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(CRISIS and WAR in EUROPE, 1937 to 1940 – continued)

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CRISIS and WAR in EUROPE, 1937 to 1940 (9 of 11)

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The Battle of Britain

This man is a strange mixture of heroism and cunning. If he had come to power in 1933, we would not be where we are today."      Goebbels on Churchill, 7 May 1941 

In addition to wanting France as a friendly and obedient ally, Hitler wanted peace with Britain. He wished for Britain to continue maintaining its empire. The disintegration of Britain's empire, he said, would not profit Germany. Crushing Britain, he said, would be spilling blood that would profit only Japan, the United States and others. To Britain, still officially at war with Germany, Hitler offered peace.

Britain had already lost 78 of its 178 destroyers. It was without its French partner in the war it declared against Germany back in September, France having signed an armistice with Germany on 22 June 1940. Having lost the support of the French navy, Britain's position on the trade route across the Mediterranean Sea was grim, and Britain was fighting to protect its ships in the Atlantic from air and submarine attacks.

Churchill would have none of Hitler's peace – unless Germany withdrew from all the territories it had recently overrun. Churchill spoke of "every man and every woman" having the chance to show the finest qualities of their race." On July 4 he said:

We shall prosecute the war with the utmost vigor by all means that are given to us, until the righteous purposes for which we entered upon it have been fulfilled.

On July 19 Hitler gave a two-hour speech in Berlin that concluded with a peace offer to Britain:

In this hour I feel compelled, standing before my conscience, to direct yet another appeal to reason in England. I believe I can do this as I am not asking for something as the vanquished, but rather, as the victor! I am speaking in the name of reason! I see no compelling reason which could force the continuation of this war!

The war between Britain and Germany continued. German submarines were attempting to blockade Britain, and, on August 8, Germany began sending an armada of airplanes against Britain – their target radar stations and forward fighter-plane air bases. Britain's pilots were outnumbered but continued to shoot down German aircraft, prompting Churchill's statement that never had so many owed so much to so few.

On August 23 the Germans began attacking aircraft factories and inland fighter-plane bases. The British in two weeks lost 262 fighter planes and the Germans lost 378. British fighter pilots were worn out and extremely stressed, and these two weeks of fighting were described as the blackest days of the "Battle of Britain."

On August 24, a lost formation of German bombers mistakenly dropped their bombs on London, damaging a few buildings. The Germans pilots had been instructed not to bomb London. In retaliation the British sent bombers against Berlin. Cloud cover limited the bombing, and the damage to buildings was slight. Ten Germans were killed and twenty-nine wounded. But it was the first bombing of Berlin, and the Germans were shocked. Hitler told an audience that when the British declare they will raze "our cities" then we will "raze their cities to the ground."

Hitler began a massive bombing campaign against London. This change of tactics saved Britain's radar system, which British fighter pilots needed to warn them and not be caught on the ground. And attacking London rather than air bases was another reprieve, and fighter-pilot morale improved.

Germany's massive bomber attack on London did not wear down the British, nor did it do much damage to British industry. A lot of buildings were destroyed. , 6,954 people were killed and 10,615 were wounded, but the bombing campaign against London also produced a serious loss of German pilots and aircraft. Having had his retaliation and having been disappointed over Germany's losses in the air, on September 17 Hitler reduced the size and frequency of his assaults against Britain and postponed an invasion of Britain "until further notice." The attacks on British cities continued. On the evening of 17 September, 300 German bombers crossed the Channel to Britain. It would be in October that Germany would end its regular bombing of Britain.

On the night of November 14, around 500 German aircraft attacked the English city of Coventry, a raid that lasted more than 10 hours. 150,000 incendiary bombs were dropped, and more than 500 tons of high explosives. 27 factories were destroyed. Reports describe 4,330 homes destroyed and three-quarters of the city, with 568 people killed and more than 400 burned so badly they could not be identified.

Two days later the British retaliated, sending more 200 British aircraft against the German city of Hamburg on two successive nights. On the first night the Blohm & Voss shipyard was damaged and over 60 fires were started. On the second night only 60 aircraft were able to find their target, and damage was far less.

Between 10 July 10 and 31 October 1940 Britain lost 1,065 aircraft and Germany lost 1,922, including 881 bombers. During what has been described as the London Blitz, ending in May 1941, 43,381 were killed and 50,856 were injured. note55

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