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View series: The second World War, 1939-1945

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The Battle of Britain July- November 1940

This map is part of a series of 15 animated maps showing the history of The second World War, 1939-1945.

By the summer of 1940, Hitler had succeeded in taking control of most of Europe. He tried to negotiate with Great Britain to stay out of the war so that he could concentrate on the Eastern Front. 

As Churchill refused, Hitler decided to launch Operation Sealion and ordered the Luftwaffe to prepare an invasion of the British Isles designed to force the United Kingdom out of the war.

With aerodromes in Western Europe, Germany could now install air fleets in Normandy and the Pas de Calais, while air bases in Denmark and Norway could be used to attack Scotland and the east coast of England.

On 10 July, the German air force began its offensive with attacks against the Channel ports: Plymouth, Weymouth, Falmouth, Portsmouth and Dover, turning later to bomb shipping in the Thames estuary and naval convoys in the English Channel

The Channel Battles lasted one month, but, unable to gain a decisive victory, Germany changed tactics.  On 13 August, the Luftwaffe focused its operations on the destruction of the Royal Air Force, with massive bombing raids against aerodromes and command posts around London, communication centres on the south and east coasts, as well as aeronautical factories.

However, the RAF was in a better position than the Luftwaffe: it was fighting from its home bases and had set up a network of coastal radar stations which provided early warnings of the bomber raids.  It was thus ready to offer serious resistance to Germany’s attacks, though both sides experienced heavy losses.

Once again, Hitler decided to change tactics, ordering the Luftwaffe to fly heavy bombing missions against major English cities. The Blitz began on 7 September. London was subjected to relentless bombing for several weeks, and the skies of Kent were filled with daily dogfights between German and British pilots.

The losses suffered by the Luftwaffe and the onset of autumn with its unfavourable weather conditions led Hitler to set aside his plans for the invasion of England. The bombing of English towns continued, though less frequently.  On 14 November, Coventry was totally destroyed and Birmingham, Southampton, Bristol, Plymouth, and Liverpool suffered regular attacks between November 1940 and May 1941.

On 10 May, the night sky was filled with more than 500 bombers on their last raid against London, leaving large numbers of casualties and the House of Commons seriously damaged.

More than forty thousand civilians died during the Blitz, but the British population’s resistance led to the Third Reich’s first serious military defeat.