England was far from being the underdog and the claim that the RAF was outnumbered by two to one is wholly false. When Germany retaliated against England thirteen months after England’s declaration of war they had a total of 702 single-seaters and 261 heavy fighters. A total of 963 aircraft. It was a year in which Britain produced 4,283 fighter aircraft compared with Germany’s production of just over 3,000 single and twin-engine fighters. Contrary to propaganda, re-cycled and original, German aircraft were not superior to their RAF adversaries.
The predominantly used Messer Schmidt 109 although slightly faster was at a disadvantage when turning and maneuvering. Unlike the RAF fighter planes it offered no armor plated protection for the pilot. Furthermore, since most of the fighting was over British soil, German pilots and planes shot down were irretrievably lost. On the other hand downed British pilots often survived to fight again. Their planes were either salvaged or could be cannibalized for essential spare parts.
Finally it must also be remembered that the ME 109’s cruising range was just 100 miles or 95 minutes in the air; it was constantly time vulnerable and unlike the RAF fighters had to break away prematurely to return to their distant bases. The also-ran ME 110, which had a top speed of less than 300 mph, was easily outpaced by Spitfires and Hurricanes.
5. Goering, the Luftwaffe commander, was incompetent
This popular myth is based on the idea that his tactical decisions placed the Luftwaffe in a very difficult strategic position unnecessarily. While it is true that Goering was ruthless and was tried for countless numbers of crimes against humanity, the issue of his military competence needs to be rectified to give an objective appraisal of the Battle of Britain.
First, the Luftwaffe was the singular most effective air force at the beginning of World War II. Its creation was totally Goering’s doing, though its dominance and effectiveness cannot be completely attributed to him. Nevertheless, he had the command skills to put the air force exactly where it was needed and when it was needed. He was also very open minded about new and sometimes revolutionary ideas that would increase the effectiveness of the Luftwaffe during the course of the war.
Examples of introducing new aviation ideas were the use of dive bombers and creating escort squadrons to accompany long range bomber missions. The idea of a military airborne fighter force was completely new in the 1930’s. He advanced the idea of night fighters, forming a group of fighters to experiment with the success of flying over enemy targets under the cover of darkness. The plane, the Messerschmitt Bf110, was considered to be best for this tactic. In June of 1940, Goering decided on Hauptmann Wolfgang Fauck to be in charge of the first night fighter unit, NJG 1.
More than a creative military mind, Goering inspired subordinates and other commanders alike. Hans-Jurgen Stumpff, a commander of Luftwaffe 5 during the Battle of Britain, described Goering as a Nazi officer “with a tremendous strength; he was full of bright ideas. After each meeting with him you felt strongly inspired and filled with energy.”
4. The Messerschmitt Bf110 was an underachieving fighter plane
This perception of the Messerschmitt was due in part by the decision in September of 1940 to pull the plane from the battles along the English Channel and commit them to night fighter duty. The twin engine plane had received the reputation by some that it was because the plane had been “degraded” for general combat use.
The reality is that under pressure from Hitler and the German population in Berlin, the Messerschmitts were pulled to attempt to reduce the effectiveness of the night raids being made on Berlin and other German cities by the Allies. Goering’s decision was to use his best planes, not his worst, for the defense.
The theory had been advanced that the Bf110 was not a good daytime fighter plane and was the reason for its withdrawal. The thinking was that it was inferior and was best suited for bomber escort duties. Yet none of these claims can stand up to close scrutiny of the facts.
The creation of the Bf110 was inspired by the war games conducted in 1934. With Goering observing the winter battles, he overturned the idea that “the bombers would always get through” – that a sufficient number of bombers could not be stopped despite being attacked by fighter planes and conventional air defenses, and that when the bombers reached their destination they would inflict significant damage.
The idea of the Bf110 was presented the summer after the war games, and was the result of a study conducted by the Luftwaffe to be a twin engine, heavily armed fighter equipped with cannons and machine guns – very revolutionary at the time. The Fb110 was designed to protect the bombers against enemy fighters by sending them on high altitude patrols to clear the sky of enemy aircraft before the bombers arrived at their target destination.
