War

A map of East Asia and the Western Pacific during World War II

Situation of Pacific War by August 1, 1945. Japan still had control of all of Manchuria, Korea, Taiwan and Indochina, a large part of China, including most of the main Chinese cities, and much of the Dutch East Indies

In 1945, the Pacific War between the Empire of Japan and the Allies entered its fourth year. The Japanese fought fiercely, ensuring that U.S. victory would come at an enormous cost. Of the 1.25 million battle casualties incurred by the United States in World War II, including both military personnel killed in action and wounded in action, nearly one million occurred in the twelve-month period from June 1944 to June 1945. December 1944 saw American battle casualties hit an all-time monthly high of 88,000 as a result of the German Ardennes Offensive.[1] In the Pacific, the Allies returned to the Philippines,[2] recaptured Burma,[3] and invaded Borneo.[4] Offensives were undertaken to reduce the Japanese forces remaining in Bougainville, New Guinea and the Philippines.[5] In April 1945, American forces landed on Okinawa, where heavy fighting continued until June. Along the way, the ratio of Japanese to American casualties dropped from 5:1 in the Philippines to 2:1 on Okinawa.[1]

As the Allied advance moved inexorably towards Japan, conditions became steadily worse for the Japanese people. Japan’s merchant fleet declined from 5,250,000 gross tons in 1941 to 1,560,000 tons in March 1945, and 557,000 tons in August 1945. Lack of raw materials forced the Japanese war economy into a steep decline after the middle of 1944. The civilian economy, which had slowly deteriorated throughout the war, reached disastrous levels by the middle of 1945. The loss of shipping also affected the fishing fleet, and the 1945 catch was only 22% of that in 1941. The 1945 rice harvest was the worst since 1909, and hunger and malnutrition became widespread. U.S. industrial production was overwhelmingly superior to Japan’s. By 1943, the U.S, produced almost 100,000 aircraft a year, compared to Japan’s production of 70,000 for the entire war. By the summer of 1944, the U.S. had almost a hundred aircraft carriers in the Pacific, far more than Japan’s twenty-five for the entire war. In February 1945, Prince Fumimaro Konoe advised the Emperor Hirohito that defeat was inevitable, and urged him to abdicate.[6]

Preparations to invade Japan

Main article: Operation Downfall

Even before the surrender of Nazi Germany on May 8, 1945, plans were underway for the largest operation of the Pacific War, Operation Downfall, the invasion of Japan.[7] The operation had two parts: Operations Olympic and Coronet. Set to begin in October 1945, Olympic involved a series of landings by the U.S. Sixth Army intended to capture the southern third of the southernmost main Japanese island, Kyūshū.[8] Operation Olympic was to be followed in March 1946 by Operation Coronet, the capture of the Kantō Plain, near Tokyo on the main Japanese island of Honshū by the U.S. First, Eighth and Tenth Armies. The target date was chosen to allow for Olympic to complete its objectives, for troops to be redeployed from Europe, and the Japanese winter to pass.[9]

Uncle Sam holding a spanner, rolling up his sleeves

U.S. Army poster prepares the public for the invasion of Japan after ending war on Germany and Italy

Japan’s geography made this invasion plan obvious to the Japanese; they were able to predict the Allied invasion plans accurately and thus adjust their defensive plan, Operation Ketsugō, accordingly. The Japanese planned an all-out defense of Kyūshū, with little left in reserve for any subsequent defense operations.[10] Four veteran divisions were withdrawn from the Kwantung Army in Manchuria in March 1945 to strengthen the forces in Japan,[11] and 45 new divisions were activated between February and May 1945. Most were immobile formations for coastal defense, but 16 were high quality mobile divisions.[12] In all, there were 2.3 million Japanese Army troops prepared to defend the home islands, backed by a civilian militia of 28 million men and women. Casualty predictions varied widely, but were extremely high. The Vice Chief of the Imperial Japanese Navy General Staff, Vice Admiral Takijirō Ōnishi, predicted up to 20 million Japanese deaths.[13]

A study from June 15, 1945, by the Joint War Plans Committee,[14] who provided planning information to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, estimated that Olympic would result in between 130,000 and 220,000 U.S. casualties of which U.S. dead would be the range from 25,000 to 46,000. Delivered on June 15, 1945, after insight gained from the Battle of Okinawa, the study noted Japan’s inadequate defenses due to the very effective sea blockade and the American firebombing campaign. The Chief of Staff of the United States Army, General of the Army George Marshall, and the Army Commander in Chief in the Pacific, General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, signed documents agreeing with the Joint War Plans Committee estimate.[15]

The Americans were alarmed by the Japanese buildup, which was accurately tracked through Ultra intelligence.[16] Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson was sufficiently concerned about high American estimates of probable casualties to commission his own study by Quincy Wright and William Shockley. Wright and Shockley spoke with Colonels James McCormack and Dean Rusk, and examined casualty forecasts by Michael E. DeBakey and Gilbert Beebe. Wright and Shockley estimated the invading Allies would suffer between 1.7 and 4 million casualties in such a scenario, of whom between 400,000 and 800,000 would be dead, while Japanese fatalities would have been around 5 to 10 million.[17][18]

Marshall began contemplating the use of a weapon which was “readily available and which assuredly can decrease the cost in American lives”:[19] poison gas. Quantities of phosgene, mustard gas, tear gas and cyanogen chloride were moved to Luzon from stockpiles in Australia and New Guinea in preparation for Operation Olympic, and MacArthur ensured that Chemical Warfare Service units were trained in their use.[19] Consideration was also given to using biological weapons against Japan.[20]

Air raids on Japan

Main article: Air raids on Japan

Black and white photo of a four engined World War II-era aircraft being viewed from above while it is flying over a city. A large cloud of smoke is visible immediately below the aircraft.

A B-29 over Osaka on June 1, 1945

While the United States had developed plans for an air campaign against Japan prior to the Pacific War, the capture of Allied bases in the western Pacific in the first weeks of the conflict meant that this offensive did not begin until mid-1944 when the long-ranged Boeing B-29 Superfortress became ready for use in combat.[21] Operation Matterhorn involved India-based B-29s staging through bases around Chengdu in China to make a series of raids on strategic targets in Japan.[22] This effort failed to achieve the strategic objectives that its planners had intended, largely because of logistical problems, the bomber’s mechanical difficulties, the vulnerability of Chinese staging bases, and the extreme range required to reach key Japanese cities.[23]

United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) Brigadier General Haywood S. Hansell determined that Guam, Tinian, and Saipan in the Mariana Islands would better serve as B-29 bases, but they were in Japanese hands.[24] Strategies were shifted to accommodate the air war,[25] and the islands were captured between June and August 1944. Air bases were developed,[26] and B-29 operations commenced from the Marianas in October 1944.[27] These bases were easily resupplied by cargo ships.[28] The XXI Bomber Command began missions against Japan on November 18, 1944.[29]

The early attempts to bomb Japan from the Marianas proved just as ineffective as the China-based B-29s had been. Hansell continued the practice of conducting so-called high-altitude precision bombing, aimed at key industries and transportation networks, even after these tactics had not produced acceptable results.[30] These efforts proved unsuccessful due to logistical difficulties with the remote location, technical problems with the new and advanced aircraft, unfavorable weather conditions, and enemy action.[31][32]

A vast devastated area with only a few burned out buildings standing

The Operation Meetinghouse firebombing of Tokyo on the night of March 9–10, 1945, was the single deadliest air raid of World War II;[33] with a greater area of fire damage and loss of life than the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima or Nagasaki as single events.[34][35]

Hansell’s successor, Major General Curtis LeMay, assumed command in January 1945 and initially continued to use the same precision bombing tactics, with equally unsatisfactory results. The attacks initially targeted key industrial facilities but much of the Japanese manufacturing process was carried out in small workshops and private homes.[36] Under pressure from USAAF headquarters in Washington, LeMay changed tactics and decided that low-level incendiary raids against Japanese cities were the only way to destroy their production capabilities, shifting from precision bombing to area bombardment with incendiaries.[37]

Like most strategic bombing during World War II, the aim of the USAAF offensive against Japan was to destroy the enemy’s war industries, kill or disable civilian employees of these industries, and undermine civilian morale. Civilians who took part in the war effort through such activities as building fortifications and manufacturing munitions and other war materials in factories and workshops were considered combatants in a legal sense and therefore liable to be attacked.[38][39]

Over the next six months, the XXI Bomber Command under LeMay firebombed 67 Japanese cities. The firebombing of Tokyo, codenamed Operation Meetinghouse, on March 9–10 killed an estimated 100,000 people and destroyed 16 square miles (41 km2) of the city and 267,000 buildings in a single night. It was the deadliest bombing raid of the war, at a cost of 20 B-29s shot down by flak and fighters.[40] By May, 75% of bombs dropped were incendiaries designed to burn down Japan’s “paper cities”. By mid-June, Japan’s six largest cities had been devastated.[41] The end of the fighting on Okinawa that month provided airfields even closer to the Japanese mainland, allowing the bombing campaign to be further escalated. Aircraft flying from Allied aircraft carriers and the Ryukyu Islands also regularly struck targets in Japan during 1945 in preparation for Operation Downfall.[42] Firebombing switched to smaller cities, with populations ranging from 60,000 to 350,000. According to Yuki Tanaka, the U.S. fire-bombed over a hundred Japanese towns and cities.[43] These raids were also very devastating.[44]

The Japanese military was unable to stop the Allied attacks and the country’s civil defense preparations proved inadequate. Japanese fighters and antiaircraft guns had difficulty engaging bombers flying at high altitude.[45] From April 1945, the Japanese interceptors also had to face American fighter escorts based on Iwo Jima and Okinawa.[46] That month, the Imperial Japanese Army Air Service and Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service stopped attempting to intercept the air raids in order to preserve fighter aircraft to counter the expected invasion.[47] By mid-1945 the Japanese only occasionally scrambled aircraft to intercept individual B-29s conducting reconnaissance sorties over the country, in order to conserve supplies of fuel.[48] By July 1945, the Japanese had stockpiled 1,156,000 US barrels (137,800,000 l; 36,400,000 US gal; 30,300,000 imp gal) of avgas for the invasion of Japan.[49] While the Japanese military decided to resume attacks on Allied bombers from late June, by this time there were too few operational fighters available for this change of tactics to hinder the Allied air raids.[50]

Atomic bomb development

Main article: Manhattan Project

Working in collaboration with the United Kingdom and Canada, with their respective projects Tube Alloys and Chalk River Laboratories,[51][52] the Manhattan Project, under the direction of Major General Leslie R. Groves, Jr., of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, designed and built the first atomic bombs.[53]

The uranium atom was first split by German physicists Otto Hahn and his assistant Fritz Strassmann in 1938, making the development of an atomic bomb a theoretical possibility. Fearing that the German atomic bomb project would develop atomic weapons first, preliminary research in the U.S. began in late 1939.[54] Progress was slow until the arrival of the British MAUD Committee report in late 1941 showed that only 5-10 kilograms, and not 500 tons, of pure uranium was needed. Arthur H. Compton set up the Metallurgical Laboratory in Chicago, where, on December 2, 1942 the first sustained nuclear chain reaction was achieved. Groves appointed J. Robert Oppenheimer to organize and head the project’s Los Alamos Laboratory in New Mexico.

Two types of bombs were eventually devised. The Hiroshima bomb, known as a Little Boy, was a gun-type fission weapon that used uranium-235, a rare isotope of uranium extracted in giant factories at Oak Ridge, Tennessee.[55] The other was a more powerful and efficient but more complicated implosion-type nuclear weapon using plutonium-239, a synthetic element created in nuclear reactors at Hanford, Washington. A test implosion weapon, the gadget, was detonated at Trinity Site, on July 16, 1945, near Alamogordo, New Mexico.[56] The Nagasaki bomb, a Fat Man, was a similar device.[57]

There was a Japanese nuclear weapon program, but it lacked the human, mineral and financial resources of the Manhattan Project, and never made much progress towards developing an atomic bomb.[58]

Preparations

Organization and training

Color photo of three silver four engined World War II-era aircraft neatly lined up alongside a runway

Aircraft of the 509th Composite Group that took part in the Hiroshima bombing. Left to right: Big Stink, The Great Artiste, Enola Gay

The 509th Composite Group was constituted on December 9, 1944, and activated on December 17, 1944, at Wendover Army Air Field, Utah, commanded by Colonel Paul Tibbets.[59] Tibbets was assigned to organize and command a combat group to develop the means of delivering an atomic weapon against targets in Germany and Japan. Because the flying squadrons of the group consisted of both bomber and transport aircraft, the group was designated as a “composite” rather than a “bombardment” unit.[60]

Working with the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos, Tibbets selected Wendover for his training base over Great Bend, Kansas, and Mountain Home, Idaho, because of its remoteness.[61] Each bombardier completed at least 50 practice drops of inert or conventional explosive pumpkin bombs and Tibbets declared his group combat-ready.[62]

Three men in military fatigues, without jackets or ties.

The “Tinian Joint Chiefs”: Captain William S. Parsons (left), Rear Admiral William R. Purnell (center), and Brigadier General Thomas F. Farrell (right)

The 509th Composite Group had an authorized strength of 225 officers and 1,542 enlisted men, almost all of whom eventually deployed to Tinian. In addition to its authorized strength, the 509th had attached to it on Tinian 51 civilian and military personnel from Project Alberta,[63] known as the 1st Technical Detachment.[64] The 509th Composite Group’s 393d Bombardment Squadron was equipped with 15 Silverplate B-29s. These aircraft were specially adapted to carry nuclear weapons, and were equipped with fuel-injected engines, Curtiss Electric reversible-pitch propellers, pneumatic actuators for rapid opening and closing of bomb bay doors and other improvements.[65]

The ground support echelon of the 509th Composite Group moved by rail on April 26, 1945, to its port of embarkation at Seattle, Washington. On May 6 the support elements sailed on the SS Cape Victory for the Marianas, while group materiel was shipped on the SS Emile Berliner. The Cape Victory made brief port calls at Honolulu and Eniwetok but the passengers were not permitted to leave the dock area. An advance party of the air echelon, consisting of 29 officers and 61 enlisted men flew by C-54 to North Field on Tinian, between May 15 and May 22.[66]

There were also two representatives from Washington, D.C., Brigadier General Thomas Farrell, the deputy commander of the Manhattan Project, and Rear Admiral William R. Purnell of the Military Policy Committee,[67] who were on hand to decide higher policy matters on the spot. Along with Captain William S. Parsons, the commander of Project Alberta, they became known as the “Tinian Joint Chiefs”.[68]

Choice of targets

map of Japan and the Marianas Islands indicating the routes taken by the raids. One goes straight to Iwo Jima and Hiroshima and back the same way. The other goes to the southern tip of Japan, up to Kokura, down to Nagasaki, and the southwest to Okinawa befofore heading back to Tinian.

The mission runs of August 6 and 9, with Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Kokura (the original target for August 9) displayed.

General Thomas Handy‘s order to General Carl Spaatz authorizing the dropping of the atomic bombs

In April 1945, Marshall asked Groves to nominate specific targets for bombing for final approval by himself and Stimson. Groves formed a Target Committee chaired by himself, that included Farrell, Major John A. Derry, Colonel William P. Fisher, Joyce C. Stearns and David M. Dennison from the USAAF; and scientists John von Neumann, Robert R. Wilson and William Penney from the Manhattan Project. The Target Committee met in Washington on April 27; at Los Alamos on May 10, where it was able to talk to the scientists and technicians there; and finally in Washington on May 28, where it was briefed by Tibbets and Commander Frederick Ashworth from Project Alberta, and the Manhattan Project’s scientific advisor, Richard C. Tolman.[69]

The Target Committee nominated five targets: Kokura, the site of one of Japan’s largest munitions plants; Hiroshima, an embarkation port and industrial center that was the site of a major military headquarters; Yokohama, an urban center for aircraft manufacture, machine tools, docks, electrical equipment and oil refineries; Niigata, a port with industrial facilities including steel and aluminum plants and an oil refinery; and Kyoto, a major industrial center. The target selection was subject to the following criteria:

  • The target was larger than 3 mi (4.8 km) in diameter and was an important target in a large urban area.
  • The blast would create effective damage.
  • The target was unlikely to be attacked by August 1945.[70]

These cities were largely untouched during the nightly bombing raids and the Army Air Forces agreed to leave them off the target list so accurate assessment of the weapon could be made. Hiroshima was described as “an important army depot and port of embarkation in the middle of an urban industrial area. It is a good radar target and it is such a size that a large part of the city could be extensively damaged. There are adjacent hills which are likely to produce a focusing effect which would considerably increase the blast damage. Due to rivers it is not a good incendiary target.”[70]

The Target Committee stated that “It was agreed that psychological factors in the target selection were of great importance. Two aspects of this are (1) obtaining the greatest psychological effect against Japan and (2) making the initial use sufficiently spectacular for the importance of the weapon to be internationally recognized when publicity on it is released. Kyoto had the advantage of being an important center for military industry, as well an intellectual center and hence a population better able to appreciate the significance of the weapon. The Emperor’s palace in Tokyo has a greater fame than any other target but is of least strategic value.”[70]

Edwin O. Reischauer, a Japan expert for the U.S. Army Intelligence Service, was incorrectly said to have prevented the bombing of Kyoto.[70] In his autobiography, Reischauer specifically refuted this claim:

… the only person deserving credit for saving Kyoto from destruction is Henry L. Stimson, the Secretary of War at the time, who had known and admired Kyoto ever since his honeymoon there several decades earlier.[71] [72]

On May 30, Stimson asked Groves to remove Kyoto from the target list, but Groves pointed to its military and industrial significance.[73] Stimson then approached President Harry S. Truman about the matter. Truman agreed with Stimson, and Kyoto was temporarily removed from the target list.[74] Groves attempted to restore Kyoto to the target list in July, but Stimson remained adamant.[75][76] On July 25, Nagasaki was put on the target list in place of Kyoto.[76] Orders for the attack were issued to General Carl Spaatz on July 25 under the signature of General Thomas T. Handy, the acting Chief of Staff, since Marshall was at the Potsdam Conference with Truman.[77] That day, Truman noted in his diary that:

This weapon is to be used against Japan between now and August 10th. I have told the Sec. of War, Mr. Stimson, to use it so that military objectives and soldiers and sailors are the target and not women and children. Even if the Japs are savages, ruthless, merciless and fanatic, we as the leader of the world for the common welfare cannot drop that terrible bomb on the old capital [Kyoto] or the new [Tokyo]. He and I are in accord. The target will be a purely military one.[78]

Proposed demonstration

In early May 1945, the Interim Committee was created by Stimson at the urging of leaders of the Manhattan Project and with the approval of Truman to advise on matters pertaining to nuclear energy.[79] During the meetings on May 31 and June 1, scientist Ernest Lawrence had suggested giving the Japanese a non-combat demonstration.[80] Arthur Compton later recalled that:

It was evident that everyone would suspect trickery. If a bomb were exploded in Japan with previous notice, the Japanese air power was still adequate to give serious interference. An atomic bomb was an intricate device, still in the developmental stage. Its operation would be far from routine. If during the final adjustments of the bomb the Japanese defenders should attack, a faulty move might easily result in some kind of failure. Such an end to an advertised demonstration of power would be much worse than if the attempt had not been made. It was now evident that when the time came for the bombs to be used we should have only one of them available, followed afterwards by others at all-too-long intervals. We could not afford the chance that one of them might be a dud. If the test were made on some neutral territory, it was hard to believe that Japan’s determined and fanatical military men would be impressed. If such an open test were made first and failed to bring surrender, the chance would be gone to give the shock of surprise that proved so effective. On the contrary, it would make the Japanese ready to interfere with an atomic attack if they could. Though the possibility of a demonstration that would not destroy human lives was attractive, no one could suggest a way in which it could be made so convincing that it would be likely to stop the war.[81]

The possibility of a demonstration was raised again in the Franck Report issued by physicist James Franck on June 11 and the Scientific Advisory Panel rejected his report on June 16, saying that “we can propose no technical demonstration likely to bring an end to the war; we see no acceptable alternative to direct military use.” Franck then took the report to Washington, D.C., where the Interim Committee met on June 21 to re-examine its earlier conclusions; but it reaffirmed that there was no alternative to the use of the bomb on a military target.[82]

Like Compton, many U.S. officials and scientists argued that a demonstration would sacrifice the shock value of the atomic attack, and the Japanese could deny the atomic bomb was lethal, making the mission less likely to produce surrender. Allied prisoners of war might be moved to the demonstration site and be killed by the bomb. They also worried that the bomb might be a dud since the Trinity test was of a stationary device, not an air-dropped bomb. In addition, only two bombs would be available at the start of August, although more were in production, and they cost billions of dollars, so using one for a demonstration would be expensive.[83][84]

Leaflets

B-29s dropping bombs. There are twelve circles with Japanese writing in them.

