During 1940 the Luftwaffe carried out its campaign to destroy the Royal Air Force, and its infrastructure, so it could achieve air superiority over Southern England, as a precursor to a German invasion, codenamed Operation Sealion. Known as the Battle of Britain, it was a pivotal moment in the Second World War, as with the failure by the Luftwaffe to achieve its aims, the Germans suffered their first major defeat and were unable to launch an invasion.
When war broke out in September 1939 after the German invasion of Poland and subsequent occupation by Germany and the Soviet Union there then followed a period of relative calm as no major land operations were undertaken by either side, known as the 'Phoney War'. This ended abruptly on the 9th April 1940 with the German invasion of Denmark and Norway, followed the next month by the German advance west into France and the Low Countries. This timeline covers the period from 10th May 1940 to the 31st October 1940 and includes a number of Battle of Britain facts.
Prelude to Battle
10th May 1940 - 9th July 1940
10th May 1940
Neville Chamberlain resigns as Prime Minister and is replaced by Winston Churchill, who at that time is First Sea Lord of the Admiralty. On the same day France, Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg are invaded by Germany, with Luxembourg occupied the same day. This was the first phase of the invasion plan devised by Germany for Western Europe and was known as Case Yellow.
11th May 1940
In the morning the Belgian Air Service is in action when nine Fairey Battles, with an escort of six Gloster Gladiators, target a number of bridges over the Albert Canal in north east Belgium.
Whilst attacking the Veldwezelt bridge, Belgium a Fairey Battle of No. 12 Squadron is shot down. This sees two of the three man crew, Flying Officer Donald Garland (pilot) and Sergeant Thomas Grey (observer) become the first Royal Air Force recipients of the Victoria Cross during the Second World War (1939 - 1945) when they are posthumously awarded one (read the citation). Leading aircraftman Lawrence Reynolds (wireless operator/gunner) was also aboard the aircraft and died.
13th May 1940
Armee de l'Air Dewoitine D.520s see combat for the first time, Groupe de Chasse I/3 claim three aircraft for no loss.
10th July 1940
The Battle of Britain begins as coastal targets and shipping come under attack from the Luftwaffe, which they call Channel Battle.
11th July 1940
Coastal areas start to come under attack as Portland, Poole and other areas in the south of Britain are targeted.
12th July 1940
Convoy 'Booty' is targeted by Heinkel He 111s from III./KG 53 and II./KG 2 Dornier Do 17Zs whilst off the coast of East Anglia. They are intercepted by Hurricane Mk 1s from Nos. 17, 85 and 151 Squadron.
13th July 1940
No. 302 Squadron are the first Polish squadron to be formed, they will be based at RAF Leconfield to begin with.
14th July 1940
In response to Luftwaffe Red Cross aircraft shadowing British convoys, the Royal Air Force issue a communique stating that Luftwaffe Red Cross aircraft engaged in operations other than search and rescue were doing so at their own risk.
15th July 1940
The Westland Aircraft factory in Yeovil is bombed.
16th July 1940
Directive No. 16 is issued by Adolf Hitler which calls for Operation Sealion, the invasion of Britain, preparations to begin. One of the conditions for invasion stipulates that:
17th July 1940
The Luftwaffe attack British shipping convoys off Aberdeen and the Isle of Wight.
19th July 1940
On the day that Hitler delivers a speech with a peace offer for Britain more shipping is attacked in the English Channel. Boulton Paul Defiant's of No. 141 Squadron enter the battle but Hurricanes of No. 111 Squadron are sent to cover No. 141 Squadron after six of the nine sent on convoy patrol near Folkestone are shot down. This was No. 141 Squadrons only daylight fighter operation during the battle.
20th July 1940
Kent, Suffolk, Bristol and the Isle of Wight all come under attack from the Luftwaffe as do convoys off Dover and Swanage.