This use of the BF110 was historically successful. The ratio of enemy fighters shot down was higher than any other aircraft during the Battle of Britain when compared to Messerschmitt losses. Records, though admittedly scarce recording the German side of the battle, rarely give the Fb110 its proper place in historical accounts. Close analysis of the existing historical records show that the Fb110 performed admirably during the Battle of Britain.
However, there were times when the Fb110 suffered significant losses in battles. The reason for this was primarily due to the fact that the fighters were ordered to fly slowly to provide escort to German bombers. Whether it was the Bf110 or the B109, both aircraft suffered heavy losses when on such missions. RAF fighters had marked successes against both planes; once on August 15, 1940 the German air group I./ZG 26 air group had 6 planes shot down, while on August 31, 1940 German air group I./JG 77 had lost 5 airplanes due to such missions over the North Sea.
3. The F109 pilots of the Germans were superior to the RAF pilots
An objective comparison between the two groups show that they were fairly equal. Admittedly, the Germans had pilots such as Adolf Galland and Werner Molders who had significantly more experience than many RAF pilots. However, this is more a matter of popular perception than actual statistics, even though accounts of the Battle of Britain favor absolute German superiority in the air. Both sides had similar training, so there was no reason to assign the German pilots such an advantage.
One thing is clear about the Battle of Britain when it comes to air superiority – the RAF pilots fought with greater stamina than the German pilots. A dozen RAF pilots were known during the battle to climb high to engage superior numbers of German planes, even though their Hurricanes were generally considered to be obsolete. In contrast, entire German bombers squadrons released their bombs when encountering RAF aircraft and German pilots were content with a single run at RAF formations. RAF pilots were also known to intentionally ram enemy aircraft.
The ratio of 2 RAF airplanes downed for every one F109 plane has been proven to be wrong based strictly by the numbers. When adding in the RAF losses inflicted by the German Fb110’s the ratio is considerably reduced.
A final point to be made about air combat during the Battle of Britain is the courage and effort of RAF pilots that have had to deal with claims that such courage was over exaggerated. Yet objective study of “The Few” demonstrates that without the contribution made by both the fighter pilots and bomber crews, the Battle of Britain would never have been won.
2. Goering’s decision to turn his sights towards London was one of the reasons the Germans lost the Battle of Britain
One thing is true: the RAF fighter command ground organization was almost completely destroyed as a result of the German air raids. The change to bomb London beginning on September 7, 1940 was based on this fact. However, this allowed the RAF to repair its damage and get its ground organization back to normal operation. Two weeks later the RAF engaged the German air forces and was the critical reason that forced Hitler to reverse course and cancel the invasion of Great Britain.
After an examination of firsthand accounts, it is clear Goering was opposed to the change of plans, and did so only upon orders from Hitler.
1. Bomber command played a minor role in the Battle of Britain
Winston Churchill himself acknowledged the importance of the pilots in his speech on August 29, 1940: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few. All hearts go out to the fighter pilots, whose brilliant actions we see with our own eyes day after day.”
Yet what is often missed is his own words in his historiography, “never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few. All hearts go out to the fighter pilots, whose brilliant actions we see with our own eyes day after day, but we must never forget that all the time, night after night, month after month, our bomber squadrons travel far into Germany, find their targets in the darkness by the highest navigational skill, aim their attacks, often under the heaviest fire, often with serious loss, with deliberate, careful discrimination, and inflict shattering blows upon the whole of the technical and war-making structure of the Nazi power.”
The entire objective of bombings is to destroy the enemy’s industry and fighting spirit. The small scale bombing raids conducted by Britain with inadequate aircraft on Berlin beginning in August 1940 had a significant impact, an impact that if absent, may have resulted in the Battle of Britain turning out much differently.
American correspondent William Shirer wrote this in his diary: “The main effect of a week of constant British night bombings has been to spread great disillusionment among the people here and sow doubt in their minds. One said to me today: ‘I’ll never believe another thing they say. If they’ve lied about the raids in the rest of Germany as they have about the ones on Berlin, then it must have been pretty bad there.”
The small scale raids are considered to be a major factor in Hitler’s decision to ease up on attacking the RAF ground command and turn his sights to London. More than that, the continuous night raids were successful, according to German records, of disrupting the sleep of German pilots which resulted in serious consequences. Finally, the British bombers conducted successful missions against German barges in the invasion fleet, raising the spirits of British forces.