This type of leaflet was dropped on Japan, showing the names of 12 Japanese cities targeted for destruction by firebombing. The other side contained text saying “we cannot promise that only these cities will be among those attacked …”

For several months, the U.S. had dropped more than 63 million leaflets across Japan warning civilians of air raids. Many Japanese cities suffered terrible damage from aerial bombings; some were as much as 97% destroyed. LeMay thought that leaflets would increase the psychological impact of bombing, and reduce the international stigma of area-bombing cities. Even with the warnings, Japanese opposition to the war remained ineffective. In general, the Japanese regarded the leaflet messages as truthful, but anyone who was caught in possession of one was arrested.[85][86] Leaflet texts were prepared by recent Japanese prisoners of war because they were thought to be the best choice “to appeal to their compatriots”.[87]

In preparation for dropping an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, U.S. military leaders decided against a demonstration bomb, and against a special leaflet warning, in both cases because of the uncertainty of a successful detonation, and the wish to maximize psychological shock.[88] No warning was given to Hiroshima that a new and much more destructive bomb was going to be dropped.[89] Various sources give conflicting information about when the last leaflets were dropped on Hiroshima prior to the atomic bomb. Robert Jay Lifton writes that it was July 27,[89] and Theodore H. McNelly that it was July 3.[88] The USAAF history notes eleven cities were targeted with leaflets on July 27, but Hiroshima was not one of them, and there were no leaflet sorties on July 30.[86] Leaflet sorties were undertaken on August 1 and August 4. It is very likely that Hiroshima was leafleted in late July or early August, as survivor accounts talk about a delivery of leaflets a few days before the atomic bomb was dropped.[89] One such leaflet lists twelve cities targeted for firebombing: Otaru, Akita, Hachinohe, Fukushima, Urawa, Takayama, Iwakuni, Tottori, Imabari, Yawata, Miyakonojo, and Saga. Hiroshima was not listed.[90][91][92][93]

Potsdam Declaration

Truman delayed the start of the summit by two weeks in the hope that the bomb could be tested before the start of negotiations with Stalin. The Trinity Test of July 16 exceeded expectations. On July 26, Allied leaders issued the Potsdam Declaration outlining terms of surrender for Japan. It was presented as an ultimatum and stated that without a surrender, the Allies would attack Japan, resulting in “the inevitable and complete destruction of the Japanese armed forces and just as inevitably the utter devastation of the Japanese homeland”. The atomic bomb was not mentioned in the communiqué. On July 28, Japanese papers reported that the declaration had been rejected by the Japanese government. That afternoon, Prime Minister Suzuki Kantarō declared at a press conference that the Potsdam Declaration was no more than a rehash (yakinaoshi) of the Cairo Declaration and that the government intended to ignore it (mokusatsu, “kill by silence”).[94] The statement was taken by both Japanese and foreign papers as a clear rejection of the declaration. Emperor Hirohito, who was waiting for a Soviet reply to non-committal Japanese peace feelers, made no move to change the government position.[95] Japan’s willingness to surrender remained conditional on the preservation of the imperial institution; that Japan not be occupied; that the Japanese armed forces be disbanded voluntarily; and that war criminals be prosecuted by Japanese courts.[96]

Under the 1943 Quebec Agreement with the United Kingdom, the United States had agreed that nuclear weapons would not be used against another country without mutual consent. In June 1945 the head of the British Joint Staff Mission, Field Marshal Sir Henry Maitland Wilson, agreed that the use of nuclear weapons against Japan would be officially recorded as a decision of the Combined Policy Committee.[97] At Potsdam, Truman agreed to a request from Winston Churchill that Britain be represented when the atomic bomb was dropped. William Penney and Group Captain Leonard Cheshire were sent to Tinian, but found that LeMay would not let them accompany the mission. All they could do was send a strongly worded signal back to Wilson.[98]

Bombs

The Little Boy bomb, except for the uranium payload, was ready at the beginning of May 1945.[99] The uranium-235 projectile was completed on June 15, and the target on July 24.[100] The target and bomb pre-assemblies (partly assembled bombs without the fissile components) left Hunters Point Naval Shipyard, California, on July 16 aboard the cruiser USS Indianapolis, arriving July 26.[101] The target inserts followed by air on July 30.[100]

The first plutonium core, along with its poloniumberyllium urchin initiator, was transported in the custody of Project Alberta courier Raemer Schreiber in a magnesium field carrying case designed for the purpose by Philip Morrison. Magnesium was chosen because it does not act as a tamper.[102] The core departed from Kirtland Army Air Field on a C-54 transport aircraft of the 509th Composite Group’s 320th Troop Carrier Squadron on July 26, and arrived at North Field July 28. Three Fat Man high-explosive pre-assemblies, designated F31, F32, and F33, were picked up at Kirtland on July 28 by three B-29s, from the 393d Bombardment Squadron, plus one from the 216th Army Air Force Base Unit, and transported to North Field, arriving on August 2.[103]

Hiroshima

Hiroshima during World War II

A Silver aircraft with

The Enola Gay dropped the “Little Boy” atomic bomb on Hiroshima. In this photograph are five of the aircraft’s ground crew with mission commander Paul Tibbets in the center.

At the time of its bombing, Hiroshima was a city of both industrial and military significance. A number of military units were located nearby, the most important of which was the headquarters of Field Marshal Shunroku Hata‘s Second General Army, which commanded the defense of all of southern Japan,[104] and was located in Hiroshima Castle. Hata’s command consisted of some 400,000 men, most of whom were on Kyushu where an Allied invasion was correctly anticipated.[105] Also present in Hiroshima were the headquarters of the 59th Army, the 5th Division and the 224th Division, a recently formed mobile unit.[106] The city was defended by five batteries of 7-and-8-centimeter (2.8 and 3.1 in) anti-aircraft guns of the 3rd Anti-Aircraft Division, including units from the 121st and 122nd Anti-Aircraft Regiments and the 22nd and 45th Separate Anti-Aircraft Battalions. In total, over 40,000 military personnel were stationed in the city.[107]

Hiroshima was a minor supply and logistics base for the Japanese military, but it also had large stockpiles of military supplies.[108] The city was a communications center, a key port for shipping and an assembly area for troops.[73] It was also the second largest city in Japan after Kyoto that was still undamaged by air raids,[109] due to the fact that it lacked the aircraft manufacturing industry that was the XXI Bomber Command’s priority target. On July 3, the Joint Chiefs of Staff placed it off limits to bombers, along with Kokura, Niigata and Kyoto.[110]

The center of the city contained several reinforced concrete buildings and lighter structures. Outside the center, the area was congested by a dense collection of small wooden workshops set among Japanese houses. A few larger industrial plants lay near the outskirts of the city. The houses were constructed of wood with tile roofs, and many of the industrial buildings were also built around wood frames. The city as a whole was highly susceptible to fire damage.[111]

The population of Hiroshima had reached a peak of over 381,000 earlier in the war but prior to the atomic bombing, the population had steadily decreased because of a systematic evacuation ordered by the Japanese government. At the time of the attack, the population was approximately 340,000–350,000.[112] Residents wondered why Hiroshima had been spared destruction by firebombing.[113] Some speculated that the city was to be saved for U.S. occupation headquarters, others thought perhaps their relatives in Hawaii and California had petitioned the U.S. government to avoid bombing Hiroshima.[114] More realistic city officials had ordered buildings torn down to create long, straight firebreaks, beginning in 1944.[115] Firebreaks continued to be expanded and extended up to the morning of August 6, 1945.[116]

The bombing

Hiroshima was the primary target of the first nuclear bombing mission on August 6, with Kokura and Nagasaki as alternative targets. Having been fully briefed under the terms of Operations Order No. 35, the 393d Bombardment Squadron B-29 Enola Gay, piloted by Tibbets, took off from North Field, Tinian, about six hours’ flight time from Japan. The Enola Gay (named after Tibbets’ mother) was accompanied by two other B-29s. The Great Artiste, commanded by Major Charles Sweeney, carried instrumentation, and a then-nameless aircraft later called Necessary Evil, commanded by Captain George Marquardt, served as the photography aircraft.[117]

A mushroom cloud forming.

Seizo Yamada’s ground level photo taken approximately 7 km (4.3 mi) northeast of Hiroshima

Another view of the mushroom cloud forming, from further away.

Picture found in Honkawa Elementary School in 2013 of the Hiroshima atom bomb cloud, believed to have been taken about 30 minutes after detonation from about 10 km (6.2 mi) east of the hypocenter

Special Mission 13, Primary target Hiroshima, August 6, 1945[117][118]
Aircraft Pilot Call Sign Mission role
Straight Flush Major Claude R. Eatherly Dimples 85 Weather reconnaissance (Hiroshima)
Jabit III Major John A. Wilson Dimples 71 Weather reconnaissance (Kokura)
Full House Major Ralph R. Taylor Dimples 83 Weather reconnaissance (Nagasaki)
Enola Gay Colonel Paul W. Tibbets Dimples 82 Weapon delivery
The Great Artiste Major Charles W. Sweeney Dimples 89 Blast measurement instrumentation
Necessary Evil Captain. George W. Marquardt Dimples 91 Strike observation and photography
Top Secret Captain Charles F. McKnight Dimples 72 Strike spare—did not complete mission

After leaving Tinian the aircraft made their way separately to Iwo Jima to rendezvous with Sweeney and Marquardt at 05:55 at 9,200 feet (2,800 m),[119] and set course for Japan. The aircraft arrived over the target in clear visibility at 31,060 feet (9,470 m).[120] Parsons, who was in command of the mission, armed the bomb during the flight to minimize the risks during takeoff. He had witnessed four B-29s crash and burn at takeoff, and feared that a nuclear explosion would occur if a B-29 crashed with an armed Little Boy on board.[121] His assistant, Second Lieutenant Morris R. Jeppson, removed the safety devices 30 minutes before reaching the target area.[122]

During the night of August 5–6, Japanese early warning radar detected the approach of numerous American aircraft headed for the southern part of Japan. Radar detected 65 bombers headed for Saga, 102 bound for Maebashi, 261 en route to Nishinomiya, 111 headed for Ube and 66 bound for Imabari. An alert was given and radio broadcasting stopped in many cities, among them Hiroshima. The all-clear was sounded in Hiroshima at 00:05.[123] About an hour before the bombing, the air raid alert was sounded again, as Straight Flush flew over the city. It broadcast a short message which was picked up by Enola Gay. It read: “Cloud cover less than 3/10th at all altitudes. Advice: bomb primary.”[124] The all-clear was sounded over Hiroshima again at 07:09.[125]

At 08:09 Tibbets started his bomb run and handed control over to his bombardier, Major Thomas Ferebee.[126] The release at 08:15 (Hiroshima time) went as planned, and the Little Boy containing about 64 kg (141 lb) of uranium-235 took 44.4 seconds to fall from the aircraft flying at about 31,000 feet (9,400 m) to a detonation height of about 1,900 feet (580 m) above the city.[127][128][129] Enola Gay traveled 11.5 mi (18.5 km) before it felt the shock waves from the blast.[130]

Due to crosswind, the bomb missed the aiming point, the Aioi Bridge, by approximately 800 ft (240 m) and detonated directly over Shima Surgical Clinic[131] at

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34°23′41″N 132°27′17″E / 34.39468°N 132.45462°E / 34.39468; 132.45462. It created a blast equivalent to 16 kilotons of TNT (67 TJ), ± 2 kt.[128] The weapon was considered very inefficient, with only 1.7% of its material fissioning.[132] The radius of total destruction was about 1 mile (1.6 km), with resulting fires across 4.4 square miles (11 km2).[133]

People on the ground reported seeing a pika or brilliant flash of light followed by a don, a loud booming sound.[134] Some 70,000–80,000 people, of whom 20,000 were soldiers, or around 30% of the population of Hiroshima, were killed by the blast and resultant firestorm,[135][136] and another 70,000 injured.[137]

Events on the ground

Some of the reinforced concrete buildings in Hiroshima had been very strongly constructed because of the earthquake danger in Japan, and their framework did not collapse even though they were fairly close to the blast center. Since the bomb detonated in the air, the blast was directed more downward than sideways, which was largely responsible for the survival of the Prefectural Industrial Promotional Hall, now commonly known as the Genbaku (A-bomb) dome. This building was designed and built by the Czech architect Jan Letzel, and was only 150 m (490 ft) from ground zero. The ruin was named Hiroshima Peace Memorial and was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996 over the objections of the United States and China, which expressed reservations on the grounds that other Asian nations were the ones who suffered the greatest loss of life and property, and a focus on Japan lacked historical perspective.[138]

The Americans estimated that 4.7 square miles (12 km2) of the city were destroyed. Japanese officials determined that 69% of Hiroshima’s buildings were destroyed and another 6–7% damaged.[139] The bombing started fires that spread rapidly through wood and paper homes. As in other Japanese cities, the firebreaks proved ineffective.[140]

Hiroshima bombing
A devastated area very similar to the one of Tokyo above
Hiroshima aftermath
A typed page of instructions
Strike order for the Hiroshima bombing as posted on August 5, 1945
People sitting and lying on the ground
Injured civilian casualties
A burned out domed building surrounded by rubble
The Hiroshima Genbaku Dome after the bombing
A woman's back, with chequered-shaped burns
The dark portions of the garments this victim wore during the flash caused burns on the skin

Eizō Nomura was the closest known survivor, who was in the basement of a reinforced concrete building (it remained as the Rest House after the war) only 170 metres (560 ft) from ground zero (the hypocenter) at the time of the attack.[141][142] He lived into his 80s.[143][144] Akiko Takakura was among the closest survivors to the hypocenter of the blast. She had been in the solidly built Bank of Hiroshima only 300 meters (980 ft) from ground-zero at the time of the attack.[145]

Over 90% of the doctors and 93% of the nurses in Hiroshima were killed or injured—most had been in the downtown area which received the greatest damage.[146] The hospitals were destroyed or heavily damaged. Only one doctor, Terufumi Sasaki, remained on duty at the Red Cross Hospital.[140] Nonetheless, by early afternoon, the police and volunteers had established evacuation centres at hospitals, schools and tram stations, and a morgue was established in the Asano library.[147]

Most elements of the Japanese Second General Army headquarters were at physical training on the grounds of Hiroshima Castle, barely 900 yards (820 m) from the hypocenter. The attack killed 3,243 troops on the parade ground.[148] The communications room of Chugoku Military District Headquarters that was responsible for issuing and lifting air raid warnings was in a semi-basement in the castle. Yoshie Oka, a Hijiyama Girls High School student who had been mobilized to serve as a communications officer had just sent a message that the alarm had been issued for Hiroshima and Yamaguchi when the bomb exploded. She used a special phone to inform Fukuyama Headquarters that “Hiroshima has been attacked by a new type of bomb. The city is in a state of near-total destruction.”[149]

Since Mayor Senkichi Awaya had been killed while eating breakfast with his son and granddaughter at the mayoral residence, Field Marshal Hata, who was only slightly wounded, took over the administration of the city, and coordinated relief efforts. Many of his staff had been killed or fatally wounded, including a Korean prince of the Joseon Dynasty, Yi Wu, who was serving as a lieutenant colonel in the Japanese Army.[150][151] Hata’s senior surviving staff officer was the wounded Colonel Kumao Imoto, who acted as his chief of staff. Hiroshima Ujina Harbor was undamaged, and soldiers from there used suicide boats intended to repel the American invasion to collect the wounded, and take them down the rivers to the military hospital at Ujina.[150] Trucks and trains brought in relief supplies and evacuated survivors from the city.[152]

Twelve American airmen were imprisoned at the Chugoku Military Police Headquarters located about 1,300 feet (400 m) from the hypocenter of the blast.[153] Most died instantly, although two were reported to have been executed by their captors, and two prisoners badly injured by the bombing were left next to the Aioi Bridge by the Kempei Tai, where they were stoned to death.[154] Later reports indicated that 8 US prisoners of war held in Hiroshima Castle and executed as part of medical experiments program prior to the bombing were reported by Japanese authorities as having been killed in the atomic blast.[155]

Japanese realization of the bombing

Hiroshima before the bombing.
Hiroshima after the bombing.

