After the invasion and defeat of France in June 1940, Hitler turned his attention to the invasion of Britain, the last country in Western Europe to stand against him.
Photo: Hitler giving his 'Last Appeal to Reason' speech to the German Reichstag at the Kroll Opera House in Berlin, 19 July 1940. (akg-images/Ullstein Bild)
Public reaction to the imminent invasion of Britain
Frank Scrivener and Bill Pertwee remember how England's southern coast became like a fortress in preparation for the anticipated German invasion.
German scepticism about the planned invasion of Britain
German naval officers describe their scepticism about the likely success of the planned invasion of Britain.
History was part of Churchill's life
A.J.P. Taylor describes how Churchill often turned to historical precedents.
Simon Sebag Montefiore explains why Hitler's speeches were so convincing.
The historian Simon Sebag Montefiore assesses Hitler's oratorical skills and explains why his rhetoric could have convinced the German people he had 'good' intentions.
Ed Murrow describes the evacuation of Dunkirk.
Ed Murrow, the American broadcast journalist, describes the evacuation of Dunkirk, the effect on the British population, and preparations to defend against a German invasion.
"Eliminate the English motherland"
Following six weeks of fighting in May and June, France yielded to the Nazi invasion. After the French armistice was signed on 22 June, Britain was the only country resisting Germany. Hitler did not particularly wish to invade Britain; after the fall of France, he assumed the British would simply surrender.
Hitler was therefore surprised when Britain did not surrender. On 16 July, he issued 'Directive Number 16'. This authorised detailed preparations for an invasion landing in Britain, codenamed Operation Sealion. It stated: "The aim of this operation is to eliminate the English motherland as a base from which war against Germany can be continued, and, if this should become unavoidable, to occupy it to the full extent".
Defeat the RAF, then invade
Initially, Directive 16 envisaged a landing along the southern coast of England, from Lyme Regis in Dorset to Ramsgate in Kent. The German navy would contain the Royal Navy in the North Sea and the Mediterranean, and would sweep the English Channel for mines.
Most significantly, the German military leadership agreed that the Luftwaffe must defeat the RAF before the invasion could take place, so that it could not attack the German forces from the air as they were transported across the Channel.
German forces planned to begin the air attack on 5 August. They set no specific date for the invasion, as it was dependent on the success of the air battle. However Hitler wanted all preparations to be completed by mid-August. As the Germans now controlled the entire coastline of the North Sea and France, the Luftwaffe were within easy striking distance of most of Britain. Hermann Goering, the head of the Luftwaffe, drew up plans to destroy RAF Fighter Command in just four days.
Arrest political leaders, writers and journalists
Other preparations for the invasion included locating all available sea and river craft in Germany and training troops in amphibious landings. The Nazis also set out how the occupying German authorities in Britain would be organised. Amongst other tasks they planned to arrest key people who could pose a threat to their regime. The SS’s "Black Book" contained a list of targets, including Churchill and other political leaders, and writers and journalists such as Noel Coward, H.G. Wells and E.M. Forster.
Whilst the Germans savoured their victory over France and began detailing their preparations for the invasion of Britain, the RAF was steeling itself for the critical battle to come.