21st July 1940
Six Fairey Battles, three from No. 103 Squadron and three from No. 150 Squadron, attack oil storage tanks in Rotterdam, Netherlands whilst Adolf Hitler declares that the 15th September 1940 is the latest date for Operation Sealion to take place.
22nd July 1940
Foreign Secretary Viscount Halifax dismisses Hitler's peace offer.
23rd July 1940
A Bristol Blenheim Mk IF, of the Fighter Interception Unit based at RAF Tangmere, equipped with Airborne Interception radar becomes the first Royal Air Force aircraft to shoot down another using this system when a Dornier Do 17 is attacked.
24th July 1940
During a radio broadcast, Lord Beaverbrook, Minister of Aircraft Production, thanks the public for their role in fighter aircraft production.
25th July 1940
Portland is attacked as is Convoy CW8 near Dover, five ships are sunk.
26th July 1940
Due to heavy losses all daylight movements of merchant ships through the Straits of Dover are stopped by the Admiralty.
27th July 1940
29th July 1940
Royal Navy ships are to stop daylight movements in the Straits of Dover under new Admiralty orders.
30th July 1940
Shipping is attacked off Ordforness, Clacton and Harwich.
1st August 1940
No. 247 Squadron is formed with a flight of Gloster Gladiator Mk IIs whilst Norwich station and the nearby Boulton Paul Aircraft Works came under attack whilst propaganda leaflets entitled 'A Last Appeal to Reason' by Adolf Hitler with his speech made on the 19th July are dropped over parts of the UK. That same day Hitler orders the destruction of the RAF to begin on or after the 5th August with the issuing of Directive No. 17, stating:
2nd August 1940
Herman Goring issues the Eagle Day directive. This would see plans devised with the intention of destroying the Royal Air Force and allow the invasion of the UK to occur, Operation Sealion.
3rd August 1940
The Firth of Forth comes under attack from the Luftwaffe.
7th August 1940
The Luftwaffe raid a number of areas across the United Kingdom including Aberdeen, Poole and Liverpool.
8th August 1940
The Luftwaffe starts to target British ports and harbours.
9th August 1940
Birmingham is bombed by the Luftwaffe for the first time.
10th August 1940
The Boulton Paul Aircraft Works in Norwich is attacked again.
11th August 1940
Channel Battle ends.
Phase Two – The Royal Air Force are Targeted
12th August 1940 - 6th September 1940
12th August 1940
In an effort to entice Royal Air Force fighters into combat, airfields mainly in No. 11 Group, Fighter Command, headed by Air Vice-Marshal Keith Park, come under attack from the Luftwaffe. Radar stations also come under heightened attack.
13th August 1940
Around 1,500 German aircraft take part in Eagle Day as the Luftwaffe attack radar stations and airfields. This would be the first of a number of large raids with the intention of stopping the Royal Air Force being an effective fighting force. Night time raids see the Luftwaffe target a number of locations, including the Castle Bromwich Spitfire factory and the Dunlop factory.
14th August 1940
Prime Minister Winston Churchill is at Bentley Priory, Fighter Command's headquarters, alongside Sir Hugh Dowding, as further large scale raids are undertaken by the Luftwaffe. With 75 aircraft lost this was the most costly day for the Luftwaffe during the battle and they would later refer to the day as 'Black Thursday'.
Bentley Priory as it looks today16th August 1940
Flight Lieutenant James Brindley Nicolson of No. 249 Squadron flying a Hurricane Mk I (P3576) is awarded Fighter Command's only Victoria Cross (read the citation) of the war after shooting down a Messerschmitt Bf 110 whilst wounded.
17th August 1940
On the day that Liverpool suffers its first bombing raid the Air Ministry orders that airfields in occupied Europe where the Luftwaffe are attacking from come under heavier attacks from Bomber Command.
18th August 1940
Further large scale attacks take place by the Luftwaffe as RAF airfields come under attack in the South and South East. These include RAF Kenley, RAF Biggin Hill and RAF West Malling leading to huge loss of aircraft on the ground. These attacks were designed to immobilise Fighter Command once and for all. The Luftwaffe also attack Sheffield for the first time.