The Tokyo control operator of the Japan Broadcasting Corporation noticed that the Hiroshima station had gone off the air. He tried to re-establish his program by using another telephone line, but it too had failed.[156] About 20 minutes later the Tokyo railroad telegraph center realized that the main line telegraph had stopped working just north of Hiroshima. From some small railway stops within 16 km (9.9 mi) of the city came unofficial and confused reports of a terrible explosion in Hiroshima. All these reports were transmitted to the headquarters of the Imperial Japanese Army General Staff.[157]

Military bases repeatedly tried to call the Army Control Station in Hiroshima. The complete silence from that city puzzled the General Staff; they knew that no large enemy raid had occurred and that no sizable store of explosives was in Hiroshima at that time. A young officer was instructed to fly immediately to Hiroshima, to land, survey the damage, and return to Tokyo with reliable information for the staff. It was felt that nothing serious had taken place and that the explosion was just a rumor.[157]

The staff officer went to the airport and took off for the southwest. After flying for about three hours, while still nearly 160 km (99 mi) from Hiroshima, he and his pilot saw a great cloud of smoke from the bomb. In the bright afternoon, the remains of Hiroshima were burning. Their plane soon reached the city, around which they circled in disbelief. A great scar on the land still burning and covered by a heavy cloud of smoke was all that was left. They landed south of the city, and the staff officer, after reporting to Tokyo, began to organize relief measures.[157]

Events of August 7–9

Brownish leaflet covered in Japanese writing

Leaflet AB11,[158] with information on the Hiroshima bomb and a warning to civilians to petition the Emperor to surrender was dropped over Japan beginning on August 9,[158] by the 509th Composite Group on the bombing mission. Although it is not identified by them, an AB11 is in the possession of the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum.[159]

President Truman announces the bombing of Hiroshima.

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After the Hiroshima bombing, Truman issued a statement announcing the use of the new weapon. He stated, “We may be grateful to Providence” that the German atomic bomb project had failed, and that the United States and its allies had “spent two billion dollars on the greatest scientific gamble in history—and won.” Truman then warned Japan: “If they do not now accept our terms, they may expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth. Behind this air attack will follow sea and land forces in such numbers and power as they have not yet seen and with the fighting skill of which they are already well aware.”[160]

The Japanese government did not react. Emperor Hirohito, the government, and the war council considered four conditions for surrender: the preservation of the kokutai (Imperial institution and national polity), assumption by the Imperial Headquarters of responsibility for disarmament and demobilization, no occupation of the Japanese Home Islands, Korea, or Formosa, and delegation of the punishment of war criminals to the Japanese government.[161]

The Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov informed Tokyo of the Soviet Union’s unilateral abrogation of the Soviet–Japanese Neutrality Pact on August 5. At two minutes past midnight on August 9, Tokyo time, Soviet infantry, armor, and air forces had launched the Manchurian Strategic Offensive Operation.[162] Four hours later, word reached Tokyo of the Soviet Union’s official declaration of war. The senior leadership of the Japanese Army began preparations to impose martial law on the nation, with the support of Minister of War Korechika Anami, in order to stop anyone attempting to make peace.[163]

On August 7, a day after Hiroshima was destroyed, Dr. Yoshio Nishina and other atomic physicists arrived at the city, and carefully examined the damage. They then went back to Tokyo and told the cabinet that Hiroshima was indeed destroyed by an atomic bomb. Admiral Soemu Toyoda, the Chief of the Naval General Staff, estimated that no more than one or two additional bombs could be readied, so they decided to endure the remaining attacks, acknowledging “there would be more destruction but the war would go on.”[164] American Magic codebreakers intercepted the cabinet’s messages.[165]

Purnell, Parsons, Tibbets, Spaatz, and LeMay met on Guam that same day to discuss what should be done next.[166] Since there was no indication of Japan surrendering,[165] they decided to proceed with dropping another bomb. Parsons said that Project Alberta would have it ready by August 11, but Tibbets pointed to weather reports indicating poor flying conditions on that day due to a storm, and asked if the bomb could be readied by August 9. Parsons agreed to try to do so.[167][166]

Nagasaki

I realize the tragic significance of the atomic bomb … It is an awful responsibility which has come to us … We thank God that it has come to us, instead of to our enemies; and we pray that He may guide us to use it in His ways and for His purposes.

—President Harry S. Truman, August 9, 1945[168]

Nagasaki during World War II

Formal picture of ten men in uniform. Five are standing and five are kneeling. In contrast to the Enola Gay picture, all are in correct uniform. The five standing are wearing ties, and all but one of the ten wears a peaked cap or garrison cap.

The Bockscar and its crew, who dropped the Fat Man atomic bomb on Nagasaki

The city of Nagasaki had been one of the largest seaports in southern Japan, and was of great wartime importance because of its wide-ranging industrial activity, including the production of ordnance, ships, military equipment, and other war materials. The four largest companies in the city were Mitsubishi Shipyards, Electrical Shipyards, Arms Plant, and Steel and Arms Works, which employed about 90% of the city’s labor force, and accounted for 90% of the city’s industry.[169] Although an important industrial city, Nagasaki had been spared from firebombing because its geography made it difficult to locate at night with AN/APQ-13 radar.[110]

Unlike the other target cities, Nagasaki had not been placed off limits to bombers by the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s July 3 directive,[110][170] and was bombed on a small scale five times. During one of these raids on August 1, a number of conventional high-explosive bombs were dropped on the city. A few hit the shipyards and dock areas in the southwest portion of the city, and several hit the Mitsubishi Steel and Arms Works.[169] By early August, the city was defended by the IJA 134th Anti-Aircraft Regiment of the 4th Anti-Aircraft Division with four batteries of 7 cm (2.8 in) anti-aircraft guns and two searchlight batteries.[107]

In contrast to Hiroshima, almost all of the buildings were of old-fashioned Japanese construction, consisting of wood or wood-frame buildings with wood walls (with or without plaster) and tile roofs. Many of the smaller industries and business establishments were also situated in buildings of wood or other materials not designed to withstand explosions. Nagasaki had been permitted to grow for many years without conforming to any definite city zoning plan; residences were erected adjacent to factory buildings and to each other almost as closely as possible throughout the entire industrial valley. On the day of the bombing, an estimated 263,000 people were in Nagasaki, including 240,000 Japanese residents, 10,000 Korean residents, 2,500 conscripted Korean workers, 9,000 Japanese soldiers, 600 conscripted Chinese workers, and 400 Allied prisoners of war in a camp to the north of Nagasaki.[171][172]

The bombing

Responsibility for the timing of the second bombing was delegated to Tibbets. Scheduled for August 11 against Kokura, the raid was moved earlier by two days to avoid a five-day period of bad weather forecast to begin on August 10.[173] Three bomb pre-assemblies had been transported to Tinian, labeled F-31, F-32, and F-33 on their exteriors. On August 8, a dress rehearsal was conducted off Tinian by Sweeney using Bockscar as the drop airplane. Assembly F-33 was expended testing the components and F-31 was designated for the August 9 mission.[174]

Special Mission 16, Secondary target Nagasaki, August 9, 1945[175]
Aircraft Pilot Call Sign Mission role
Enola Gay Captain George W. Marquardt Dimples 82 Weather reconnaissance (Kokura)
Laggin’ Dragon Captain Charles F. McKnight Dimples 95 Weather reconnaissance (Nagasaki)
Bockscar Major Charles W. Sweeney Dimples 77 Weapon Delivery
The Great Artiste Captain Frederick C. Bock Dimples 89 Blast measurement instrumentation
Big Stink Major James I. Hopkins, Jr. Dimples 90 Strike observation and photography
Full House Major Ralph R. Taylor Dimples 83 Strike spare—did not complete mission

At 03:49 on the morning of August 9, 1945, Bockscar, flown by Sweeney’s crew, carried Fat Man, with Kokura as the primary target and Nagasaki the secondary target. The mission plan for the second attack was nearly identical to that of the Hiroshima mission, with two B-29s flying an hour ahead as weather scouts and two additional B-29s in Sweeney’s flight for instrumentation and photographic support of the mission. Sweeney took off with his weapon already armed but with the electrical safety plugs still engaged.[176]

A page of typed instructions

Strike order for the Nagasaki bombing as posted August 8, 1945

During pre-flight inspection of Bockscar, the flight engineer notified Sweeney that an inoperative fuel transfer pump made it impossible to use 640 US gallons (2,400 l; 530 imp gal) of fuel carried in a reserve tank. This fuel would still have to be carried all the way to Japan and back, consuming still more fuel. Replacing the pump would take hours; moving the Fat Man to another aircraft might take just as long and was dangerous as well, as the bomb was live. Tibbets and Sweeney therefore elected to have Bockscar continue the mission.[177][178]

This time Penney and Cheshire were allowed to accompany the mission, flying as observers on the third plane, Big Stink, flown by the group’s operations officer, Major James I. Hopkins, Jr. Observers aboard the weather planes reported both targets clear. When Sweeney’s aircraft arrived at the assembly point for his flight off the coast of Japan, Big Stink failed to make the rendezvous.[176] According to Cheshire, Hopkins was at varying heights including 9,000 feet (2,700 m) higher than he should have been, and was not flying tight circles over Yakushima as previously agreed with Sweeney and Captain Frederick C. Bock, who was piloting the support B-29 The Great Artiste. Instead, Hopkins was flying 40-mile (64 km) dogleg patterns.[179] Though ordered not to circle longer than fifteen minutes, Sweeney continued to wait for Big Stink, at the urging of Ashworth, the plane’s weaponeer, who was in command of the mission.[180]

Atomic cloud over Nagasaki

After exceeding the original departure time limit by a half hour, Bockscar, accompanied by The Great Artiste, proceeded to Kokura, thirty minutes away. The delay at the rendezvous had resulted in clouds and drifting smoke from fires started by a major firebombing raid by 224 B-29s on nearby Yahata the previous day over Kokura. Additionally, the Yawata Steel Works intentionally burned coal tar, to produce black smoke.[181] The clouds and smoke resulted in 70% of the area over Kokura being covered, obscuring the aiming point. Three bomb runs were made over the next 50 minutes, burning fuel and exposing the aircraft repeatedly to the heavy defenses of Yawata, but the bombardier was unable to drop visually. By the time of the third bomb run, Japanese antiaircraft fire was getting close, and Second Lieutenant Jacob Beser, who was monitoring Japanese communications, reported activity on the Japanese fighter direction radio bands.[182]

After three runs over the city, and with fuel running low because of the failed fuel pump, they headed for their secondary target, Nagasaki.[176] Fuel consumption calculations made en route indicated that Bockscar had insufficient fuel to reach Iwo Jima and would be forced to divert to Okinawa. After initially deciding that if Nagasaki were obscured on their arrival the crew would carry the bomb to Okinawa and dispose of it in the ocean if necessary, Ashworth ruled that a radar approach would be used if the target was obscured.[183]

At about 07:50 Japanese time, an air raid alert was sounded in Nagasaki, but the “all clear” signal was given at 08:30. When only two B-29 Superfortresses were sighted at 10:53, the Japanese apparently assumed that the planes were only on reconnaissance and no further alarm was given.[184]

The before image looks like a city. In the after image, everything has been obliterated and it is recognisable as the same area only by the rivers running through it, which form an island in the centre of the photographs.

Nagasaki before and after bombing

A few minutes later at 11:00, The Great Artiste dropped instruments attached to three parachutes. These instruments also contained an unsigned letter to Professor Ryokichi Sagane, a physicist at the University of Tokyo who studied with three of the scientists responsible for the atomic bomb at the University of California, Berkeley, urging him to tell the public about the danger involved with these weapons of mass destruction. The messages were found by military authorities but not turned over to Sagane until a month later.[185] In 1949, one of the authors of the letter, Luis Alvarez, met with Sagane and signed the document.[186]

At 11:01, a last-minute break in the clouds over Nagasaki allowed Bockscar’s bombardier, Captain Kermit Beahan, to visually sight the target as ordered. The Fat Man weapon, containing a core of about 6.4 kg (14 lb) of plutonium, was dropped over the city’s industrial valley at

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32°46′25″N 129°51′48″E / 32.77372°N 129.86325°E / 32.77372; 129.86325. It exploded 47 seconds later at 1,650 ± 33 ft (503 ± 10 m), above a tennis court[187] halfway between the Mitsubishi Steel and Arms Works in the south and the Mitsubishi-Urakami Ordnance Works (Torpedo Works) in the north. This was nearly 3 km (1.9 mi) northwest of the planned hypocenter; the blast was confined to the Urakami Valley and a major portion of the city was protected by the intervening hills.[188] The resulting explosion had a blast yield equivalent to 21 ± 2 kt (87.9 ± 8.4 TJ).[128] The explosion generated heat estimated at 3,900 °C (7,050 °F) and winds that were estimated at 1,005 km/h (624 mph).[189]

Big Stink spotted the explosion from a hundred miles away, and flew over to observe.[190] Because of the delays in the mission and the inoperative fuel transfer pump, Bockscar did not have sufficient fuel to reach the emergency landing field at Iwo Jima, so Sweeney and Bock flew to Okinawa. Arriving there, Sweeney circled for 20 minutes trying to contact the control tower for landing clearance, finally concluding that his radio was faulty. Critically low on fuel, Bockscar barely made it to the runway on Okinawa’s Yontan Airfield. With enough fuel for only one landing attempt, Sweeney and Albury brought Bockscar in at 150 miles per hour (240 km/h) instead of the normal 120 miles per hour (190 km/h), firing distress flares to alert the field of the uncleared landing. The number two engine died from fuel starvation as Bockscar began its final approach. Touching the runway hard, the heavy B-29 slewed left and towards a row of parked B-24 bombers before the pilots managed to regain control. The B-29’s reversible propellers were insufficient to slow the aircraft adequately, and with both pilots standing on the brakes, Bockscar made a swerving 90-degree turn at the end of the runway to avoid running off the runway. A second engine died from fuel exhaustion by the time the plane came to a stop. The flight engineer later measured fuel in the tanks and concluded that less than five minutes total remained.[191]

Following the mission, there was confusion over the identification of the plane. The first eyewitness account by war correspondent William L. Laurence of the New York Times, who accompanied the mission aboard the aircraft piloted by Bock, reported that Sweeney was leading the mission in The Great Artiste. He also noted its “Victor” number as 77, which was that of Bockscar, writing that several personnel commented that 77 was also the jersey number of the football player Red Grange.[192] Laurence had interviewed Sweeney and his crew, and was aware that they referred to their airplane as The Great Artiste. Except for Enola Gay, none of the 393d’s B-29s had yet had names painted on the noses, a fact which Laurence himself noted in his account. Unaware of the switch in aircraft, Laurence assumed Victor 77 was The Great Artiste,[193] which was in fact, Victor 89.[194]

Events on the ground

A boy lying down. His back is bloody.

A photograph of Sumiteru Taniguchi‘s back injuries taken in January 1946 by a U.S. Marine photographer

Although the bomb was more powerful than the one used on Hiroshima, the effect was confined by hillsides to the narrow Urakami Valley.[195] Of 7,500 Japanese employees who worked inside the Mitsubishi Munitions plant, including mobilized students and regular workers, 6,200 were killed. Some 17,000–22,000 others who worked in other war plants and factories in the city died as well.[196] Casualty estimates for immediate deaths vary widely, ranging from 22,000 to 75,000.[197][198][199][200] In the days and months following the explosion, more people died from bomb effects. Because of the presence of undocumented foreign workers, and a number of military personnel in transit, there are great discrepancies in the estimates of total deaths by the end of 1945; a range of 39,000 to 80,000 can be found in various studies.[112][200]

Unlike Hiroshima’s military death toll, only 150 soldiers were killed instantly, including thirty-six from the IJA 134th AAA Regiment of the 4th AAA Division.[107][201] At least eight known POWs died from the bombing and as many as 13 may have died, including a British citizen, Royal Air Force Corporal Ronald Shaw,[202] and seven Dutch POWs.[203] One American POW, Joe Kieyoomia, was in Nagasaki at the time of the bombing but survived, reportedly having been shielded from the effects of the bomb by the concrete walls of his cell.[204] There were 24 Australian POWs in Nagasaki, all of whom survived.[205]

The radius of total destruction was about 1 mi (1.6 km), followed by fires across the northern portion of the city to 2 mi (3.2 km) south of the bomb.[133][206] About 58% of the Mitsubishi Arms Plant was damaged, and about 78% of the Mitsubishi Steel Works. The Mitsubishi Electric Works suffered only 10% structural damage as it was on the border of the main destruction zone. The Mitsubishi-Urakami Ordnance Works, the factory that manufactured the type 91 torpedoes released in the attack on Pearl Harbor, was destroyed in the blast.[207]

Plans for more atomic attacks on Japan

A pile of rubble surmounted by a statue of Buddha

A Japanese report on the bombing characterized Nagasaki as “like a graveyard with not a tombstone standing”

Groves expected to have another atomic bomb ready for use on August 19, with three more in September and a further three in October.[84] On August 10, he sent a memorandum to Marshall in which he wrote that “the next bomb … should be ready for delivery on the first suitable weather after 17 or 18 August.” On the same day, Marshall endorsed the memo with the comment, “It is not to be released over Japan without express authority from the President.”[84] Truman had secretly requested this on August 10. This modified the previous order that the target cities were to be attacked with atomic bombs “as made ready”.[208]

There was already discussion in the War Department about conserving the bombs then in production for Operation Downfall. “The problem now [August 13] is whether or not, assuming the Japanese do not capitulate, to continue dropping them every time one is made and shipped out there or whether to hold them … and then pour them all on in a reasonably short time. Not all in one day, but over a short period. And that also takes into consideration the target that we are after. In other words, should we not concentrate on targets that will be of the greatest assistance to an invasion rather than industry, morale, psychology, and the like? Nearer the tactical use rather than other use.”[84]

Two more Fat Man assemblies were readied, and scheduled to leave Kirtland Field for Tinian on August 11 and August 14,[209] and Tibbets was ordered by LeMay to return to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to collect them.[210] At Los Alamos, technicians worked 24 hours straight to cast another plutonium core.[211] Although cast, it still needed to be pressed and coated, which would take until August 16.[212] Therefore, it could have been ready for use on August 19. However, unable to reach Marshall, Groves ordered on his own authority on August 13 that the core should not be shipped.[208]

Surrender of Japan and subsequent occupation

Until August 9, Japan’s war council still insisted on its four conditions for surrender. On that day Hirohito ordered Kōichi Kido to “quickly control the situation … because the Soviet Union has declared war against us.” He then held an Imperial conference during which he authorized minister Shigenori Tōgō to notify the Allies that Japan would accept their terms on one condition, that the declaration “does not comprise any demand which prejudices the prerogatives of His Majesty as a Sovereign ruler.”[213]

On August 12, the Emperor informed the imperial family of his decision to surrender. One of his uncles, Prince Asaka, then asked whether the war would be continued if the kokutai could not be preserved. Hirohito simply replied “Of course.”[214] As the Allied terms seemed to leave intact the principle of the preservation of the Throne, Hirohito recorded on August 14 his capitulation announcement which was broadcast to the Japanese nation the next day despite a short rebellion by militarists opposed to the surrender.[215]

In his declaration, Hirohito referred to the atomic bombings:

Moreover, the enemy now possesses a new and terrible weapon with the power to destroy many innocent lives and do incalculable damage. Should we continue to fight, not only would it result in an ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation, but also it would lead to the total extinction of human civilization.

