July 2015 marked the 75th anniversary of the start of the Battle of Britain. Pivotal to the outcome of the Second World War, the battle was an attempt by German forces to defeat and ultimately invade Britain and continue their dominance in Western Europe. To invade, they first needed air supremacy and it fell to the Few, a group of nearly 3,000 brave young pilots and their crews, to defend the country and battle for control of the skies.
From September 1939 to June 1940, Adolf Hitler’s German forces and their allies had overwhelmed Western Europe. After German victories in Belgium, Holland and France, Britain was seen to be next. In a speech to the House of Commons on 18 June 1940, Winston Churchill warned that, following the fall of France, the Battle of Britain was about to begin.
What General Weygand has called the Battle of France is over … the Battle of Britain is about to begin – Winston Churchill, 18 June 1940
By the end of June 1940, the Luftwaffe (the German Air Force) had indeed turned their attention to Britain. On 10 July 1940 they began attacks on convoy and merchant ships in the English Channel, an act which would begin a three month struggle for air supremacy in the skies over Britain.
The battle would prove to be a true test of British resolve as it spanned 114 days, from 10 July to 31 October 1940. It began with a series of attacks on convoys in the English Channel in July but the main German assault came in August 1940, when the attention turned to RAF defences and airfields. As the battle entered September, the offensive tactics changed again, as the Luftwaffe took to targeting towns and cities, with London at the centre of the attacks. For three long months Britain remained defiant as the Few defended the country against attack after attack. The threat of invasion was ever-present yet the British spirit remained strong.
By October it was clear that Hitler’s plans had been thwarted, and the Battle of Britain had been won. Sadly, more than 500 of the 3,000 brave young pilots and their crews – known today as the Few – were killed in action. This year we remember their sacrifice and honour the Few as we mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.
Never in the field of human conflict, was so much owed, by so many, to so few – Winston Churchill, 20 August 1940
It is no surprise that today the Battle of Britain is regarded by many as the turning point in the Second World War for allied forces. While there were several battles of greater scale during the war, it was the significance of the Battle of Britain that cemented its place as one of the great battles in history.
This summer the UK will mark the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain and, among a number of commemorations, the anniversary is marked on UK coins, on the 2015 50p. It features an evocative design by Gary Breeze which has captured a sense of courage coupled with foreboding with a trio of airmen scrambling for their planes as a squadron of threatening aircraft swarm overhead.
The Battle of Britain 2015 50p is expected to enter general circulation later this year in recognition of the commemorations. If you would like to mark the anniversary with a special addition to your collection, the coin is now available from www.royalmint.com in a range of precious metals that showcase Gary Breeze’s design in fine detail.
If you would like to find out more about the Battle of Britain, take a look at the RAF website.