19th August 1940
A change in tactics is issued by Air Vice-Marshal Keith Park, Air Officer Commanding No. 11 Group, Fighter Command, from now on fighters are to operate over land or within gliding distance and prioritise bombers.
20th August 1940
In a speech to the House of Commons, Winston Churchill praises the pilots of the Royal Air Force, not just Fighter Command, but also Bomber Command.
21st August 1940
Abbeville airfield in France attacked by Bristol Blenheim Mk IVs of No. 53 Squadron.
23rd August 1940
South Wales comes under attack.
24th August 1940
The Luftwaffe increase the pressure on the RAF as over 500 aircraft take part in a number of raids, including on Portsmouth, Ramsgate, which killed 29 people, and a devastating raid on RAF Manston which kills a number of personnel and leads to the airfield being evacuated. During the raid, No. 264 Squadron's Boulton Paul Defiants were in action. They claimed three Junkers Ju 88s and a Messerschmitt Bf 109, for the loss of three aircraft. This included the Defiant Mk I (N1535) of Squadron Leader Philip Hunter, 27, and his gunner Pilot Officer Frederick King, 24.
25th August 1940
After the bombing of London over 70 bombers comprising Vickers Wellingtons, Handley Page Hampdens and Armstrong Whitworth Whitleys are sent to raid Berlin, Germany for the first time.
26th August 1940
Campile in County Wexford, Ireland is bombed by the Luftwaffe killing three people. A protest to Germany is made by Ireland.
28th August 1940
During the day London, the Midlands and the North East Coast come under attack, whilst during the night Liverpool suffers a heavy attack. This day would also be the Defiant's last as a day fighter.
29th August 1940
Once again Liverpool comes under attack at night whilst the Midlands is attacked during the day.
30th August 1940
In the morning the Luftwaffe sends over 120 aircraft in three waves, with the South Coast coming under attack. In the afternoon another three waves of German aircraft cross the English Channel and the Vauxhall car factory in Luton is bombed, 39 people are killed.
31st August 1940
As the air battle intensifies Fighter Command losses 41 aircraft, this will be the highest daily loss for it during the battle. Once again Royal Air Force airfields in the South and South East Coast come under attack. During the night Liverpool suffers its fourth consecutive day of bombing, when over 100 aircraft attack the City.
1st September 1940
The airfields of Fighter Command come under heavy attack with RAF Biggin Hill being damaged so much it would be classed as non-operational for a short period. During the night Liverpool was targeted again.
2nd September 1940
3rd September 1940
Airfields across Britain are attacked with night time again bringing the Luftwaffe to Liverpool for the sixth night in a row. No. 19 Squadron, which had been using cannon armed Spitfire Mk IBs, will convert back to machine-gun equipped Spitfire Mk IAs after continuing problems with the cannons.
4th September 1940
During the afternoon the Vickers factory at Brooklands suffers a heavy attack which destroys a number of buildings and kills 88 people and injures over 400.
5th September 1940
No. 312 Squadron is made operational operating Hawker Hurricane Mk Is from RAF Duxford.
The operations room at Duxford as it would have looked like during 19406th September 1940
As a result of intelligence obtained by the Royal Air Force showing preparations for invasion were continuing, an alert to prepare for invasion is issued.
Phase Three – The Blitz Begins
7th September 1940 - 30th September 1940
7th September 1940
The Luftwaffe makes its first co-ordinated raid on Central London when just after 17:00 around 965 aircraft attacked the Dockland areas, Woolwich and Purfleet. Further raids followed on the East End and Central London and when the attack ended at 4:30 the following morning 430 people had been killed. This would be the first of 57 consecutive nights of bombing on the capital.
8th September 1940
During an air raid the shelter housing people and visitors from the Peabody Estate, Whitechapel suffers a direct hit, killing 78 people.
9th September 1940
Targets across London come under attack during the day and into the night.