Such being the case, how are We to save the millions of Our subjects, or to atone Ourselves before the hallowed spirits of Our Imperial Ancestors? This is the reason why We have ordered the acceptance of the provisions of the Joint Declaration of the Powers.[216]

In his “Rescript to the Soldiers and Sailors” delivered on August 17, he stressed the impact of the Soviet invasion and his decision to surrender, omitting any mention of the bombs.[217] Hirohito met with General MacArthur on September 27, saying to him that “[t]he peace party did not prevail until the bombing of Hiroshima created a situation which could be dramatized.” Furthermore, the “Rescript to the Soldiers and Sailors” speech he told MacArthur about was just personal, not political, and never stated that the Soviet intervention in Manchuria was the main reason for surrender. In fact, a day after the bombing of Nagasaki and the Soviet invasion of Manchuria, Hirohito ordered his advisers, primarily Chief Cabinet Secretary Hisatsune Sakomizu, Kawada Mizuho, and Masahiro Yasuoka, to write up a surrender speech. In Hirohito’s speech, days before announcing it on radio on August 15, he gave three major reasons for surrender: Tokyo’s defenses would not be complete before the American invasion of Japan, Ise Shrine would be lost to the Americans, and atomic weapons deployed by the Americans would lead to the death of the entire Japanese race. Despite the Soviet intervention, Hirohito did not mention the Soviets as the main factor for surrender.[218]

Depiction, public response and censorship

Life among the rubble in Hiroshima in March and April 1946. Film footage taken by Lieutenant Daniel A. McGovern (director) and Harry Mimura (cameraman) for a United States Strategic Bombing Survey project.

During the war “annihilationist and exterminationalist rhetoric” was tolerated at all levels of U.S. society; according to the British embassy in Washington the Americans regarded the Japanese as “a nameless mass of vermin”.[219] Caricatures depicting Japanese as less than human, e.g. monkeys, were common.[219] A 1944 opinion poll that asked what should be done with Japan found that 13% of the U.S. public were in favor of “killing off” all Japanese men, women, and children.[220][221]

After the Hiroshima bomb detonated successfully, Robert Oppenheimer addressed an assembly at Los Alamos “clasping his hands together like a prize-winning boxer”.[222] The Vatican was less enthusiastic; its newspaper L’Osservatore Romano expressed regret that the bomb’s inventors did not destroy the weapon for the benefit of humanity.[223] Nonetheless, news of the atomic bombing was greeted enthusiastically in the U.S.; a poll in Fortune magazine in late 1945 showed a significant minority of Americans (22.7%) wishing that more atomic bombs could have been dropped on Japan.[224][225] The initial positive response was supported by the imagery presented to the public (mainly the powerful images of the mushroom cloud) and the censorship of photographs that showed corpses and maimed survivors.[224]

Wilfred Burchett was the first journalist to visit Hiroshima after the atom bomb was dropped, arriving alone by train from Tokyo on September 2, the day of the formal surrender aboard the USS Missouri. His Morse code dispatch was printed by the Daily Express newspaper in London on September 5, 1945, entitled “The Atomic Plague”, the first public report to mention the effects of radiation and nuclear fallout.[226] Burchett’s reporting was unpopular with the U.S. military. The U.S. censors suppressed a supporting story submitted by George Weller of the Chicago Daily News, and accused Burchett of being under the sway of Japanese propaganda. Laurence dismissed the reports on radiation sickness as Japanese efforts to undermine American morale, ignoring his own account of Hiroshima’s radiation sickness published one week earlier.[227]

The Hiroshima ruins in March and April 1946, by Daniel A. McGovern and Harry Mimura

A member of the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, Lieutenant Daniel McGovern, used a film crew to document the results in early 1946.[228] The film crew’s work resulted in a three-hour documentary entitled The Effects of the Atomic Bombs Against Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The documentary included images from hospitals showing the human effects of the bomb; it showed burned out buildings and cars, and rows of skulls and bones on the ground. It was classified “secret” for the next 22 years.[229] During this time in America, it was a common practice for editors to keep graphic images of death out of films, magazines, and newspapers.[230] The total of 90,000 ft (27,000 m) of film shot by McGovern’s cameramen had not been fully aired as of 2009. According to Greg Mitchell, with the 2004 documentary film Original Child Bomb, a small part of that footage managed to reach part of the American public “in the unflinching and powerful form its creators intended”.[228]

Motion picture company Nippon Eigasha started sending cameramen to Nagasaki and Hiroshima in September 1945. On October 24, 1945, a U.S. military policeman stopped a Nippon Eigasha cameraman from continuing to film in Nagasaki. All Nippon Eigasha’s reels were then confiscated by the American authorities. These reels were in turn requested by the Japanese government, declassified, and saved from oblivion. Some black-and-white motion pictures were released and shown for the first time to Japanese and American audiences in the years from 1968 to 1970.[228] The public release of film footage of the city post attack, and some research about the human effects of the attack, was restricted during the occupation of Japan, and much of this information was censored until the signing of the San Francisco Peace Treaty in 1951, restoring control to the Japanese.[231]

Only the most sensitive and detailed weapons effects information was censored during this period. There was no censorship of the factually written accounts. For example, the book Hiroshima written by Pulitzer Prize winner John Hersey, which was originally published in article form in the popular magazine The New Yorker,[232] on August 31, 1946, is reported to have reached Tokyo in English by January 1947, and the translated version was released in Japan in 1949.[233][234][235] The book narrates the stories of the lives of six bomb survivors from immediately prior, to months after, the dropping of the Little Boy bomb.[232]

Post-attack casualties

Film footage taken in Hiroshima in March 1946 showing victims with severe burns

In the spring of 1948, the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission (ABCC) was established in accordance with a presidential directive from Truman to the National Academy of SciencesNational Research Council to conduct investigations of the late effects of radiation among the survivors in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.[236] One of the early studies conducted by the ABCC was on the outcome of pregnancies occurring in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and in a control city, Kure, located 18 mi (29 km) south of Hiroshima, in order to discern the conditions and outcomes related to radiation exposure.[237] Dr. James V. Neel led the study which found that the number of birth defects was not significantly higher among the children of survivors who were pregnant at the time of the bombings.[238] The National Academy of Sciences questioned Neel’s procedure which did not filter the Kure population for possible radiation exposure.[239] Among the observed birth defects there was a higher incidence of brain malformation in Nagasaki and Hiroshima, including microencephaly and anencephaly, about 2.75 times the rate seen in Kure.[240][241]

In 1985, Johns Hopkins University human geneticist James F. Crow examined Neel’s research and confirmed that the number of birth defects was not significantly higher in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.[242] Many members of the ABCC and its successor Radiation Effects Research Foundation (RERF) were still looking for possible birth defects or other causes among the survivors decades later, but found no evidence that they were common among the survivors.[243][244] Despite the insignificance of birth defects found in Neel’s study, historian Ronald E. Powaski wrote that Hiroshima experienced “an increase in stillbirths, birth defects, and infant mortality” following the atomic bomb.[245] Neel also studied the longevity of the children who survived the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, reporting that between 90 and 95 percent were still living 50 years later.[243]

Around 1,900 cancer deaths can be attributed to the after-effects of the bombs. An epidemiology study by the RERF states that from 1950 to 2000, 46% of leukemia deaths and 11% of solid cancer deaths among the bomb survivors were due to radiation from the bombs, the statistical excess being estimated at 200 leukemia and 1,700 solid cancers.[246]

Hibakusha

Main article: Hibakusha
See also: Hibakujumoku
A rectangular column rises above a dark stone base with Japanese writing on it. It sits atop a grass mound with is surrounded by alternating circles of stone path and grass. The is a wall around the whole monument, and bushes beyond.

Panoramic view of the monument marking the hypocenter, or ground zero, of the atomic bomb explosion over Nagasaki

The survivors of the bombings are called hibakusha (被爆者?, Japanese pronunciation: [çiβa̠kɯ̥ᵝɕʲa̠]), a Japanese word that literally translates to “explosion-affected people.” As of March 31, 2014[update], 192,719 hibakusha were recognized by the Japanese government, most living in Japan.[247] The government of Japan recognizes about 1% of these as having illnesses caused by radiation.[248] The memorials in Hiroshima and Nagasaki contain lists of the names of the hibakusha who are known to have died since the bombings. Updated annually on the anniversaries of the bombings, as of August 2014[update] the memorials record the names of more than 450,000 hibakusha; 292,325 in Hiroshima[249] and 165,409 in Nagasaki.[250]

Hibakusha and their children were (and still are) victims of severe discrimination in Japan due to public ignorance about the consequences of radiation sickness, with much of the public believing it to be hereditary or even contagious.[251] This is despite the fact that no statistically demonstrable increase of birth defects or congenital malformations was found among the later conceived children born to survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.[252] A study of the long-term psychological effects of the bombings on the survivors found that even 17–20 years after the bombings had occurred survivors showed a higher prevalence of anxiety and somatization symptoms.[253]

Double survivors

On March 24, 2009, the Japanese government officially recognized Tsutomu Yamaguchi as a double hibakusha. He was confirmed to be 3 km (1.9 mi) from ground zero in Hiroshima on a business trip when Little Boy was detonated. He was seriously burnt on his left side and spent the night in Hiroshima. He arrived at his home city of Nagasaki on August 8, the day before Fat Man was dropped, and he was exposed to residual radiation while searching for his relatives. He was the first officially recognized survivor of both bombings.[254] He died on January 4, 2010, at the age of 93, after a battle with stomach cancer.[255] The 2006 documentary Twice Survived: The Doubly Atomic Bombed of Hiroshima and Nagasaki documented 165 nijū hibakusha (lit. double explosion-affected people), and was screened at the United Nations.[256]

Korean survivors

During the war, Japan brought as many as 670,000 Korean conscripts to Japan to work as forced labor.[257] About 20,000 Koreans were killed in Hiroshima and another 2,000 died in Nagasaki. Perhaps one in seven of the Hiroshima victims were of Korean ancestry. For many years, Koreans had a difficult time fighting for recognition as atomic bomb victims and were denied health benefits. Most issues have been addressed in recent years through lawsuits.[258]

Debate over bombings

The atomic bomb was more than a weapon of terrible destruction; it was a psychological weapon.

—Henry L. Stimson, 1947[259]

A shot along a river. There is a bridge in the distance, and a ruined domed building in the middle distance. People walk along the footpath that runs parallel to the river

Citizens of Hiroshima walk by the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, the closest building to have survived the city’s atomic bombing

The role of the bombings in Japan’s surrender and the U.S.’s ethical justification for them has been the subject of scholarly and popular debate for decades. J. Samuel Walker wrote in an April 2005 overview of recent historiography on the issue, “the controversy over the use of the bomb seems certain to continue.” He wrote that “The fundamental issue that has divided scholars over a period of nearly four decades is whether the use of the bomb was necessary to achieve victory in the war in the Pacific on terms satisfactory to the United States.”[260]

Supporters of the bombings generally assert that they caused the Japanese surrender, preventing casualties on both sides during Operation Downfall. One figure of speech, “One hundred million [subjects of the Japanese Empire] will die for the Emperor and Nation,”[261] served as a unifying slogan, although that phrase was intended as a figure of speech along the lines of the “ten thousand years” phrase.[262] In Truman’s 1955 Memoirs, “he states that the atomic bomb probably saved half a million U.S. lives— anticipated casualties in an Allied invasion of Japan planned for November. Stimson subsequently talked of saving one million U.S. casualties, and Churchill of saving one million American and half that number of British lives.”[263] Scholars have pointed out various alternatives that could have ended the war without an invasion, but these alternatives could have resulted in the deaths of many more Japanese.[264] Supporters also point to an order given by the Japanese War Ministry on August 1, 1944, ordering the execution of Allied prisoners of war when the POW camp was in the combat zone.[265]

Those who oppose the bombings cite a number of reasons for their view, among them: a belief that atomic bombing is fundamentally immoral, that the bombings counted as war crimes, that they were militarily unnecessary, that they constituted state terrorism,[266] and that they involved racism against and the dehumanization of the Japanese people. Another popular view among critics of the bombings, originating with Gar Alperovitz in 1965 and becoming the default position in Japanese school history textbooks, is the idea of atomic diplomacy: that the United States used nuclear weapons in order to intimidate the Soviet Union in the early stages of the Cold War.[267] The bombings were part of an already fierce conventional bombing campaign. This, together with the sea blockade and the collapse of Germany (with its implications regarding redeployment), could also have led to a Japanese surrender. At the time the United States dropped its atomic bomb on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945, the Soviet Union launched a surprise attack with 1.6 million troops against the Kwantung Army in Manchuria. “The Soviet entry into the war”, argued Japanese historian Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, “played a much greater role than the atomic bombs in inducing Japan to surrender because it dashed any hope that Japan could terminate the war through Moscow’s mediation”.[268]

 

Battle of Britain 1940 – WWII BATTLEFIELD. The Hardest Day

Battle of Britain 1940

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The Battle Of Britain

1 – 5 Short Films

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The Battle of Britain (German: Luftschlacht um England, literally “Air battle for England”) is the name given to the Second World War air campaign waged by the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) against the United Kingdom during the summer and autumn of 1940. The Battle of Britain was the first major campaign to be fought entirely by air forces,[18] and was also the largest and most sustained aerial bombing campaign to that date.

The objective of the Nazi German forces was to achieve air superiority over the Royal Air Force (RAF), especially its Fighter Command. Beginning in July 1940, coastal shipping convoys and shipping centres, such as Portsmouth, were the main targets; one month later, the Luftwaffe shifted its attacks to RAF airfields and infrastructure. As the battle progressed, the Luftwaffe also targeted factories involved in World War II aircraft production and ground infrastructure. Eventually the Luftwaffe resorted to attacking areas of political significance and using terror bombing strategy.[nb 10]

By preventing Germany from gaining air superiority, the British forced Adolf Hitler to postpone and eventually cancel Operation Sea Lion, a planned amphibious and airborne invasion of Britain. However, Germany continued bombing operations on Britain, known as The Blitz. The failure of Nazi Germany to achieve its objective of destroying Britain’s air defences in order to force Britain to negotiate an armistice (or even surrender outright) is considered by historians to be its first major defeat in World War II and a crucial turning point in the conflict.[20]

The Battle of Britain has an unusual distinction in that it gained its name prior to being fought. The name is derived from a famous speech delivered by Prime Minister Winston Churchill in the House of Commons on June 18, more than three weeks prior to the generally accepted date for the start of the battle

… What General Weygand has called The Battle of France is over. The battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilisation. Upon it depends our own British life and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of a perverted science. 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”.[21]

— Winston Churchill

Background

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill

The early stages of World War II saw successful German invasions on the continent aided decisively by the air power of the Luftwaffe, which was able to establish tactical air superiority with great efficiency. The distressing speed with which German forces defeated most of the defending armies in Norway during the spring of 1940 created a significant political crisis in Britain. In early May 1940, the Norway Debate questioned the fitness for office of the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. On 10 May, the same day Winston Churchill became British Prime Minister, the Germans initiated the Battle of France with an aggressive invasion of French territory. RAF Fighter Command was desperately short of trained pilots and aircraft, but despite the objections of its commander Hugh Dowding that the diversion of his forces would leave home defences under-strength, Churchill sent fighter squadrons to support operations in France,[22] where the RAF suffered heavy losses.[23]

After the evacuation of British and French soldiers from Dunkirk and the French surrender on 22 June 1940, Hitler mainly focused his energies on the possibility of invading the Soviet Union[24] in the belief that the British, defeated on the continent and without European allies, would quickly come to terms.[25] The Germans were so convinced of an imminent armistice that they began constructing street decorations for the homecoming parades of victorious troops.[26] Although the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Halifax, and certain elements of the British public favoured a negotiated peace with an ascendant Germany, Churchill and a majority of his Cabinet refused to consider an armistice.[27] Instead, Churchill used his skilful rhetoric to harden public opinion against capitulation and to prepare the British for a long war. In his “This was their finest hour” speech of 18 June 1940, he declared that “the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin.”[28]

After a series of military victories, Germany took control of huge territories in central, northern, and western Europe that mainly corresponded to the boundaries of the defeated countries of Poland, France, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, and the Netherlands. In addition to these conquests, the boundaries of Germany itself had already been swelled considerably by the annexation of Austria and Czechoslovakia in 1938 and 1939. Germany’s position thus seemed invincible to many Europeans. Hitler hoped for a negotiated peace with Britain, thus made no preparations for amphibious assault on a hostile shore. In any case, at the time, the only forces with experience in this type of warfare and modern equipment to support it were the Japanese, who became adept with it at the Battle of Wuhan in 1938.[29] On 11 July 1940, Grand Admiral Erich Raeder, Commander-in-Chief of the Kriegsmarine (German Navy), told Hitler that an invasion of Britain could only be contemplated as a last resort, and only after full air superiority had been achieved. The Kriegsmarine had been nearly crippled by the Norwegian Campaign, with many of its ships sunk or damaged, while the Royal Navy still had over 50 destroyers, 21 cruisers and eight battleships in the British Home Fleet.[30][31][nb 11] There was little that the weakened Kriegsmarine could do to stop the Royal Navy from intervening. The only alternative was to use the Luftwaffe’s dive bombers and torpedo bombers, which required air superiority to operate effectively. Grand Admiral Raeder said, “A powerful and effective air force might create conditions favourable for an invasion, whether it could was not in the Navy War Staff’s province.”[33]

Although he agreed with Raeder, Hitler ordered the preparation of a plan to invade the United Kingdom on July 16.[34] He hoped that news of the preparations would frighten the UK into peace negotiations. “Directive No. 16; On the Preparation of a Landing Operation against England” read, in part, as follows:

Since England, despite its militarily hopeless situation, still has not shown any signs of being prepared to negotiate, I have decided to prepare a landing operation against England and, if necessary, carry it out.

