On this day, 70 years ago, the most decisive day of the Battle of Britain took place.
Churchill’s famous quote afterwards is one that still resonates today. “Never in the field of human conflict, was so much owed by so many to so few.”
Sitting in my garden on this warm, sunny September morning, it’s simply impossible to imagine what the citizens of southern England were watching a generation ago. It is difficult to believe, as I watch the vapour trail of a commercial liner disappear silently towards the English coastline, that whilst the Focke-Wulfs, Spitfires, Messerchmitts and Mosquitos battled for air supremacy with fearful spectators below, the probable fate of Great Britain was being decided. Hitler wanted to invade Russia, and was convinced that Britain would cede, thus negating the need for an amphibious invasion, with all the problems that that entailed.
Preparations for Operation Sea Lion (an airborne and amphibious invasion) were ready by mid-August. For secrecy, the orders were only issued to Commanders in Chief, but when Hermann Göring passed it on to his Luftwaffe Air Fleet commanders by coded radio messages, it was intercepted by Britain’s Y-Service and successfully decrypted by Hut 6 at Bletchley Park.
After the Battle of Britain had finished, in the late Autumn of 1940, Bletchley Park intercepts showed that Hitlers plans had changed. Although bombing of Britain continued, and the Blitz was particularly heavy, German eyes were now moving East, partly due to the weather making a channel crossing impossible, but also because air superiority was out of the question.
This coming weekend I shall be heading to Arnhem in Holland, to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Operation Market Garden. Although this ultimately ended in failure, its ability to be launched in the first place stems from The Battle of Britain.
There are still a handful of “The Few” that remain with us, none of them would see themselves as hero’s, not a single one, yet there cannot be many of us who live in free democracies around Europe that don’t think of them as such.
Sirs, I salute you one and all.