10th September 1940
Italy's Regia Aeronautica (Italian Air Force) will take part in the Battle of Britain. Operating from Belgium around 200 aircraft will become part of the Regia Aeronautica air expeditionary force which is formed for this purpose and called the Corpo Aereo Italiano (Italian Air Corps).
11th September 1940
Hitler postpones the decision on whether the invasion of Britain will go ahead until the 14th September.
13th September 1940
No. 966 Balloon Squadron scores a balloon barrages first victory when a Heinkel He 111 crashes near Newport, Wales.
14th September 1940
Winston Churchill tells the nation in a radio broadcast that the German invasion “if it is to come, will come soon”. For the second time Adolf Hitler delays the decision on invading Britain, this time until the 17th September.
15th September 1940
The Luftwaffe launch an attack in a bid to finally overcome the Royal Air Force and win the battle for air superiority. London would be attacked twice, first at 11:00 when two waves of aircraft totalling around 250 bombed the capital. Then at 14:00 two waves of aircraft, again around 250, attacked London. Southampton and Portland were also targeted, whilst during the night a further raid on London occurred.
Spitfires of No. 222 Squadron take off © ww2images.com16th September 1940
No. 9 Group, Fighter Command is formed. This will cover Northern Ireland and the North West of England and will be headed by Air Vice-Marshal Wilfred McClaughry.
17th September 1940
Operation Sealion is postponed until otherwise ordered by Hitler.
18th September 1940
London again comes under attack during the day and night.
19th September 1940
Raids take place across the UK as London again is bombed as are targets along the Essex and Sussex coast. During the night the South West, Midlands and London come under attack.
24th September 1940
Tilbury and Southampton come under attack during the day whilst at night London is attacked again.
25th September 1940
The Bristol Aircraft Company based at Filton, Bristol is bombed. 92 people are killed.
26th September 1940
Southampton comes under attack twice during the day and as a result the Supermarine factory at Woolston is put out of action and 110 people are killed.
27th September 1940
The Tripartite Pact is signed by Germany, Italy and Japan, whilst in Britain bombers on anti-invasion standby are freed up.
30th September 1940
London again comes under attack by the Luftwaffe during the night.
Phase Four – The Battle Reaches Its Conclusion
1st October 1940 - 31st October 1940
1st October 1940
The Luftwaffe start to change tactics with bombers attacking at night and fighter-bombers during the day.
3rd October 1940
The de Havilland Aircraft Company factory at Hatfield is attacked by a sole Junkers Ju 88. As a result 21 people are killed and 70 injured with some materials for de Havilland's new Mosquito aircraft destroyed. The Ju 88 was later shot down by anti-aircraft fire with the crew ending up as prisoners of war.
5th October 1940
6th October 1940
Coastal towns and targets of interest come under attack during the day from Luftwaffe fighter-bombers. Meanwhile the RAF target barges at Dutch ports amongst other targets.
7th October 1940
No. 80 (Signals) Wing is formed at RAF Radlett and is the first electronic warfare unit of the Royal Air Force. They will be used to interrupt any aids used to help the Luftwaffe pinpoint their targets.
8th October 1940
Sergeant Josef Frantisek DFM of No. 303 Squadron who, with 17 victories, was the highest scoring Allied Battle of Britain pilot dies in a flying accident at the age of 27 when his Hurricane Mk I (R4175) crashes in Ewell, Surrey.
10th October 1940
Weymouth, Kent and London come under attack during the day. At night airfields are targeted as well as Manchester and London.
12th October 1940
In an effort to keep the pressure on Britain to seek peace Hitler wants invasion preparations to continue, but postpones the invasion until spring 1941.
14th October 1940
During a raid on London a bomb explodes at Balham Tube Station where a number of people are sheltering. In total nearly 70 people die.
15th October 1940
104 people are killed when a trench shelter in Kennington Park, Lambeth suffers a direct hit. BBC Broadcasting House, in London, is bombed, killing seven people.
