For Hitler, the failure to defeat the Royal Air Force in the summer of 1940 was an annoyance rather than a major strategic set-back. He had long declared his preference to have Great Britain as an ally. He had hoped the British would not ‘interfere’ with his invasion of Poland. He had expected the British government to sue for peace after the fall of France. When the Luftwaffe proved incapable of creating the conditions for an invasion, Hitler turned his attention back to his long-held goal of invading the Soviet Union. The war against the Soviet Union was Hitler’s passion; the war against the British Empire was an irritating complication about which he lost little sleep. To this day, most Germans have never even heard of the Battle of Britain, and if they have, they attribute to it no major significance.
Yet for Britain, the United States, Occupied Europe, and later even the Soviet Union, the significance of the Battle of Britain can hardly be over-stated.
Although Hitler had not expected it would be necessary to invade England, he had been prepared to do so. Likewise, while neither the German Navy nor Army were keen about a cross-channel invasion, they dutifully made the necessary preparations. Their reluctance would not have stopped Hitler from ordering the invasion of England had he chosen to do so. However, it was agreed within the German High Command that the Luftwaffe would pave the way for an invasion by establishing air superiority over Britain. It was hoped — and perhaps assumed — that the air attacks would drive the British government to the negotiating table.
It was only as the costs of the air fighting mounted and the British government remained intransigent that Hitler made the decision to postpone the invasion indefinitely. This decision was taken on September 17, mainly as a result of the air fighting on September 15. The furious and tenacious defense of English airspace on September 15, 1940 proved that the RAF was far from defeated.
The victory was not immediately apparent. The Luftwaffe continued to attack Britain on a smaller scale by day and neither German troops nor barges were withdrawn from the channel ports until the spring of 1941. Furthermore, the night “Blitz” of London continued savagely throughout the winter. The British people did not feel safe from invasion until the Wehrmacht had turned its attention to the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941.
Yet the RAF had failed to discourage Hitler from his plans to invade Britain, the course of the war would inevitably have been different. A German invasion would have been launched. Whether the Royal Navy, seriously weakened by the losses incurred at Dunkirk and dangerously over-stretched trying to protect the Atlantic lifeline, could have stopped it remains questionable. Certainly, the British ground forces lacked tanks and artillery for fighting the heavily mechanized Wehrmacht if it successfully came ashore. Churchill was not only being rhetorical when he spoke about fighting a guerrilla war against the invaders!
Thus, in retrospect, we know that the Battle of Britain is what saved the British Isles from a Nazi invasion and very likely from Nazi occupation.
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