Opinion, Berkeley Blogs

It is the 70th anniversary of World War II's Battle of Britain

By Brad DeLong

70 years ago World War II in Asia had not yet spread outside of Imperial Japan's attempt to conquer China, and both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. were not yet engaged in the war--both countries' political leaders hoping that it would pass them by somehow, although U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt knew that the United States should intervene and almost surely would not be able to avoid intervening.

But World War II in Western Europe was raging. Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany had absorbed Austria; conquered Czechoslovakia, Poland, Denmark, Norway, Luxemburg, Belgium, Holland, and France; induced Italy to enter the war on his side; and now found his forces fighting the British Empire. The fight on September 1, 1940 was part of the "Battle of Britain": the attempt by the Nazi Air Force to weaken the British Air Force enough that the Nazis could contemplate invading Britain across the English Channel from their new bases in northern France.

September 1, 1940 was the closest that Adolf Hitler and his Nazis ever came to winning World War II. Let us let British Air Vice Marshall Keith Park speak:

September 1940: Contrary to general belief and official reports, the enemy's bombing attacks by day did extensive damage to five of our forward aerodromes and also to six of our seven sector [radar] stations. There was a critical period when the damage to sector stations and our ground organization was having a serious effect on the fighting efficiency of the squadrons, who could not be given the same good technical and administrative service as previously...

The absence of many essential telephone lines, the use of scratch equipment in emergency operation rooms, and the general dislocation of ground organization, was seriously felt for about a week in the handling of squadrons by day to meet the enemy's massed attacks, which were continued without the former occasional break of a day...