The objective of this operation is to eliminate the English home country as a base for the continuation of the war against Germany …
2) Included in these preparations is the bringing about of those preconditions which make a landing in England possible;
a) The English air force must have been beaten down to such an extent morally and in fact that it can no longer muster any power of attack worth mentioning against the German crossing. (italics added)[35][nb 12][36]

All preparations were to be made by mid-August. For secrecy, this directive was only issued to Commanders-in-Chief, but Hermann Göring passed it on to his Luftwaffe Air Fleet commanders by coded radio messages that were intercepted by Britain’s Y-Service and successfully decrypted by Hut 6 at Bletchley Park.[37]

The Kriegsmarine produced a draft plan for achieving a narrow beachhead near Dover. On 28 July the army responded that they wanted landings all along the south coast of England. Hitler held a meeting of his army and navy chiefs on 31 July in his residence of Berghof, and on 1 August the OKW (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht or “High Command of the Armed Forces”) issued its plan.[38] The plan, code named Operation Sea Lion, was scheduled to take place in mid-September 1940. Operation Sea Lion called for landings on the south coast of Great Britain backed by an airborne assault. Neither Hitler nor OKW believed it would be possible to carry out a successful amphibious assault on Britain until the RAF had been neutralised. Raeder believed that air superiority might make a successful landing possible although it would be a risky operation and require “absolute mastery over the Channel by our air forces”.[39]

For his part, Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz believed that air superiority was “not enough”. Dönitz later stated, “we possessed neither control of the air or the sea; nor were we in any position to gain it.”[40] Some writers, such as Derek Robinson, have agreed with Dönitz. Robinson argues that the massive superiority of the Royal Navy over the Kriegsmarine would have made Sea Lion a disaster and the Luftwaffe could not have prevented decisive intervention by British cruisers and destroyers, even with air superiority.[41][42] Williamson Murray argued that the task facing the Germans in summer 1940 was beyond their capabilities; the three German armed services were not capable of solving the problem of invading the British Isles. Murray contends that the Kriegsmarine had been effectively eliminated owing to heavy losses during the Norwegian Campaign.[43] and states that it is doubtful that the Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe could have prevented the Royal Navy from engaging the invasion fleet.[44]

The Luftwaffe had not been represented at the Berghof, but Göring was confident that air victory was possible. Like many commanders in other air forces, including the RAF, he was convinced by the ideas of Giulio Douhet that “The bomber will always get through” and if attacks on military targets failed, the bombing of civilians could force the British government to surrender.[45]

Opposing forces

The Luftwaffe faced a more capable opponent than any it had previously met: a sizeable, highly coordinated, well-supplied, modern air force.

Fighters

The Luftwaffe’s Messerschmitt Bf 109E and Bf 110C fought against the RAF’s workhorse Hurricane Mk I and the less numerous Spitfire Mk I; Hurricanes outnumbered Spitfires in RAF Fighter Command by about two to one when war broke out.[46] The Bf 109E had a better climb rate and was up to 40 mph faster in level flight [47] than the Rotol (constant speed propellor) equipped Hurricane Mk I, depending on altitude. The speed and climb disparity with the original non-Rotol Hurricane was even greater. In spring and summer 1940, all RAF Spitfire and Hurricane fighter squadrons converted to 100 octane aviation fuel,[48] which allowed their Merlin engines to generate significantly more power and an approximately 30 mph increase in speed at low altitudes[49][50] through the use of an Emergency Boost Override.[51][52][53] In September 1940, the more powerful Mk IIa series 1 Hurricanes started entering service in small numbers.[54] This version was capable of a maximum speed of 342 mph (550 km/h), some 20 mph more than the original (non-Rotol) Mk I, though it was still 15 to 20 mph slower than a Bf 109 (depending on altitude).[55]

Hawker Hurricane R4118 fought in the Battle of Britain. Here it arrives at the 2014 Royal International Air Tattoo, England.

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

The performance of the Spitfire over Dunkirk came as a surprise to the Jagdwaffe, although the German pilots retained a strong belief that the 109 was the superior fighter.[56] The British fighters were equipped with eight Browning .303 (7.7mm) machine guns, while most Bf 109Es had two 7.92mm machine guns supplemented by two 20mm cannons.[nb 13] The latter was much more effective than the .303; many German planes landed despite large numbers of .303 hits. At some altitudes, the Bf 109 could outclimb the British fighter. It could also engage in vertical-plane negative-g manoeuvres without the engine cutting out because its DB 601 engine used fuel injection; this allowed the 109 to dive away from attackers more readily than the carburettor-equipped Merlin. On the other hand, the Bf 109E had a much larger turning circle than its two foes.[57] In general, though, as Alfred Price noted in The Spitfire Story:

… the differences between the Spitfire and the Me 109 in performance and handling were only marginal, and in a combat they were almost always surmounted by tactical considerations of which side had seen the other first, which had the advantage of sun, altitude, numbers, pilot ability, tactical situation, tactical co-ordination, amount of fuel remaining, etc.[58]

The Bf 109E was also used as a Jabo (jagdbomber, fighter-bomber)—the E-4/B and E-7 models could carry a 250 kg bomb underneath the fuselage, the later model arriving during the battle. The Bf 109, unlike the Stuka, could fight on equal terms with RAF fighters after releasing its ordnance.[59][60]

At the start of the battle, the twin-engined Messerschmitt Bf 110C long range Zerstörer (“Destroyer”) was also expected to engage in air-to-air combat while escorting the Luftwaffe bomber fleet. Although the 110 was faster than the Hurricane and almost as fast as the Spitfire, its lack of manoeuvrability and acceleration meant that it was a failure as a long-range escort fighter. On 13 and 15 August, 13 and 30 aircraft were lost, the equivalent of an entire Gruppe, and the type’s worst losses during the campaign.[61] This trend continued with a further eight and fifteen lost on 16 and 17 August.[62] Göring ordered the Bf 110 units to operate “where the range of the single-engined machines were not sufficient”.[citation needed]

The most successful role of the Bf 110 during the battle was as a Schnellbomber (fast bomber). The Bf 110 usually used a shallow dive to bomb the target and escape at high speed.[63][64] One unit, Erprobungsgruppe 210 – initially formed as the service test unit (Erprobungskommando) for the emerging successor to the 110, the Me 210 – proved that the Bf 110 could still be used to good effect in attacking small or “pinpoint” targets.[63]

Four 264 Squadron Defiants (PS-V was shot down on 28 August 1940 over Kent by Bf 109s.)

The RAF’s Boulton Paul Defiant had some initial success over Dunkirk because of its resemblance to the Hurricane; Luftwaffe fighters attacking from the rear were surprised by its unusual gun turret.[65] However, during the Battle of Britain, this single-engined two-seater proved hopelessly outclassed. For various reasons, the Defiant lacked any form of forward-firing armament, and the heavy turret and second crewman meant it could not outrun or outmanoeuvre either the Bf 109 or Bf 110. By the end of August, after disastrous losses, the aircraft was withdrawn from daylight service.[66][67]

Bombers

Heinkel He 111 bombers during the Battle of Britain

The Luftwaffe’s primary bombers were the Heinkel He 111, Dornier Do 17, and Junkers Ju 88 for level bombing at medium to high altitudes, and the Junkers Ju 87 Stuka for dive bombing tactics. The He 111 was used in greater numbers than the others during the conflict. Forming the main brunt of the heavy formations, it is better known, partly due to its distinctive wing shape. Each level bomber also had a few reconnaissance versions accompanying them that were used during the battle.[68]

Although it was successful in previous Luftwaffe engagements, the Stuka suffered heavy losses in the Battle of Britain, particularly on 18 August, due to its slow speed and vulnerability to fighter interception after dive bombing a target. As the losses went up along with their limited payload and range, Stuka units were largely removed from operations over England and diverted to concentrate on shipping instead until they were eventually re-deployed to the Eastern Front in 1941. However, for some raids, they were called back, such as on 13 September to attack Tangmere airfield.[69][70][71]

The remaining three bomber types differed in their capabilities; the Heinkel 111 was the slowest; the Ju 88 was the fastest once its mainly external bomb load was dropped; and the Do 17 had the smallest bomb load.[68] All three bomber types suffered heavy losses from the home-based British fighters, but the Ju 88 disproportionately so. The German bombers required constant protection by the Luftwaffe’s fighter force. German escorts, however, were not enough. Bf 109Es were ordered to support more than 300–400 bombers on any given day.[72] Later in the conflict, when night bombing became more frequent, all three were used. However, due to its reduced bomb load, the lighter Do 17 was used less than the He 111 and Ju 88 for this purpose.

German propaganda photo purporting to show a Spitfire I flying very close to a Dornier 17Z.[nb 14]

On the British side, three bomber types were mostly used on night operations against targets such as factories, invasion ports and railway centres; the Armstrong Whitworth Whitley, the Handley-Page Hampden and the Vickers Wellington were classified as heavy bombers by the RAF, although the Hampden was a medium bomber comparable to the He 111. The twin-engined Bristol Blenheim and the obsolescent single-engined Fairey Battle were both light bombers; the Blenheim was the most numerous of the aircraft equipping RAF Bomber Command and was used in attacks against shipping, ports, airfields and factories on the continent by day and by night. The Fairey Battle squadrons, which had suffered heavy losses in daylight attacks during the Battle of France, were brought up to strength with reserve aircraft and continued to operate at night in attacks against the invasion ports, until the Battle was withdrawn from UK front line service in October 1940.[73][75]

Pilots

Before the war, the RAF’s processes for selecting potential candidates were opened to men of all social classes through the creation in 1936 of the RAF Volunteer Reserve, which “… was designed to appeal, to … young men … without any class distinctions …”[76] The older squadrons of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force did retain some of their upper-class exclusiveness,[77] but their numbers were soon swamped by the newcomers of the RAFVR; by 1 September 1939, 6,646 pilots had been trained through the RAFVR.[78]

A Spitfire pilot recounts how he shot down a Messerschmitt, Biggin Hill, September 1940

By summer 1940, there were about 9,000 pilots in the RAF to man about 5,000 aircraft, most of which were bombers.[citation needed] Fighter Command was never short of pilots, but the problem of finding sufficient numbers of fully trained-fighter pilots became acute by mid-August 1940.[79] With aircraft production running at 300 planes each week, only 200 pilots were trained in the same period. In addition, more pilots were allocated to squadrons than there were aircraft, as this allowed squadrons to maintain operational strength despite casualties and still provide for pilot leave.[80] Another factor was that only about 30% of the 9,000 pilots were assigned to operational squadrons; 20% of the pilots were involved in conducting pilot training, and a further 20% were undergoing further instruction, like those offered in Canada and in Southern Rhodesia to the Commonwealth trainees, although already qualified. The rest were assigned to staff positions, since RAF policy dictated that only pilots could make many staff and operational command decisions, even in engineering matters. At the height of fighting, and despite Churchill’s insistence, only 30 pilots were released to the front line from administrative duties.[81][nb 15]

For these reasons, and the permanent loss of 435 pilots during the Battle of France alone[23] along with many more wounded, and others lost in Norway, the RAF had fewer experienced pilots at the start of the initial defence of their home. It was the lack of trained pilots in the fighting squadrons, rather than the lack of aircraft, that became the greatest concern for Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding, Commander of Fighter Command. Drawing from regular RAF forces, the Auxiliary Air Force and the Volunteer Reserve, the British were able to muster some 1,103 fighter pilots on 1 July. Replacement pilots, with little flight training and often no gunnery training, suffered high casualty rates thus exacerbating the problem.[82]

The Luftwaffe on the other hand, were able to muster a larger number (1,450) of more experienced fighter pilots.[81] Drawing from a cadre of Spanish Civil War veterans, these pilots already had comprehensive courses in aerial gunnery and instructions in tactics suited for fighter-versus-fighter combat.[83] Training manuals discouraged heroism, stressing the importance of attacking only when the odds were in the pilot’s favour. Despite the high levels of experience, German fighter formations did not provide a sufficient reserve of pilots to allow for losses and leave,[80] and the Luftwaffe was unable to produce enough pilots to prevent a decline in operational strength as the battle progressed. Eventually, without the personnel available to continue the assault, the Luftwaffe failed during this segment of the war.

International participation

Allies

126 German aircraft or “Adolfs” were claimed by Polish pilots of 303 Squadron during the Battle

The Royal Air Force roll of honour for the Battle of Britain recognises 595 non-British pilots (out of 2,936) as flying at least one authorised operational sortie with an eligible unit of the RAF or Fleet Air Arm between 10 July and 31 October 1940.[13][84] These included 145 Poles, 127 New Zealanders, 112 Canadians, 88 Czechoslovaks, 10 Irish, 32 Australians, 28 Belgians, 25 South Africans, 13 French, 7 Americans, 3 Southern Rhodesians and one each from Jamaica and Mandatory Palestine.[85] “Altogether in the fighter battles, the bombing raids, and the various patrols flown between 10 July and 31 October 1940 by the Royal Air Force, 1495 aircrew were killed, of whom 449 were fighter pilots, 718 aircrew from Bomber Command, and 280 from Coastal Command. Among those killed were 47 airmen from Canada, 24 from Australia, 17 from South Africa, 35 from Poland, 20 from Czechoslovakia and six from Belgium. Forty-seven New Zealanders lost their lives, including 15 fighter pilots, 24 bomber and eight coastal aircrew. The names of these Allied and Commonwealth airmen are inscribed in a memorial book which rests in the Battle of Britain Chapel in Westminster Abbey. In the chapel is a stained glass window which contains the badges of the fighter squadrons which operated during the battle and the flags of the nations to which the pilots and aircrew belonged.”[86]

Axis

Main article: Corpo Aereo Italiano

An element of the Italian Royal Air Force (Regia Aeronautica) called the Italian Air Corps (Corpo Aereo Italiano or CAI) first saw action in late October 1940. It took part in the latter stages of the battle, but achieved limited success. The unit was redeployed in early 1941.

Luftwaffe strategy

Hermann Göring, the commander of the Luftwaffe

Hugo Sperrle, the commander of Luftflotte 3

The Luftwaffe strategy was devised to provide tactical support for the army on the battlefield. During the blitzkrieg offensives against Poland, Denmark and Norway, France and the Low Countries, the Luftwaffe had co-operated fully with the Wehrmacht. For the Battle of Britain however, the Luftwaffe had to operate in a strategic role, something for which it was unsuited. Its main task was to ensure air supremacy over southeast England, to pave the way for an invasion fleet.

The Luftwaffe regrouped after the Battle of France into three Luftflotten (Air Fleets) on Britain’s southern and northern flanks. Luftflotte 2, commanded by Generalfeldmarschall Albert Kesselring, was responsible for the bombing of southeast England and the London area. Luftflotte 3, under Generalfeldmarschall Hugo Sperrle, targeted the West Country, Wales, the Midlands, and northwest England. Luftflotte 5, led by Generaloberst Hans-Jürgen Stumpff from his headquarters in Norway, targeted the north of England and Scotland. As the battle progressed, command responsibility shifted, with Luftflotte 3 taking more responsibility for the night-time Blitz attacks while the main daylight operations fell upon Luftflotte 2’s shoulders.

Initial Luftwaffe estimates were that it would take four days to defeat the RAF Fighter Command in southern England. This would be followed by a four-week offensive during which the bombers and long-range fighters would destroy all military installations throughout the country and wreck the British aircraft industry. The campaign was planned to begin with attacks on airfields near the coast, gradually moving inland to attack the ring of sector airfields defending London. Later reassessments gave the Luftwaffe five weeks, from 8 August to 15 September, to establish temporary air superiority over England.[87] To achieve this goal, Fighter Command had to be destroyed, either on the ground or in the air, yet the Luftwaffe had to be able to preserve its own strength to be able to support the invasion; this meant that the Luftwaffe had to maintain a high “kill ratio” over the RAF fighters. The only alternative to the goal of air superiority was a terror bombing campaign aimed at the civilian population, but this was considered a last resort and it was (at this stage of the battle) expressly forbidden by Hitler.[87]

The Luftwaffe kept broadly to this scheme, but its commanders had differences of opinion on strategy. Sperrle wanted to eradicate the air defence infrastructure by bombing it. His counterpart, Kesselring, championed attacking London directly— either to bombard the British government into submission, or to draw RAF fighters into a decisive battle. Göring did nothing to resolve this disagreement between his commanders, and only vague directives were set down during the initial stages of the battle, with Göring seemingly unable to decide upon which strategy to pursue.[88] He seemed at times obsessed with maintaining his own power base in the Luftwaffe and indulging his outdated beliefs on air fighting, which would later lead to tactical and strategic errors.

