The first phase of the Battle of Britain focused on the English Channel, where the Luftwaffe attacked convoys and English ports.
Photo: Soldiers at a defence post on the south-east coast anxiously watch German aircraft overhead on 1 August 1940. (Getty Images)
Ed Murrow reports on the Battle of Britain
Ed Murrow, the American broadcast journalist, gives his account of how the air battle moved from the Channel to the Kent coast, and then to London. He describes the living conditions of Londoners and the daily threat that their homes could be destroyed.
Eyewitnesses describe the battles over the Channel
Frank Scrivener, a resident of Dover, remembers the excitement of watching the dogfights over the Channel. Edith Heap, a ground control technician from the Women's Auxillary Air Force, describes the intensity of hearing the pilots' commentary during the battles.
Andrew Marr reveals the origin of a famous Churchill phrase
Andrew Marr reveals the origin of Churchill’s famous phrase, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few”, and how RAF Fighter Command repulsed attacks by the Luftwaffe.
Air to Surface Vessels (ASV) radar.
The Air to Surface Vessels (ASV) radar system is explained to RAF Officers and then fitted to the first long-range squadrons.
A dogfight above the British coast.
The sea rescue of a ditched RAF fighter crew after a dogfight above the British coast.
Attacks on shipping convoys
With the fall of France, Hitler's forces reached the English Channel where they waited for a British surrender. When this was not forthcoming, Hitler started planning for a cross-Channel invasion. With his Chiefs of Staff agreed that air superiority over the RAF was crucial, the German air force began their offensive. They called it 'Kanalkampf', or Battle of the Channel.
From the beginning of July, the Luftwaffe probed the RAF's defences as a prelude to launching an all-out assault. On the 4th, there was a major attack on Portland and the anti-aircraft ship HMS Foylebank. Three days later, four RAF pilots were killed in battle and three more the following day.
Then, from 10 July, attacks focused on the ships bringing vital supplies to Britain. The Luftwaffe tempted RAF fighters out over the Channel to test their defences and daily dogfights took place over the water and the south coast. On 14 July, BBC reporter Charles Gardener excitedly (and, for some, inappropriately) described an attack on a convoy by Junkers Ju87s (Stukas) and Messerschmitts that was fought off by Spitfires and Hurricanes.
During this period, 30,000 tonnes of shipping was lost, although this was from a total of almost a million tonnes passing through the Channel every week. However, on 29 July, the Admiralty re-routed daylight convoys out of the Channel as it was becoming too costly to sustain.
Bombing of ports on the South coast
As well as attacking convoys, the Luftwaffe also bombed ports on the south coast and as far afield as Swansea. Dover was particularly badly hit, earning it the name 'Hell-Fire Corner'. The plan was to destroy some of the ports' defences in order to make an invasion easier.
The Luftwaffe also attacked some airfields and radar stations. Fortunately, the Germans did not fully understand the importance of radar or how it was used and never launched an attack strong enough to cripple the system completely. However, radar stations were a favoured target for the Stukas and some were very badly damaged.
But changes were afoot. On 1 August in his Directive Number 17, Hitler ordered the obliteration of all RAF flying units, ground units and supply organisations, as well as the destruction of the British aircraft industry.
So Hermann Goering, head of the Luftwaffe, added Fighter Command's airfields to his hit list. The probing was over - the 'Eagle Attack' was about to begin.
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