Wednesday, February 11, 2015
Who won the Battle of Britain?
The bit of history I want to challenge below may seem to be of no interest to people today but, as we shall see, its central lesson is in fact highly relevant to America's current war on Daesh in Syria.
Finding the truth amid a fog of lies is always hard but if we are to deal with reality constructively, we need to find the truth. One of the great obstacles is propaganda -- and wartime propaganda is surprisingly persistent. The propaganda of the victor in a war tends to become the history of that war. I don't think anyone now believes the WWI Allied propaganda that it was "The great war for civilization" but that is probably only because so much has happened since then.
One bit of propaganda that always amuses me is the Hollywood portrayal of German troops in WWII as stupid and hopeless bunglers while Allied troops were savvy and clever. That is of course the exact opposite of the truth. One only has to reflect on the mere 6 weeks that it took Hitler's troops to overrun France to suspect that portrayal. It took Germany just 6 weeks to conquer French forces that were more numerous and in some ways better equipped than they were. The Wehrmacht was in fact by far the most militarily efficient force deployed in WWII.
And I am afraid that the British victory in the Battle of Britain is a myth too. The story is that poorly trained Allied airmen got into their Spitfires and turned back the Luftwaffe. They didn't. The Heinkel and Dornier bombers mostly got through and unloaded onto their target areas. The extensive damage they did to places like Coventry is testimony to that.
So what have we not been told? The fact is that the trained pilots of the Luftwaffe in their excellent Messerschmitt 109s made mincemeat out of the British fighters. The German bombers got through because their escorting Messerschmitts shot the Hawker Hurricanes and Supermarine Spitfires down before they could get to the bombers. The British counted as an air "Ace" a pilot who shot down a dozen or more German planes while Germany had lots of pilots with 100 or more "kills". Adolf Galland is the best known example of that but other Luftwaffe pilots had even more "kills". There is a list of WWII air aces somewhere and about the first 100 pilots on that list were German.
So how come the Royal Airforce did so poorly? The British aircraft were pretty good but the Battle of Britain was fought mainly by the older Hawker Hurricanes. Spitfire production had not ramped up at that stage. But all British fighters at that time mounted machine guns only, whereas the Messerschmitt had cannon as well. So a hit from a Messerschmitt could be much more deadly.
But some RAF pilots did relatively well so it was not mainly their machines that were wanting. It was their training. Like the French, the British had simply not trained nearly enough pilots -- whereas Germany had been training pilots since the Spanish civil war. Britain's large motor vehicle industry was readily converted from making motor cars to making aircraft and it did pour out lots of them. But where were the pilots to fly them? Men were sent up to face the Luftwaffe with as little as ten hours of air training. They were lucky to get their machine pointed in the right direction at that stage and were hence sitting ducks. Very few allied pilots lasted long. It was common for them to fly only a few sorties at most before being shot down.
So why did the Luftwaffe eventually go away? Because the German High Command learnt at that stage a lesson the Allies also learnt later on when it was their turn to bomb Germany: Aircraft are expensive and bombing is not very effective at achieving war aims. You need boots on the ground. America is facing that fact right now in its attempts to suppress Daesh in Syria. Fortunately, Daesh do not have an air arm
What Germany found was that bombing affected production of war materiel only marginally and that it did not corrode enemy morale to any significant extent. So the Luftwaffe went away and concentrated on easy targets in Russia instead.
So nobody won the battle of Britain. The Royal Airforce did not stop the bombing and the Luftwaffe failed to achieve their basic objectives of stopping British war production and intimidating the British population.
Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).