Tactics

Fighter formations

Luftwaffe formations employed a loose section of two (nicknamed the Rotte), based on a leader (Rottenführer) followed at a distance of about 183 metres (200 yards)[nb 16] by his wingman (nicknamed the Rottenhund or Katschmareks), who also flew slightly higher and was trained always to stay with his leader. With more room between them, both pilots could spend less time maintaining formation and more time looking around and covering each other’s blind spots. Attacking aircraft could be sandwiched between the two 109s.[89] [nb 17] The rotte allowed the Rottenführer to concentrate on getting kills, but few wingmen had the chance,[91] leading to some resentment in the lower ranks where it was felt that the high scores came at their expense. Two sections were usually teamed up into a Schwarm, where all the pilots could watch what was happening around them. Each Schwarm in a Staffel flew at staggered heights and with 183 metres (200 yards) of room between them, making the formation difficult to spot at longer ranges and allowing for a great deal of flexibility.[83] By utilising a tight “cross-over” turn, a Schwarm could quickly change direction.[89]

The Bf 110s adopted the same Schwarm formation as the 109s, but were seldom able to use this to the same advantage. The Bf 110’s most successful method of attack was the “bounce” from above. When attacked, Zerstörergruppen increasingly resorted to forming large “defensive circles“, where each Bf 110 guarded the tail of the aircraft ahead of it. Göring ordered that they be renamed “offensive circles” in a vain bid to improve rapidly declining morale.[92] These conspicuous formations were often successful in attracting RAF fighters that were sometimes “bounced” by high-flying Bf 109s. This led to the often repeated myth that the Bf 110s were escorted by Bf 109s.

Higher-level dispositions

Luftwaffe tactics were influenced by their fighters. The Bf 110 proved too vulnerable to the nimble single-engined RAF fighters. This meant the bulk of fighter escort duties fell on the Bf 109. Fighter tactics were then complicated by bomber crews who demanded closer protection. After the hard-fought battles of 15 and 18 August, Göring met with his unit leaders. During this conference, the need for the fighters to meet up on time with the bombers was stressed. It was also decided that one bomber Gruppe could only be properly protected by several Gruppen of 109s. In addition, Göring stipulated that as many fighters as possible were to be left free for Freie Jagd (“Free Hunts”: a free-roving fighter sweep preceded a raid to try to sweep defenders out of the raid’s path). The Ju 87 units, which had suffered heavy casualties, were only to be used under favourable circumstances.[93] In early September, due to increasing complaints from the bomber crews about RAF fighters seemingly able to get through the escort screen, Göring ordered an increase in close escort duties. This decision shackled many of the Bf 109s to the bombers and, although they were more successful at protecting the bomber forces, casualties amongst the fighters mounted primarily because they were forced to fly and manoeuvre at reduced speeds.[94]

The Luftwaffe consistently varied its tactics in its attempts to break through the RAF defences. It launched many Freie Jagd to draw up RAF fighters. RAF fighter controllers, however, were often able to detect these and position squadrons to avoid them, keeping to Dowding’s plan to preserve fighter strength for the bomber formations. The Luftwaffe also tried using small formations of bombers as bait, covering them with large numbers of escorts. This was more successful, but escort duty tied the fighters to the bombers’ slow speed and made them more vulnerable.

Pattern of condensation trails left by British and German aircraft after a dogfight.

By September, standard tactics for raids had become an amalgam of techniques. A Freie Jagd would precede the main attack formations. The bombers would fly in at altitudes between 16,000 feet (4,900 m) and 20,000 feet (6,100 m), closely escorted by fighters. Escorts were divided into two parts (usually Gruppen), some operating in close contact with the bombers, and others a few hundred yards away and a little above. If the formation was attacked from the starboard, the starboard section engaged the attackers, the top section moving to starboard and the port section to the top position. If the attack came from the port side the system was reversed. British fighters coming from the rear were engaged by the rear section and the two outside sections similarly moving to the rear. If the threat came from above, the top section went into action while the side sections gained height to be able to follow RAF fighters down as they broke away. If attacked, all sections flew in defensive circles. These tactics were skilfully evolved and carried out, and were extremely difficult to counter.[95]

Adolf Galland, the successful leader of III./JG 26, became Geschwaderkommodore of JG 26 on 22 August

Adolf Galland noted:

We had the impression that, whatever we did, we were bound to be wrong. Fighter protection for bombers created many problems which had to be solved in action. Bomber pilots preferred close screening in which their formation was surrounded by pairs of fighters pursuing a zigzag course. Obviously, the visible presence of the protective fighters gave the bomber pilots a greater sense of security. However, this was a faulty conclusion, because a fighter can only carry out this purely defensive task by taking the initiative in the offensive. He must never wait until attacked because he then loses the chance of acting.

We fighter pilots certainly preferred the free chase during the approach and over the target area. This gives the greatest relief and the best protection for the bomber force.[96]

The biggest disadvantage faced by Bf 109 pilots was that without the benefit of long-range drop tanks (which were introduced in limited numbers in the late stages of the battle), usually of 300 litres (66 imp gal; 79 US gal) capacity, the 109s had an endurance of just over an hour and, for the 109E, a 600 km (370 mi) range. Once over Britain, a 109 pilot had to keep an eye on a red “low fuel” light on the instrument panel: once this was illuminated, he was forced to turn back and head for France. With the prospect of two long flights over water, and knowing their range was substantially reduced when escorting bombers or during combat, the Jagdflieger coined the term Kanalkrankheit or “Channel sickness”.[97]

Intelligence

The Luftwaffe was ill-served by its lack of military intelligence about the British defences.[98] The German intelligence services were fractured and plagued by rivalries; their performance was “amateurish”.[99] By 1940, there were few German agents operating in Great Britain and a handful of bungled attempts to insert spies into the country were foiled.[100]

As a result of intercepted radio transmissions, the Germans began to realise that the RAF fighters were being controlled from ground facilities; in July and August 1939, for example, the airship Graf Zeppelin, which was packed with equipment for listening in on RAF radio and RDF transmissions, flew around the coasts of Britain. Although the Luftwaffe correctly interpreted these new ground control procedures, they were incorrectly assessed as being rigid and ineffectual. A British radar system was well known to the Luftwaffe from intelligence gathered before the war, but the highly developed “Dowding system” linked with fighter control had been a well-kept secret.[101][102] Even when good information existed, such as a November 1939 Abwehr assessment of Fighter Command strengths and capabilities by Abteilung V, it was ignored if it did not match conventional preconceptions.

On 16 July 1940, Abteilung V, commanded by Oberstleutnant “Beppo” Schmid, produced a report on the RAF and on Britain’s defensive capabilities which was adopted by the frontline commanders as a basis for their operational plans. One of the most conspicuous failures of the report was the lack of information on the RAF’s RDF network and control systems capabilities; it was assumed that the system was rigid and inflexible, with the RAF fighters being “tied” to their home bases.[103][104] An optimistic and, as it turned out, erroneous conclusion reached was:

D. Supply Situation… At present the British aircraft industry produces about 180 to 300 first line fighters and 140 first line bombers a month. In view of the present conditions relating to production (the appearance of raw material difficulties, the disruption or breakdown of production at factories owing to air attacks, the increased vulnerability to air attack owing to the fundamental reorganisation of the aircraft industry now in progress), it is believed that for the time being output will decrease rather than increase.

In the event of an intensification of air warfare it is expected that the present strength of the RAF will fall, and this decline will be aggravated by the continued decrease in production.[104]

Because of this statement, reinforced by another more detailed report, issued on 10 August, there was a mindset in the ranks of the Luftwaffe that the RAF would run out of frontline fighters.[103] The Luftwaffe believed it was weakening Fighter Command at three times the actual attrition rate.[105] Many times, the leadership believed Fighter Command’s strength had collapsed, only to discover that the RAF were able to send up defensive formations at will.

Throughout the battle, the Luftwaffe had to use numerous reconnaissance sorties to make up for the poor intelligence. Reconnaissance aircraft (initially mostly Dornier Do 17s, but increasingly Bf 110s) proved easy prey for British fighters, as it was seldom possible for them to be escorted by Bf 109s. Thus, the Luftwaffe operated “blind” for much of the battle, unsure of its enemy’s true strengths, capabilities, and deployments. Many of the Fighter Command airfields were never attacked, while raids against supposed fighter airfields fell instead on bomber or coastal defence stations. The results of bombing and air fighting were consistently exaggerated, due to inaccurate claims, over-enthusiastic reports and the difficulty of confirmation over enemy territory. In the euphoric atmosphere of perceived victory, the Luftwaffe leadership became increasingly disconnected from reality. This lack of leadership and solid intelligence meant the Germans did not adopt consistent strategy, even when the RAF had its back to the wall. Moreover, there was never a systematic focus on one type of target (such as airbases, radar stations, or aircraft factories); consequently, the already haphazard effort was further diluted.[106]

Navigational aids

While the British were using radar for air defence more effectively than the Germans realised, the Luftwaffe attempted to press its own offensive with advanced radio navigation systems of which the British were initially not aware. One of these was Knickebein (“bent leg”); this system was used at night and for raids where precision was required. It was rarely used during the Battle of Britain (see Reginald Victor Jones and Battle of the Beams).[107]

Air-sea rescue

The Luftwaffe was much better prepared for the task of air-sea rescue than the RAF, specifically tasking the Seenotdienst unit, equipped with about 30 Heinkel He 59 floatplanes, with picking up downed aircrew from the North Sea, English Channel and the Dover Straits. In addition, Luftwaffe aircraft were equipped with life rafts and the aircrew were provided with sachets of a chemical called fluorescein which, on reacting with water, created a large, easy-to-see, bright green patch.[108][109] In accordance with the Geneva Convention, the He 59s were unarmed and painted white with civilian registration markings and red crosses. Nevertheless, RAF aircraft attacked these aircraft, as some were escorted by Bf 109s.[110]

After single He 59s were forced to land on the sea by RAF fighters, on 1 and 9 July respectively,[110][111] a controversial order was issued to the RAF on 13 July; this stated that from 20 July, Seenotdienst aircraft were to be shot down. One of the reasons given by Churchill was:

We did not recognise this means of rescuing enemy pilots so they could come and bomb our civil population again … all German air ambulances were forced down or shot down by our fighters on definite orders approved by the War Cabinet.[112]

The British also believed that their crews would report on convoys,[109] the Air Ministry issuing a communiqué to the German government on 14 July that Britain was

unable, however, to grant immunity to such aircraft flying over areas in which operations are in progress on land or at sea, or approaching British or Allied territory, or territory in British occupation, or British or Allied ships. Ambulance aircraft which do not comply with the above will do so at their own risk and peril[113]

The white He 59s were soon repainted in camouflage colours and armed with defensive machine guns. Although another four He 59s were shot down by RAF aircraft,[114] the Seenotdienst continued to pick up downed Luftwaffe and Allied aircrew throughout the battle, earning praise from Adolf Galland for their bravery.[115]

RAF strategy

Commander-in-Chief, Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding
10 Group Commander, Sir Quintin Brand
11 Group Commander, Keith Park
12 Group Commander, Trafford Leigh-Mallory
13 Group Commander, Richard Saul

Dowding system

Chain Home radar cover, bases and group boundaries

Main article: Dowding system

During early tests of the Chain Home system, the slow flow of information from the CH radars and observers to the aircraft often caused them to miss their “bandits”. The solution, today known as the “Dowding system“, was to create a set of reporting chains to move information from the various observation points to the pilots in their fighters. It was named after its chief architect, “Stuffy” Dowding.[116]

Reports from CH radars and the Observer Corps were sent directly to Fighter Command Headquarters (FCHQ) at Bentley Priory where they were “filtered” to combine multiple reports of the same formations into single tracks. Telephone operators would then forward only the information of interest to the Group headquarters, where the map would be re-created. This process was repeated to produce another version of the map at the Sector level, covering a much smaller area. Looking over their maps, Group level commanders could select squadrons to attack particular targets. From that point the Sector operators would give commands to the fighters to arrange an interception, as well as return them to base. Sector stations also controlled the anti-aircraft batteries in their area; an army officer sat beside each fighter controller and directed the gun crews when to open and cease fire.[117]

The Dowding system dramatically improved the speed and accuracy of the information that flowed to the pilots. During the early war period it was expected that an average interception mission might have a 30% chance of ever seeing their target. During the battle, the Dowding system maintained an average rate over 75%, with several examples of 100% rates – every fighter dispatched found and intercepted its target. In contrast, Luftwaffe fighters attempting to intercept raids had to randomly seek their targets and often returned home having never seen enemy aircraft. The result is what is now known as an example of “force multiplication“; RAF fighters were as effective as two or more Luftwaffe fighters, greatly offsetting, or overturning, the disparity in actual numbers.

Effect of signals intelligence

It is unclear how much the British intercepts of the Enigma cipher, used for high-security German radio communications, affected the battle. Ultra, the information obtained from Enigma intercepts, gave the highest echelons of the British command a view of German intentions. According to F. W. Winterbotham, who was the senior Air Staff representative in the Secret Intelligence Service,[118] Ultra helped establish the strength and composition of the Luftwaffe’s formations, the aims of the commanders[119] and provided early warning of some raids.[120] In early August it was decided that a small unit would be set up at FCHQ, which would process the flow of information from Bletchley and provide Dowding only with the most essential Ultra material; thus the Air Ministry did not have to send a continual flow of information to FCHQ, preserving secrecy, and Dowding was not inundated with non-essential information. Keith Park and his controllers were also told about Ultra.[121] In a further attempt to camouflage the existence of Ultra, Dowding created a unit named No. 421 (Reconnaissance) Flight RAF. This unit (which later became No. 91 Squadron RAF), was equipped with Hurricanes and Spitfires and sent out aircraft to search for and report Luftwaffe formations approaching England.[122] In addition the radio listening service (known as Y Service), monitoring the patterns of Luftwaffe radio traffic, contributed considerably to the early warning of raids.

Air-sea rescue

One of the biggest oversights of the entire system was the lack of adequate air-sea rescue organisation. The RAF had started organising a system in 1940 with High Speed Launches (HSLs) based on flying boat bases and at a number of overseas locations, but it was still believed that the amount of cross-Channel traffic meant that there was no need for a rescue service to cover these areas. Downed pilots and aircrew, it was hoped, would be picked up by any boats or ships which happened to be passing by. Otherwise the local life boat would be alerted, assuming someone had seen the pilot going into the water.[123]

RAF aircrew were issued with a life jacket, nicknamed the “Mae West,” but in 1940 it still required manual inflation, which was almost impossible for someone who was injured or in shock. The waters of the English Channel and Dover Straits are cold, even in the middle of summer, and clothing issued to RAF aircrew did little to insulate them against these freezing conditions.[98] The RAF also imitated the German practice of issuing fluorescein.[109] A conference in 1939 had placed air-sea rescue under Coastal Command. Because a number of pilots had been lost at sea during the “Channel Battle”, on 22 August, control of RAF rescue launches was passed to the local naval authorities and 12 Lysanders were given to Fighter Command to help look for pilots at sea. In all some 200 pilots and aircrew were lost at sea during the battle. No proper air-sea rescue service was formed until 1941.[98]

Tactics

X4474, a late production Mk I Spitfire of 19 Squadron, September 1940. During the battle 19 Squadron was part of the Duxford Wing

Fighter formations

In the late 1930s, Fighter Command expected to face only bombers over Britain, not single-engined fighters. A series of “Fighting Area Tactics” were formulated and rigidly adhered to, involving a series of manoeuvres designed to concentrate a squadron’s firepower to bring down bombers. RAF fighters flew in tight, v-shaped sections (“vics”) of three, with four such “sections” in tight formation. Only the squadron leader at the front was free to watch for the enemy; the other pilots had to concentrate on keeping station.[124] Training also emphasised by-the-book attacks by sections breaking away in sequence. Fighter Command recognised the weaknesses of this structure early in the battle, but it was felt too risky to change tactics during the battle, because replacement pilots—often with only minimal flying time—could not be readily retrained,[125] and inexperienced pilots needed firm leadership in the air only rigid formations could provide.[126] German pilots dubbed the RAF formations Idiotenreihen (“rows of idiots”) because they left squadrons vulnerable to attack.[82][127]

Front line RAF pilots were acutely aware of the inherent deficiencies of their own tactics. A compromise was adopted whereby squadron formations used much looser formations with one or two “weavers” flying independently above and behind to provide increased observation and rear protection; these tended to be the least experienced men and were often the first to be shot down without the other pilots even noticing that they were under attack.[82][128] During the battle, 74 Squadron under Squadron Leader Adolph “Sailor” Malan adopted a variation of the German formation called the “fours in line astern”, which was a vast improvement on the old three aircraft “vic”. Malan’s formation was later generally used by Fighter Command.[129]

Squadron- and higher-level deployment

The weight of the battle fell upon 11 Group. Keith Park’s tactics were to dispatch individual squadrons to intercept raids. The intention was to subject incoming bombers to continual attacks by relatively small numbers of fighters and try to break up the tight German formations. Once formations had fallen apart, stragglers could be picked off one by one. Where multiple squadrons reached a raid the procedure was for the slower Hurricanes to tackle the bombers while the more agile Spitfires held up the fighter escort. This ideal was not always achieved, resulting in occasions when Spitfires and Hurricanes reversed roles.[130] Park also issued instructions to his units to engage in frontal attacks against the bombers, which were more vulnerable to such attacks. Again, in the environment of fast moving, three-dimensional air battles, few RAF fighter units were able to attack the bombers from head-on.[130]

During the battle, some commanders, notably Leigh-Mallory, proposed squadrons be formed into “Big Wings,” consisting of at least three squadrons, to attack the enemy en masse, a method pioneered by Douglas Bader.

Douglas Bader commanded 242 Squadron during the battle. He also led the Duxford Wing.

Proponents of this tactic claimed interceptions in large numbers caused greater enemy losses while reducing their own casualties. Opponents pointed out the big wings would take too long to form up, and the strategy ran a greater risk of fighters being caught on the ground refuelling. The big wing idea also caused pilots to overclaim their kills, due to the confusion of a more intense battle zone. This led to the belief big wings were far more effective than they were.[131]

The issue caused intense friction between Park and Leigh-Mallory, as 12 Group was tasked with protecting 11 Group’s airfields whilst Park’s squadrons intercepted incoming raids. However, the delay in forming up Big Wings meant the formations often did not arrive at all or until after German bombers had hit 11 Group’s airfields.[132] Dowding, to highlight the problem of the Big Wing’s performance, submitted a report compiled by Park to the Air Ministry on 15 November. In the report, he highlighted that during the period of 11 September – 31 October, the extensive use of the Big Wing had resulted in just 10 interceptions and one German aircraft destroyed, but his report was ignored.[133] Post-war analysis agrees Dowding and Park’s approach was best for 11 Group.

