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“The RAF was responsible for preventing an invasion of Britain in 1940”. How far is this an accurate view of the reasons for abandoning Operation Sea Lion

To a large extent the RAF was responsible for Hitler abandoning Operation Sea Lion. If Hitler did not have air superiority there was no great chance of success if he invaded England but there were many other factors that also contributed to his abandonment of the Operation. This essay will explore all those factors that contributed to his decision.Hitler’s plan was to attack Britain in three places, Dover, Hastings and Brighton. A third of his army would go southwest while the other two thirds would attack London from the north. These were virtually the same tactics used by the Normans led by William the Conqueror in 1066, which was the last time England was invaded. Hitler had expected Britain to make peace, but he was very wrong. He had completely underestimated the will of the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and his ability to rouse a nation. Before Hitler could invade Britain he needed to rule the skies over Britain.To do this he needed to defeat the RAF, at the time badly crippled after the fight for France. Half of fighter command had been lost after the evacuation of Dunkirk. The British army was in the same state with no fully equipped divisions or anti aircraft guns. If Hitler had launched a ground attack Britain would have easily fallen. All that lay between Britain and defeat was the RAF.That the RAF played a large part in Hitler’s choice to abandon Operation Sea Lion was mainly due to Air Chief Marshall Lord Dowding and Lord Beaverbrook. Dowding was in charge of the RAF and Beaverbrook in charge of the production of aircraft. On the 10th August the British Fighter Command had only 749 fighters with which to wage the Battle of Britain. Hitler had 809 fighter planes, as well as 246 bombers that had fighting capabilities. This disadvantage was not a big problem to fighter command because the Hurricane and Spitfire were the best aircraft in production. A German pilot once said when asked how they were going to win the Battle of Britain, ” Give me a squadron of Spitfires”. The RAF’s only role in the Battle of Britain was to dogfight. This suited the capabilities of the Spitfire and Hurricane perfectly. They were highly manoeuvrable and fast.British aircraft production, run by Lord Beaverbrook was very effective and fast. During the critical months more than 650 fighter planes were produced. It was easy enough to produce aeroplanes but trained pilots were the main shortage. Many men were attracted by the stylish lifestyle supposedly led by the fighter pilots. Typically most of their time was spent lazing around waiting to be ‘scrambled’, but this is not to dismiss the desperate dangers they faced when in action.Fighter command had the huge advantage of Radar (Radio Detection and Ranging). The Germans did not have this technology. They could not understand until later on in the war how the British planes took off once the Luftwaffe was within a 100mile vicinity of the British coast. A large chain of radar stations was built along the coast. Once the stations had detected the Luftwaffe, they would relay the information by way of VHF radio, another recent development, to fighter command. The aircraft would then be scrambled to fight the Luftwaffe. This gave them a huge advantage. It meant that Britain did not have to keep planes in the air the whole time to fight the Luftwaffe. This saved a lot of time and resources.The RAF had the home advantage. They fought all their battles over home ground. If they were shot down they were ready to fight another battle, but if a German was shot down he was a prisoner of war. German planes had only thirty minutes of fuel when they reached Britain before they had to turn round. British planes on the other hand could return to base and refuel and get back in the air to continue the attack.If Germany had gained control of the skies the next problem they would have met would be the Royal Navy. Britain’s navy was far superior to Germany’s, which was currently severely crippled after their Norwegian campaign. Germany had only four main battleships to Britain’s 20, some of which were French. The Germans had failed to capture any of the French ships as the French had scuttled most of them and some had escaped to Britain. Even with air superiority Germany would still have had great difficulty crossing the English Channel.One factor German military planners had not taken into account was the attitude of the British people, commonly known as the ‘bulldog spirit’ and inspired by the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. The British had complete faith in Churchill to lead them to another victory. He gave rousing speeches and made defeats seem like victories. British morale throughout the war was always high. British propaganda was also effective. Hundreds of people gave up, for instance, thousands of pots and pans and metal railings for making aeroplanes. Even though it is impossible to make an aeroplane from that type of metal it made ordinary people feel part of the war effort. This type of propaganda brought the nation together. The British nation would fight to the last man before giving in to the mighty German war machine. This is something Hitler had not taken into account.Hitler was very close to obliterating the southern airfields, but an event happened that diverted the course of the war. A German bomber lost its way and bombed London. In retaliation Churchill ordered the bombing of Berlin. Hitler was so furious that he ordered the Luftwaffe to concentrate its bombing not on the airfields but on London. This gave fighter command much-needed time to regroup and re-supply its bombed airfields. This change of tactics cost Hitler, unknowingly, air supremacy over Britain.Hitler was continually changing his tactics and constantly postponed Operation Sea Lion. There was a lot of arguing between the German army, navy, air force and Hitler. This arguing and the consequent delays were vital to Britain keeping control of the skies, because it allowed them to rebuild. The Luftwaffe pilots were trained as bomber pilots due to the blitzkrieg tactics, which involved a lot of bombing of supply routes and communications. When they were forced to dogfight with British planes, whose pilots mostly had never flown a bomber, they were pitifully ill prepared.Some historians like Christopher Ray believe that Operation Sea Lion was just a front for the invasion of USSR. Hitler’s main aim was to gain Lebensraum (living space) for the “1000 Year Reich”, and to trick Stalin into thinking he was preparing to attack Britain, although in actual fact he was massing his forces to attack the USSR. He spread rumours that he was going to attack Spain and North Africa as well as Britain. No historian has yet proved that the Operation Sea Lion was a hoax to con Stalin into believing that Hitler had other intentions. This would fit in perfectly with Hitler’s main aims such as Lebensraum. Hitler had used many deception methods while invading France, so to pretend to invade Britain would not be new to himThe RAF played a key role in Hitler’s decision to abandon Operation Sea Lion. Without the RAF Britain would have surely been invaded, if that was Hitler’s real intention. (Some historians believe that Operation Sea Lion was just a front to trick Stalin into thinking that Hitler had no intention in invading the USSR.) If this were the case, why would Hitler have sacrificed hundreds of his aircraft and crew? It seems much more likely that Hitler underestimated Britain’s will to fight and their resources. Operation Sea Lion was a planned attack, but Hitler realised that it would not work so he eventually abandoned the operation. This means that the RAF played a large role in Hitler’s choice of abandoning Operation Sea Lion. If they had not been as strong as they were Britain would have fallen to Germany, subject only to Germany managing to gain control of the seas.

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