19th October 1940
Liverpool, The Midlands, London and Bristol are all attacked during the night.
20th October 1940
138 aircraft from Bomber Command attack a range of targets in Germany and Italy.
21st October 1940
The West Country, Liverpool and London come under further daytime attacks.
22nd October 1940
During the night the Luftwaffe bombs London, Liverpool and Coventry.
23rd October 1940
In the day attacks are made by aircraft flying alone in the South East and Midlands whilst at night Glasgow is bombed as is London again.
24th October 1940
The Corpo Aereo Italiano join the battle when 18 Fiat BR 20s take off from airfields in Belgium to raid Felixstowe and Harwich during the night.
25th October 1940
Air Marshal Sir Cyril Newall is replaced by Sir Charles Portal as Chief of the Air Staff.
26th October 1940
Fighter-bomber attacks are made on London and Kent whilst a number of major cities are bombed.
29th October 1940
The Corpo Aereo Italiano again attacks Britain as during the day 15 BR 20s, escorted by Fiat CR.42 Falcos and Fiat G.50s, bomb Ramsgate.
30th October 1940
The crew of No. 23 Squadron Blenheim Mk IF (L6721) are the last official casualties of the battle. Taking-off from RAF Ford, for a night patrol, the combination of bad weather and radio failure led to the aircraft crashing in South Bersted, Sussex, killing all three crew members. Pilot Flying Officer Herbert Woodward, 24, air gunner Pilot Officer Allan Atkinson, 32, and radar operator Sergeant Harry Perry, 23.
31st October 1940
After 3 months and 3 weeks the Battle of Britain ends. With the Luftwaffe's failure to gain air superiority over Southern Britain the invasion cannot take place during 1940. Although the Blitz will continue over the coming months as cities across the UK are bombed.
The Battle of Britain Ends, The Blitz Continues
1st November 1940 - 11th May 1941
With the battle now over and the Luftwaffe unable to overcome the Royal Air Force and daylight attacks proving costly in both aircrew and aircraft, the Luftwaffe would turn to night operations targeting cities with the intention to weaken civilian morale as a continuation of the Blitz. This would also see the rise of a new tactic adopted by the Germans of attacking cities on consecutive nights.
During the six months that followed the UK would suffer 135 major or heavy attacks with London being targeted the most, suffering a particularly devastating attack on the 29th December 1940, then Liverpool and Birmingham. Wherever there were factories vital to Britain's war industry the Luftwaffe would attack those cities, including Manchester with its A V Roe factory, Sheffield with its armament factories, Cardiff and its docks were bombed as were Hull's, the industrial area of Clydebank and Glasgow and the docks and shipyard at Belfast also come under attack.
One of the worst raids of the Blitz occurred on the 14th November 1940 when the Luftwaffe launched Operation Moonlight Sonata targeting Coventry. On that night 568 people were killed and the Cathedral destroyed when 437 aircraft bombed the city. This would lead to a new word by the Germans "to coventrieren" (to Coventrate). The 23rd November 1940 saw Southampton attacked heavily for the first time as well. November would also see Air Marshal Sir William Sholto Douglas replace Sir Hugh Dowding as Commander-in-Chief of Fighter Command on the 25th. Four days later, on the 29th November 1940, Liverpool was attacked again and 166 people died when the shelter at Edge Hill Training Centre received a direct hit from a parachute mine, whilst former Prime Minister Neville Chamberlin had died at the age of 71 on the 9th November.
December 1940 would see No. 66 Squadron perform the first Rhubarb fighter sweep over Europe on the 20th as Fighter Command started to go on the offensive.
The last major bombing raid of this period was on the 11th May 1941, when London was attacked, with over 1,400 people killed. When the Blitz officially ended the same day, it brought to an end 8 months and 10 days of attacks which saw over 40,000 people lose their lives. Although Adolf Hitler turned his attention to the invasion of the Soviet Union, this wasn't the end of attacks on the UK, as over the coming months and years the Luftwaffe would return.