Dowding’s removal from his post in November 1940 has been blamed on this struggle between Park and Leigh-Mallory’s daylight strategy. However, the intensive raids and destruction wrought during the Blitz damaged both Dowding and Park in particular, for the failure to produce an effective night-fighter defence system, something for which the influential Leigh-Mallory had long criticised them.[134]

Bomber and Coastal Command contributions

A Bristol Blenheim Mk IV of 21 Squadron. The Blenheim bomber units of Bomber and Coastal Commands bore heavy casualties while undertaking a number of tasks during the battle

Bomber Command and Coastal Command aircraft flew offensive sorties against targets in Germany and France during the battle. After the initial disasters of the war, with Vickers Wellington bombers shot down in large numbers attacking Wilhelmshaven and the slaughter of the Fairey Battle squadrons sent to France, it became clear that Bomber Command would have to operate mainly at night to achieve any results without incurring very high losses.[135] From 15 May 1940, a night time bomber campaign was launched against the German oil industry, communications, and forests/crops, mainly in the Ruhr area.

As the threat mounted, Bomber Command changed targeting priority on 3 June 1940 to attack the German aircraft industry. On 4 July, the Air Ministry gave Bomber Command orders to attack ports and shipping. By September, the build-up of invasion barges in the Channel ports had become a top priority target.[136] On 7 September, the government issued a warning that the invasion could be expected within the next few days and, that night, Bomber Command attacked the Channel ports and supply dumps. On 13 September, they carried out another large raid on the Channel ports, sinking 80 large barges in the port of Ostend.[137] 84 barges were sunk in Dunkirk after another raid on 17 September and by 19 September, almost 200 barges had been sunk.[136] The loss of these barges may have contributed to Hitler’s decision to postpone Operation Sea Lion indefinitely.[136] The success of these raids was in part because the Germans had few Freya radar stations set up in France, so that air defences of the French harbours were not nearly as good as the air defences over Germany; Bomber Command had directed some 60% of its strength against the Channel ports.

Wellington crews studying maps at a briefing with the station commander, September 1940

The Bristol Blenheim units also raided German-occupied airfields throughout July to December 1940, both during daylight hours and at night. Although most of these raids were unproductive, there were some successes; on 1 August, five out of 12 Blenheims sent to attack Haamstede and Evere (Brussels) were able to bomb, destroying or heavily damaging three Bf 109s of II./JG 27 and apparently killing a Staffelkapitän identified as a Hauptmann Albrecht von Ankum-Frank. Two other 109s were claimed by Blenheim gunners.[138][nb 18] Another successful raid on Haamstede was made by a single Blenheim on 7 August which destroyed one 109 of 4./JG 54, heavily damaged another and caused lighter damage to four more.[139]

German invasion barges waiting at Boulogne Harbour, France during the Battle of Britain

There were some missions which produced an almost 100% casualty rate amongst the Blenheims; one such operation was mounted on 13 August 1940 against a Luftwaffe airfield near Aalborg in north-eastern Denmark by 12 aircraft of 82 Squadron. One Blenheim returned early (the pilot was later charged and due to appear before a court martial, but was killed on another operation), the other 11, which reached Denmark, were shot down, five by flak and six by Bf 109s. Of the 33 crewmen who took part in the attack, 20 were killed and 13 captured.[140]

As well as the bombing operations, Blenheim-equipped units had been formed to carry out long-range strategic reconnaissance missions over Germany and German-occupied territories. In this role, the Blenheims again proved to be too slow and vulnerable against Luftwaffe fighters, and they took constant casualties.[141]

Coastal Command directed its attention towards the protection of British shipping, and the destruction of enemy shipping. As invasion became more likely, it participated in the strikes on French harbours and airfields, laying mines, and mounting numerous reconnaissance missions over the enemy-held coast. In all, some 9,180 sorties were flown by bombers from July to October 1940. Although this was much less than the 80,000 sorties flown by fighters, bomber crews suffered about half the total number of casualties borne by their fighter colleagues. The bomber contribution was, therefore, much more dangerous on a loss-per-sortie comparison.[142]

Bomber, reconnaissance, and antisubmarine patrol operations continued throughout these months with little respite and none of the publicity accorded to Fighter Command. In his famous 20 August speech about “The Few“, praising Fighter Command, Churchill also made a point of mentioning Bomber Command’s contribution, adding that bombers were even then striking back at Germany; this part of the speech is often overlooked, even today.[143][144] The Battle of Britain Chapel in Westminster Abbey lists in a roll of honour, 718 Bomber Command crew members, and 280 from Coastal Command who were killed between 10 July and 31 October.[145]

Phases of the battle

German Heinkel He 111 bombers over the English Channel 1940

The battle can be roughly divided into four phases:

  • 10 July – 11 August: Kanalkampf (“the Channel battles”)
  • 12–23 August: Adlerangriff (“Eagle Attack”), the early assault against the coastal airfields
  • 24 August – 6 September: the Luftwaffe targets the airfields. The critical phase of the battle.
  • 7 September onwards: the day attacks switch to British towns and cities.

Channel battles

The Kanalkampf comprised a series of running fights over convoys in the English Channel. It was launched partly because Kesselring and Sperrle were not sure about what else to do, and partly because it gave German aircrews some training and a chance to probe the British defences.[88] Dowding could only provide minimal shipping protection, and these battles off the coast tended to favour the Germans, whose bomber escorts had the advantage of altitude and outnumbered the RAF fighters. From 9 July reconnaissance probing by Dornier Do 17 bombers put a severe strain on RAF pilots and machines, with high RAF losses to Bf 109s. When nine 141 Squadron Defiants went into action on 19 July six were lost to Bf 109s before a squadron of Hurricanes intervened. On 25 July a coal convoy and escorting destroyers suffered such heavy losses to attacks by Stuka dive bombers that the Admiralty decided convoys should travel at night: the RAF shot down 16 raiders but lost 7 aircraft. By 8 August 18 coal ships and 4 destroyers had been sunk, but the Navy was determined to send a convoy of 20 ships through rather than move the coal by railway. After repeated Stuka attacks that day, six ships were badly damaged, four were sunk and only four reached their destination. The RAF lost 19 fighters and shot down 31 German aircraft. The Navy now cancelled all further convoys through the Channel and sent the cargo by rail. Even so, these early combat encounters provided both sides with experience.[146]

Main assault

The main attack upon the RAF’s defences was code-named Adlerangriff (“Eagle Attack”).

Poor weather delayed Adlertag (“Eagle Day”) until 13 August 1940. On 12 August, the first attempt was made to blind the Dowding system, when aircraft from the specialist fighter-bomber unit Erprobungsgruppe 210 attacked four radar stations. Three were briefly taken off the air but were back working within six hours.[147] The raids appeared to show that British radars were difficult to knock out. The failure to mount follow-up attacks allowed the RAF to get the stations back on the air, and the Luftwaffe neglected strikes on the supporting infrastructure, such as phone lines and power stations, which could have rendered the radars useless, even if the towers themselves (which were very difficult to destroy) remained intact.[106]

Adlertag opened with a series of attacks, led again by Epro 210,[147] on coastal airfields used as forward landing grounds for the RAF fighters, as well as ‘satellite airfields’[nb 19] (including Manston and Hawkinge).[147] As the week drew on, the airfield attacks moved further inland, and repeated raids were made on the radar chain. 15 August was “The Greatest Day” when the Luftwaffe mounted the largest number of sorties of the campaign. Luftflotte 5 attacked the north of England. Believing Fighter Command strength to be concentrated in the south, raiding forces from Denmark and Norway ran into unexpectedly strong resistance. Inadequately escorted by Bf 110s, bombers were shot down in large numbers. North East England was attacked by 65 Heinkel 111s escorted by 34 Messerschmitt 110s, and RAF Great Driffield was attacked by 50 unescorted Junkers 88s. Out of 115 bombers and 35 fighters sent, 16 bombers and 7 fighters were destroyed.[148] As a result of these casualties, Luftflotte 5 did not appear in strength again in the campaign.

18 August, which had the greatest number of casualties to both sides, has been dubbed “The Hardest Day“. Following this grinding battle, exhaustion and the weather reduced operations for most of a week, allowing the Luftwaffe to review their performance. “The Hardest Day” had sounded the end for the Ju 87 in the campaign.[149] This veteran of Blitzkrieg was too vulnerable to fighters to operate over Britain. So as to preserve the Stuka force, Göring withdrew them from the fighting. This removed the main Luftwaffe precision-bombing weapon and shifted the burden of pinpoint attacks on the already-stretched Erpro 210. The Bf 110 proved too clumsy for dogfighting with single-engined fighters, and its participation was scaled back. It would only be used when range required it or when sufficient single-engined escort could not be provided for the bombers.

Göring made yet another fateful decision: to order more bomber escorts at the expense of free-hunting sweeps. To achieve this, the weight of the attack now fell on Luftflotte 2, and the bulk of the Bf 109s in Luftflotte 3 were transferred to Kesselring’s command, reinforcing the fighter bases in the Pas-de-Calais. Stripped of its fighters, Luftflotte 3 would concentrate on the night bombing campaign. Göring, expressing disappointment with the fighter performance thus far in the campaign, also made sweeping changes in the command structure of the fighter units, replacing many Geschwaderkommodore with younger, more aggressive pilots like Adolf Galland and Werner Mölders.[150]

Finally, Göring stopped the attacks on the radar chain. These were seen as unsuccessful, and neither the Reichsmarschall nor his subordinates realised how vital the Chain Home stations were to the defence systems. It was known that radar provided some early warning of raids, but the belief among German fighter pilots was that anything bringing up the “Tommies” to fight was to be encouraged.

Luftwaffe targets RAF airfields

Battle

Polish 303 squadron pilots, 1940. Left to right: P/O Ferić, Flt Lt Kent, F/O Grzeszczak, P/O Radomski, P/O Zumbach, P/O Łokuciewski, F/O Henneberg, Sgt. Rogowski, Sgt. Szaposznikow.

Göring ordered attacks on aircraft factories on 19 August 1940; on 23 August 1940 he ordered that RAF airfields be attacked. That evening an attack was mounted on a tyre factory in Birmingham. Raids on airfields continued through 24 August, and Portsmouth was hit by a major attack. That night, several areas of London were bombed; the East End was set ablaze and bombs landed on central London. Some historians believe that these bombs were dropped accidentally by a group of Heinkel He 111s which had failed to find their target; this account has been contested.[151] In retaliation, the RAF bombed Berlin on the night of 25–26 August, and continued bombing raids on Berlin. Göring’s pride was hurt, as he had previously claimed the British would never be able to bomb the city. The attacks enraged Hitler, who ordered retaliatory attacks on London.[152]

From 24 August onwards, the battle was a fight between Kesselring’s Luftflotte 2 and Park’s 11 Group. The Luftwaffe concentrated all their strength on knocking out Fighter Command and made repeated attacks on the airfields. Of the 33 heavy attacks in the following two weeks, 24 were against airfields. The key sector stations were hit repeatedly: Biggin Hill and Hornchurch four times each; Debden and North Weald twice each. Croydon, Gravesend, Rochford, Hawkinge and Manston were also attacked in strength. Coastal Command‘s Eastchurch was bombed at least seven times because it was believed to be a Fighter Command aerodrome. At times these raids caused some damage to the sector stations, threatening the integrity of the Dowding system.

To offset some losses, some 58 Fleet Air Arm fighter pilot volunteers were seconded to RAF squadrons, and a similar number of former Fairey Battle pilots were used. Most replacements from Operational Training Units (OTUs) had as little as nine hours flying time and no gunnery or air-to-air combat training. At this point, the multinational nature of Fighter Command came to the fore. Many squadrons and personnel from the air forces of the Dominions were already attached to the RAF, including top level commanders – Australians, Canadians, New Zealanders, Rhodesians and South Africans. In addition, there were other nationalities represented, including Free French, Belgian and a Jewish pilot from the British mandate of Palestine.

They were bolstered by the arrival of fresh Czechoslovak and Polish squadrons. These had been held back by Dowding, who mistakenly thought non-English speaking aircrew would have trouble working within his control system: Polish and Czech fliers proved to be especially effective. The pre-war Polish Air Force had lengthy and extensive training, and high standards; with Poland conquered and under brutal German occupation, the pilots of No. 303 (Polish) Squadron, the highest-scoring Allied unit,[153] were strongly motivated. Josef František, a Czech regular airman who had flown from the occupation of his own country to join the Polish and then French air forces before arriving in Britain, flew as a guest of 303 Squadron and was ultimately credited with the highest “RAF score” in the Battle of Britain.[154]

The RAF had the advantage of fighting over home territory. Pilots who bailed out of their downed aircraft could be back at their airfields within hours, while if low on fuel and/or ammunition they could be immediately rearmed.[155] One RAF pilot interviewed in late 1940 had been shot down five times during the Battle of Britain, but was able to crash land in Britain or bail out each time.[156] For Luftwaffe aircrews, a bailout over England meant capture – in the critical August period, almost exactly as many Luftwaffe pilots were taken prisoner as were killed[157] – while parachuting into the English Channel often meant drowning or death from exposure. Morale began to suffer, and [Kanalkrankheit] (“Channel sickness”) – a form of combat fatigue – began to appear among the German pilots. Their replacement problem was even worse than the British.

Impact of offensive

The effect of the German attacks on airfields is unclear. According to Stephen Bungay, Dowding, in a letter to Hugh Trenchard[158] accompanying Park’s report on the period 8 August – 10 September 1940, states that the Luftwaffe “achieved very little” in the last week of August and the first week of September.[159] The only Sector Station to be shut down operationally was Biggin Hill, and it was non-operational for just two hours. Dowding admitted 11 Group’s efficiency was impaired but, despite serious damage to some airfields, only two out of 13 heavily attacked airfields were down for more than a few hours. The German refocus on London was not critical.[159]

Retired air marshal Peter Dye, head of the RAF Museum, discussed the logistics of the battle in 2000[160] and 2010,[161] dealing specifically with the single-seat fighters. Dye contends that not only was British aircraft production replacing aircraft, but replacement pilots were keeping pace with losses. The number of pilots in RAF Fighter Command increased during July, August and September. The figures indicate the number of pilots available never decreased. From July, 1,200 were available. In 1 August, 1,400 were available. Just over that number were in the field by September. In October the figure was nearly 1,600. By 1 November 1,800 were available. Throughout the battle, the RAF had more fighter pilots available than the Luftwaffe.[160][161] Although the RAF’s reserves of single seat fighters fell during July, the wastage was made up for by an efficient Civilian Repair Organisation (CRO), which by December had repaired and put back into service some 4,955 aircraft,[162] and by aircraft held at Air Servicing Unit (ASU) airfields.[163]

Richard Overy agrees with Dye and Bungay. Overy asserts only one airfield was temporarily put out of action and “only” 103 pilots were lost. British fighter production produced 496 new aircraft in July and 467 in August, and another 467 in September (not counting repaired aircraft), covering the losses of August and September. Overy indicates the number of serviceable and total strength returns reveal an increase in fighters from 3 August to 7 September, 1,061 on strength and 708 serviceable to 1,161 on strength and 746 serviceable.[164] Moreover, Overy points out that the number of RAF fighter pilots grew by one-third between June and August 1940. Personnel records show a constant supply of around 1,400 pilots in the crucial weeks of the battle. In the second half of September it reached 1,500. The shortfall of pilots was never above 10%. The Germans never had more than between 1,100 and 1,200 pilots, a deficiency of up to one-third. “If Fighter Command were ‘the few’, the German fighter pilots were fewer”.[165]

Other scholars assert that this period was the most dangerous of all. In The Narrow Margin, published in 1961, historians Derek Wood and Derek Dempster believed that the two weeks from 24 August to 6 September represented a real danger. According to them, from 24 August to 6 September 295 fighters had been totally destroyed and 171 badly damaged, against a total output of 269 new and repaired Spitfires and Hurricanes. They assert that 103 pilots were killed or missing and 128 were wounded, which represented a total wastage of 120 pilots per week out of a fighting strength of just fewer than 1,000. They conclude that during August no more than 260 fighter pilots were turned out by OTUs and casualties in the same month were just over 300. A full squadron establishment was 26 pilots whereas the average in August was 16. In their assessment, the RAF was losing the battle.[166] Denis Richards, in his 1953 contribution to the official British account History of the Second World War, agreed that lack of pilots, especially experienced ones, was the RAF’s greatest problem. He states that between 8 and 18 August 154 RAF pilots were killed, severely wounded, or missing, while only 63 new pilots were trained. Availability of aircraft was also a serious issue. While its reserves during the Battle of Britain never declined to a half dozen planes as some later claimed, Richards describes 24 August to 6 September as the critical period because during these two weeks Germany destroyed far more aircraft through its attacks on 11 Group’s southeast bases than Britain was producing. Three more weeks of such a pace would indeed have exhausted aircraft reserves. Germany had seen heavy losses of pilots and aircraft as well however, thus its shift to night-time attacks in September. On 7 September RAF aircraft losses fell below British production and remained so until the end of the war.[167]

Raids on British cities

Main articles: The Blitz and Battle of Britain Day

Calais, September 1940. Göring giving a speech to pilots about the change in tactics: to bomb the towns instead of the airfields

Hitler’s No. 17 Directive on the conduct of war against the United Kingdom, issued on 1 August 1940, specifically prohibited the Luftwaffe from conducting terror raids on its own initiative, and reserved the right of ordering terror attacks as means of reprisal for the Führer himself:[168]

The war against England is to be restricted to destructive attacks against industry and air force targets which have weak defensive forces … The most thorough study of the target concerned, that is vital points of the target, is a pre-requisite for success. It is also stressed that every effort should be made to avoid unnecessary loss of life amongst the civilian population.[169]

The Luftwaffe offensive against Britain had included numerous raids on major ports since August, but Hitler had issued a directive that London was not to be bombed save on his sole instruction.[170] However, on the afternoon of 15 August, Hauptmann Walter Rubensdörffer leading Erprobungsgruppe 210 mistakenly bombed the Croydon airfield (on the outskirts of London) instead of the intended target, RAF Kenley;[171] this was followed on the night of 23/24 August[137] by the accidental bombing of Harrow, also on the outskirts of London, as well as raids on Aberdeen, Bristol, and South Wales. The focus on attacking airfields had also been accompanied by a sustained bombing campaign which began on 24 August with the largest raid so far, killing 100 in Portsmouth, and that evening the first night raid on London as described above.[151] On 25 August 1940, 81 bombers of Bomber Command were sent out to raid industrial and commercial targets in Berlin. Clouds prevented accurate identification and the bombs fell across the city, causing some casualties among the civilian population as well as damage to residential areas.[172] Continuing RAF raids on Berlin in retaliation led to Hitler withdrawing his directive,[173] and on 3 September Göring planned to bomb London daily, with General Albert Kesselring‘s enthusiastic support, having received reports the average strength of RAF squadrons was down to five or seven fighters out of twelve and their airfields in the area were out of action. Hitler issued a directive on 5 September to attack cities including London.[174][175] In his speech delivered on 4 September 1940, Hitler threatened to obliterate (ausradieren) British cities if British bombing runs against Germany did not stop.

