Luftwaffe Strategy during the Battle of Britain

The Luftwaffe’s goals during the Battle of Britain were to destroy the Royal Air Force (RAF), achieve air superiority and enable the planned German invasion of mainland Britain call “Operation Sea Lion.”

This was the first time in World War Two that the Luftwaffe would be acting as an independent combat arm. During the blitzkrieg campaigns in Poland and the West, the Luftwaffe had been tactical support to the Heer, the German Army. The Luftwaffe had conducted tactical bombing campaigns and in Norway had transported paratroopers and other land troops, but had done little strategic bombing.

The Luftwaffe was ill prepared to conduct a strategic bombing campaign. It had no long-range, four-engine, high level bombers. It only had two-engine medium bombers like the HE 111. Also the Germans best fighter, the Messerschmitt Bf 109, had only twenty minutes of dwell time over Southern England due to fuel restrictions. The Messerschmitt Bf 110, sometimes miscalled the Me 110, had the fuel capacity to fully escort bombers from home to target and back, but it was otherwise slow and had other shortfalls against the RAF’s single seat fighters.

First estimates said it would take the Luftwaffe four days to defeat RAF Fighter Command over southern England. This was to be followed by a month of bombing and fighter sweeps to wipe out any remaining fighters and also to destroy the British aircraft industry. The Luftwaffe commanders planned to first destroy the British Radar systems and then attack RAF airfields from south to north. The Germans were intent on either wiping out the RAF on the ground, if it could. Failing that, the Germans planned to lure the RAF up with a series of fighter sweeps and then shoot down the outnumbered RAF fighters.

By bombing the radar stations, the Luftwaffe planned to surprise the RAF on the ground. Also by aiming at the RAF’s airfields the Germans intention was to deny rest, repair and support to the RAF’s fighter squadron and hopefully catch the fighters on the ground as well. By bombing the factories the Germans hoped to keep finished aircraft from the RAF operational force.

It is one of the ironies of history that the Germans were actually winning the Battle of Britain with these kinds attacks on radar stations, airfields and aircraft factories. First, they stopped trying to knock out the Radar system, thinking that they were having little to no effect on the Radar detection of their raids. Then the Germans switched to the tactics of bombing cities at night and not attacking the depleted RAF and its supporting airfields. This change allowed the hard pressed RAF to recover its strength and ultimately go on to defeat the Luftwaffe.

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