Bombing of London

On 7 September, a massive series of raids involving nearly four hundred bombers and more than six hundred fighters targeted docks in the East End of London, day and night. The raids were code named Operation Loge. The RAF anticipated attacks on airfields and 11 Group rose to meet them, in greater numbers than the Luftwaffe expected. The first official deployment of 12 Group’s Lee-Mallory’s Big Wing took twenty minutes to form up, missing its intended target, but encountering another formation of bombers while still climbing. They returned, apologetic about their limited success, and blamed the delay on being scrambled too late.[152][176] Fighter Command had been at its lowest ebb, short of men and machines, and the break from airfield attacks allowed them to recover. 11 Group had considerable success in breaking up daytime raids. 12 Group repeatedly disobeyed orders and failed to meet requests to protect 11 Group airfields, but their experiments with increasingly large Big Wings had some success. The Luftwaffe began to abandon their morning raids, with attacks on London starting late in the afternoon for fifty-seven consecutive nights.[177]

Members of the London Auxiliary Firefighting Service

The most damaging aspect to the Luftwaffe of targeting London was the increase in range. The Bf 109E escorts had a limited fuel capacity resulting in only a 660 km (410 mile) maximum range solely on internal fuel,[178] and when they arrived had only 10 minutes of flying time before turning for home, leaving the bombers undefended by fighter escorts. Its eventual stablemate, the Focke-Wulf Fw 190A, was only flying in prototype form in the summer of 1940; the first 28 Fw 190s were not delivered until November 1940. The Fw 190A-1 had a maximum range of 940 km (584 miles) on internal fuel, 40% greater than the Bf 109E.[179] The Messerschmitt Bf 109E-7 corrected this deficiency by adding a ventral center-line ordnance rack to take either an SC 250 bomb or a standard 300 litre Luftwaffe drop tank to double the range to 1,325 km (820 mi). The ordnance rack was not retrofitted to earlier Bf 109Es until October 1940.

On 14 September, Hitler chaired a meeting with the OKW staff. Göring was in France directing the decisive battle, so Erhard Milch deputized for him.[180] Hitler asked “Should we call it off altogether?”. General Hans Jeschonnek, Luftwaffe Chief of Staff, begged for a last chance to defeat the RAF and for permission to launch attacks on civilian residential areas to cause mass panic. Hitler refused the latter, perhaps unaware of how much damage had already been done to civilian targets. He reserved for himself the power to unleash the terror weapon. Instead political will was to be broken by destroying the material infrastructure, the weapons industry, and stocks of fuel and food.

On 15 September, two massive waves of German attacks were decisively repulsed by the RAF by deploying every aircraft in 11 Group. Sixty German and 26 RAF aircraft were shot down. Two days after the German defeat Hitler postponed preparations for the invasion of Britain. Henceforth, in the face of mounting losses in men, aircraft and the lack of adequate replacements, the Luftwaffe switched from daylight to nighttime bombing. 15 September is commemorated as Battle of Britain Day.

On 16 September, Göring ordered the air fleets to begin the new phase of the battle.[181] Hitler hoped this might result in “eight million going mad” (referring to the population of London in 1940), which would “cause a catastrophe” for the British. In those circumstances, Hitler said, “even a small invasion might go a long way”. Hitler was against cancelling the invasion as “the cancellation would reach the ears of the enemy and strengthen his resolve”.[nb 20][nb 21]

Gun camera film shows tracer ammunition from a Supermarine Spitfire Mark I of 609 Squadron, flown by Flight Lieutenant J H G McArthur, hitting a Heinkel He 111 on its starboard quarter. These aircraft were part of a large formation from KG 53 and 55 which attacked the Bristol Aeroplane Company’s works at Filton, Bristol, just before midday on 25 September 1940.

A Junkers Ju 88 returning from a raid on London was shot down in Kent on 27 September resulting in the Battle of Graveney Marsh, the last action between British and foreign military forces on British mainland soil.[183]

Hitler postponed the invasion on 13 October “until the spring of 1941”, and October is regarded as the month regular bombing of Britain ended. It was not until Hitler’s Directive 21 was issued, on 18 December 1940, that the threat of invasion finally ended.[137]

During the battle, and for the rest of the war, an important factor in keeping public morale high was the continued presence in London of King George VI and his wife Queen Elizabeth. When war broke out in 1939, the King and Queen decided to stay in London and not flee to Canada, as had been suggested.[nb 22] George VI and Elizabeth officially stayed in Buckingham Palace throughout the war, although they often spent weekends at Windsor Castle to visit their daughters, Elizabeth (the future queen) and Margaret.[184] Buckingham Palace was damaged by bombs which landed in the grounds on 10 September and, on 13 September, more serious damage was caused by two bombs which destroyed the Royal Chapel. The royal couple were in a small sitting room about 80 yards from where the bombs exploded.[185][186] On 24 September, in recognition of the bravery of civilians, King George VI inaugurated the award of the George Cross.

Attrition statistics

Overall, by 2 November, the RAF fielded 1,796 pilots, an increase of over 40% from July 1940’s count of 1,259 pilots.[187] Based on German sources (from a Luftwaffe intelligence officer Otto Bechtle attached to KG 2 in February 1944) translated by the Air Historical Branch, Stephen Bungay asserts German fighter and bomber “strength” declined without recovery, and that from August – December 1940, the German fighter and bomber strength declined by 30 and 25 percent.[11] In contrast, Williamson Murray, argues (using translations by the Air Historical Branch) that 1,380 German bombers were on strength on 29 June 1940,[9][188] 1,420 bombers on 28 September,[189] 1,423 level bombers on 2 November[190] and 1,393 bombers on 30 November 1940.[190] In July – September the number of Luftwaffe pilots available fell by 136, but the number of operational pilots had shrunk by 171 by September. The training organisation of the Luftwaffe was failing to replace losses. German fighter pilots, in contrast to popular perception, were not afforded training or rest rotations unlike their British counterparts.[80] The first week of September accounted for 25% of the Fighter Command, and 24% of the Luftwaffe’s overall losses.[191] Between the dates 26 August – 6 September, on only one day (1 September) did the Germans destroy more aircraft than they lost. Losses were 325 German and 248 British.[192]

Luftwaffe losses for August numbered 774 aircraft to all causes, representing 18.5% of all combat aircraft at the beginning of the month.[193] Fighter Command’s losses in August were 426 fighters destroyed,[194] amounting to 40 per cent of 1,061 fighters available on 3 August.[195] In addition, 99 German bombers and 27 other types were destroyed between 1 and 29 August.[196]

From July to September, the Luftwaffe’s loss records indicate the loss of 1,636 aircraft, 1,184 to enemy action.[188] This represented 47% of the initial strength of single-engined fighters, 66% of twin-engined fighters, and 45% of bombers. This indicates the Germans were running out of aircrews as well as aircraft.[197]

Throughout the battle, the Germans greatly underestimated the size of the RAF and the scale of British aircraft production. Across the Channel, the Air Intelligence division of the Air Ministry consistently overestimated the size of the German air enemy and the productive capacity of the German aviation industry. As the battle was fought, both sides exaggerated the losses inflicted on the other by an equally large margin. However, the intelligence picture formed before the battle encouraged the Luftwaffe to believe that such losses pushed Fighter Command to the very edge of defeat, while the exaggerated picture of German air strength persuaded the RAF that the threat it faced was larger and more dangerous than was the case.[198] This led the British to the conclusion that another fortnight of attacks on airfields might force Fighter Command to withdraw their squadrons from the south of England. The German misconception, on the other hand, encouraged first complacency, then strategic misjudgement. The shift of targets from air bases to industry and communications was taken because it was assumed that Fighter Command was virtually eliminated.[199]

Between the 24 August and 4 September, German serviceability rates, which were acceptable at Stuka units, were running at 75% with Bf 109s, 70% with bombers and 65% with Bf 110s, indicating a shortage of spare parts. All units were well below established strength. The attrition was beginning to affect the fighters in particular.”[200] By 14 September, the Luftwaffe’s Bf 109 Geschwader possessed only 67% of their operational crews against authorised aircraft. For Bf 110 units it was 46 per cent; and for bombers it was 59 per cent. A week later the figures had dropped to 64 per cent, 52% and 52 per cent.[197] Serviceability rates in Fighter Command’s fighter squadrons, between the 24 August and 7 September, were listed as: 64.8% on 24 August; 64.7% on 31 August and 64.25% on 7 September 1940.[195]

Due to the failure of the Luftwaffe to establish air supremacy, a conference assembled on 14 September at Hitler’s headquarters. Hitler concluded that air superiority had not yet been established and “promised to review the situation on 17 September for possible landings on 27 September or 8 October. Three days later, when the evidence was clear that the German Air Force had greatly exaggerated the extent of their successes against the RAF, Hitler postponed Sea Lion indefinitely.”[201]

Aftermath

The Battle of Britain marked the first defeat of Hitler’s military forces, with air superiority seen as the key to victory.[202] Pre-war theories had led to exaggerated fears of strategic bombing, and UK public opinion was buoyed by coming through the ordeal.[203] For the RAF, Fighter Command had achieved a great victory in successfully carrying out Sir Thomas Inskip’s 1937 air policy of preventing the Germans from knocking Britain out of the war. Churchill concluded his famous 18 June ‘Battle of Britain’ speech in the House of Commons by referring to pilots and aircrew who fought the Battle: “… if the British Empire and its Commonwealth lasts for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.'”[204][nb 23]

The battle also significantly shifted American opinion. During the battle, many Americans accepted the view promoted by Joseph Kennedy, the American ambassador in London, who believed that the United Kingdom could not survive. Roosevelt wanted a second opinion, and sent “Wild Bill” Donovan on a brief visit to the UK; he became convinced the UK would survive and should be supported in every possible way.[205][206] Before the end of the year, American journalist Ralph Ingersoll, who had been in Britain, published an influential book concluding that “Adolf Hitler met his first defeat in eight years” in what might “go down in history as a battle as important as Waterloo or Gettysburg“. The turning point was when the Germans reduced the intensity of the Blitz after 15 September. According to Ingersoll, “[a] majority of responsible British officers who fought through this battle believe that if Hitler and Göring had had the courage and the resources to lose 200 planes a day for the next five days, nothing could have saved London”; instead, “[the Luftwaffe’s] morale in combat is definitely broken, and the RAF has been gaining in strength each week.”[207]

Both sides in the battle made exaggerated claims of numbers of enemy aircraft shot down. In general, claims were two to three times the actual numbers, because of the confusion of fighting in dynamic three-dimensional air battles. Postwar analysis of records has shown that between July and September, the RAF claimed 2,698 kills, while the Luftwaffe fighters claimed 3,198 RAF aircraft downed. Total losses, and start and end dates for recorded losses, vary for both sides. Luftwaffe losses from 10 July to 30 October 1940 total 1,652 aircraft, including 229 twin- and 533 single-engined fighters.[208] In the same period, RAF Fighter Command aircraft losses number 1,087, including 53 twin-engined fighters.[208] To the RAF figure should be added 376 Bomber Command and 148 Coastal Command aircraft conducting bombing, mining, and reconnaissance operations in defence of the country.[11]

Dr. Andrew Gordon, who lectures at the Joint Services Command and Staff College, and a former lecturer Professor Gary Sheffield, have suggested the existence of the Royal Navy was enough to prevent the Germans from invading;[209] even had the Luftwaffe won the air battle, the Germans had limited means with which to combat the Royal Navy, which would have intervened to prevent a landing. Some veterans of the battle point out the Royal Navy would have been vulnerable to air attack by the Luftwaffe if Germany had achieved air superiority,[210] citing the sinking of Prince of Wales and Repulse in December 1941 by an attack by Japanese aircraft.[210] In late May 1941 during the successful German airborne assault which seized Crete, the Royal Navy was able to prevent attempted German seaborne landings on the coast of Crete, despite losing six ships in three days due to undisputed Luftwaffe air supremacy. Churchill later wrote that the Royal Navy’s defeat of “these practically defenceless convoys of troops across waters of which they did not possess naval command as well as that of the air is a sample of what might have happened on a gigantic scale in the North Sea and English Channel in September 1940.”[211][212] Crete was lost to German airborne troops which neither the RN nor the absent RAF could stop.

A considered view of the battle also has to take into account the vital role of the Royal Navy. It was widely acknowledged by both sides that the only way of achieving a successful invasion of the British Isles was through the establishment of naval supremacy. Given the inability of the Luftwaffe to effect real damage on the RN throughout the battle and during the Dunkirk and Norwegian campaigns, as well as the lack of surface assets in the Kriegsmarine‘s inventory, sea control of the Channel by Germany was impossible. As one of ‘the Few’, Wg Cdr H R Allen said, “It was sea power that ruled the day in 1940, and fortunately Britain had a sufficiency. The air situation was, of course, important, but by no means fundamental. Without doubt the five hundred or so section, flight and squadron commanders in Fighter Command earned their laurels. But the real victor was the Royal Navy, the Silent Service.”[213] The Luftwaffe had 1,380 bombers on 29 June 1940. By 2 November 1940, this had increased to 1,423,[214] and to 1,511 by 21 June 1941, prior to Operation Barbarossa, but showing a drop of 200 from 1,711 reported on 11 May 1940.[215][216][nb 24] 1,107 single- and 357 twin-engined daylight fighters were reported on strength prior to the battle on 29 June 1940, compared to 1,440 single- and 188 twin-engined fighters, plus 263 night fighters, on 21 June 1941.[188][215]

There is a consensus among historians that the Luftwaffe simply could not crush the RAF. Stephen Bungay described Dowding and Park’s strategy of choosing when to engage the enemy whilst maintaining a coherent force as vindicated; their leadership, and the subsequent debates about strategy and tactics, however, had created enmity among RAF senior commanders and both were sacked from their posts in the immediate aftermath of the battle.[217] All things considered, the RAF proved to be a robust and capable organisation which was to use all the modern resources available to it to the maximum advantage.[218] Richard Evans wrote:

Irrespective of whether Hitler was really set on this course, he simply lacked the resources to establish the air superiority that was the sine qua non-of a successful crossing of the English Channel. A third of the initial strength of the German air force, the Luftwaffe, had been lost in the western campaign in the spring. The Germans lacked the trained pilots, the effective fighter aircraft, and the heavy bombers that would have been needed.[219][nb 25]

The Germans launched some spectacular attacks against important British industries, but they could not destroy the British industrial potential, and made little systematic effort to do so. Hindsight does not disguise the fact the threat to Fighter Command was very real, and for the participants it seemed as if there was a narrow margin between victory and defeat. Nevertheless, even if the German attacks on the 11 Group airfields which guarded southeast England and the approaches to London had continued, the RAF could have withdrawn to the Midlands out of German fighter range and continued the battle from there.[221] The victory was as much psychological as physical. Writes Alfred Price:

The truth of the matter, borne out by the events of 18 August is more prosaic: neither by attacking the airfields, nor by attacking London, was the Luftwaffe likely to destroy Fighter Command. Given the size of the British fighter force and the general high quality of its equipment, training and morale, the Luftwaffe could have achieved no more than a Pyrrhic victory. During the action on 18 August it had cost the Luftwaffe five trained aircrew killed, wounded or taken prisoner, for each British fighter pilot killed or wounded; the ratio was similar on other days in the battle. And this ratio of 5:1 was very close to that between the number of German aircrew involved in the battle and those in Fighter Command. In other words the two sides were suffering almost the same losses in trained aircrew, in proportion to their overall strengths. In the Battle of Britain, for the first time during the Second World War, the German war machine had set itself a major task which it patently failed to achieve, and so demonstrated that it was not invincible. In stiffening the resolve of those determined to resist Hitler the battle was an important turning point in the conflict.[222]

The British victory in the Battle of Britain was achieved at a heavy cost. Total British civilian losses from July to December 1940 were 23,002 dead and 32,138 wounded, with one of the largest single raids on 19 December 1940, in which almost 3,000 civilians died. With the culmination of the concentrated daylight raids, Britain was able to rebuild its military forces and establish itself as an Allied stronghold, later serving as a base from which the Liberation of Western Europe was launched.[20]

Battle of Britain Day

Winston Churchill summed up the effect of the battle and the contribution of Fighter Command with the words, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few“.[144][223] Pilots who fought in the battle have been known as The Few ever since; at times being specially commemorated on “Battle of Britain Day”, the 15th of September. On this day in 1940, the Luftwaffe embarked on their largest bombing attack yet, forcing the engagement of the entirety of the RAF in defence of London and the South East, which resulted in a decisive British victory that proved to mark a turning point in Britain’s favour.[224][225]

Within the Commonwealth, Battle of Britain Day has been observed more usually on the third Sunday in September, and even on the 2nd Thursday in September in some areas in the British Channel Islands.

The day has been observed by many artists over the years, often with works that show the battle itself. Many Mixed Media artists have also created pieces in honor of the Battle of Britain.[226]