The Battle of Britain Essay
The popular interpretation was established quickly during the early part of the war as a ploy by the British government to maintain morale through propaganda. However the popular myth was very famous among the public during the Battle of Britain. Interpretation 1 explains what the popular myth of the Battle of Britain was itself. The popular myth is about how the invasion was thwarted by Britain in its “finest hour. ” The battle therefore ensured that the “right side” was victorious. The victory can be however contributed to the “few” the RAF pilots who took part in the Battle of Britain.
From my knowledge I know that there were 1500 pilots on the British side who came from all around the British Empire and from defeated countries. Their morale was pretty high as they realized what depended on them. They weren’t very well trained as the training period was reduced to two weeks rather than the year-long training scheme that was essential to produce an effective pilot according to Sir Hugh Dowding the then Commander in Chief of Fighter command. It is true that these pilots did inflict more damage on the Germans than the Germans did to British planes, especially before the attack on airfields from 24th August to 6th September.
The first 6 interpretations all originated during the wartime period itself and are similar in the fact they all use the popular myth to explain Britain’s victory in the Battle of Britain. Interpretation 2 contains extracts from two famous Churchill speeches made in 1940 during the Second World War. Anything that mentions “their finest hour” or “the few” can be seen as the popular myth. At this stage (June 1940) Churchill would not have known the outcome of the Battle of Britain. He stresses that the Battle was very important for the survival of British culture, Christian civilization, British institutions and the Empire.
He remarks that if Hitler fails to break through Britain Germany would lose the war. He also says the freedom of Europe and America would be lost if Nazi Tyranny was allowed to succeed and if Britain succeeds in survives it would be Britain’s “finest hour”. The second speech made in August 1940 to the House of Commons mentions “the few” the pilots and bombers and the debt owed to them. He emphasizes the importance of American help and how the British and Americans needed to cooperate fully. He may have said this because he is appealing to America for help on the allied side.
The speech targets the British public and the Americans in order to raise morale in preparation for hard times and win support of Americans. These speeches are primary first hand evidence from the Prime Minister. Its highly effective in reaching its wartime audience because it was what people wanted to hear and he captures and sets the mood. However its weaknesses do balance the strengths as well. This was a piece of propaganda designed to raise morale. Churchill could not give the overview that comes with hindsight.
The speeches were written in June and August 1940 during which Operation Sea Lion as named by Hitler was still in progress. The Germans had probably launched Eagle attack in which the whole of the Luftwaffe attacked several targets in Britain such as radar stations and naval bases and were in the process of attacking airfields. As a piece of evidence it is very biased. Churchill would have been aware of the need to present the situation in an optimistic light in order to boost morale and maintain leadership. He also perhaps attached more importance to the Battle of Britain than was needed.
Indeed the Battle of Britain did force the cancellation of Operation Sea Lion but the bombing on London did continue and the real blow came on 4th June 1944 during the D-Day invasions. Interpretation number 3 is an autobiography by an RAF pilot written when he was recovering from a terrible injury called the Last Enemy written during the War. He narrates his experiences as a pilot from his first kill to his near death experience to saving a woman bombed by the Luftwaffe. The popular myth of the Battle of Britain is mentioned again by explaining the significance of the pilots “the few” and he talks of the triumph of right over wrong.
When talking of “the few” he describes their role in a very cool precise and impersonal manner. Its strengths are that it is primary first hand account of one of the pilots, very much a personalized view. It was a best seller and was regarded as one of the best autobiographies of the war. He captures the mood of the time; writing very effectively about the reasons for fighting and it is a truthful, emotive account. Its weaknesses are ironically is that it is an autobiography giving a personal account. He only concentrates on the role of the pilots so it is a very narrow view.
It is biased as he is patriotic and is trying to promote the one side that of the popular myth and doesn’t mention other factors, which played a part in the Battle of Britain. It was written during the Battle of Britain and he seems to describe the Bombings on London, which was the last stage of the battle in which the Germans committed a tactical mistake by stopping the bombing of airfields. The RAF therefore managed to stay intact when bad weather and the destroying of invading ships of the coast of France forced Hitler to quit Operation Sea Lion.
Interpretation 4 contains newsreels produced in 1940 by Movietone and others and were shown at every cinema performance. They were a very popular means of keeping up with the news and were made in close cooperation with the Ministry of Information in charge of Government propaganda. They were very good at setting the mood and responding to what people wanted in wartime. They helped raise morale and were popular and highly effective being very nationalistic in imagery and commentary. It however is very biased as they were propaganda.
The filmmakers worked very closely with the ministry of information, which was in charge of Government propaganda. The whole purpose was to raise morale. They would contain the popular myth, as it was the popular mood and these reels showed what the audience wanted to see. Interpretation 5 is again the popular myth of the Battle of Britain as it mentions the “few”. It is a page from the Daily Express in August 13th 1940. It is entitled Opinion and confirm the popular wartime interpretations by mentioning the “few” and Britain’s “finest hour”.
It creates a sense of unity by not only mentioning the pilots but the Home guard or Dad’s Army and the Navy as well. The home guard recruited a quarter of a million men in a single day. It is however a piece of propaganda and very biased. Lord Beaverbrook who also worked, as the Minister of Aircraft Production owned the Daily Express and a good friend of Churchill’s. This was important because newspapers are powerful in influencing people’s attitudes and opinions. He used the Daily Express effectively as a tool of propaganda and told the people what they wanted to hear i. the popular myth. He once even appealed for aluminum items which people gave in expectation they would be turned into spitfires though in reality it was a piece of propaganda exercise to make people committed to the war effort. He also perhaps over emphasizes the importance of the Battle of Britain. Interpretation 6 is a wartime poster with the words ‘Never was so much owed by so many to so few” written on it. The poster reinforces the popular myth of the Battle of Britain. A poster is both attractive and appealing and a useful indicator of the mood of the public.
It is effective in reaching its audience in reflecting what people wanted. It’s biased propaganda used by the Government. It also fails to mention any other factors that led to the survival of the British in the Battle of Britain. It over emphasizes the role of the pilots. All these 6 interpretations give the same message about the “few” and the “finest hour”. They are all forms of propaganda dictated by the Government. They also reflect the mood of the people at the time and their needs during the war. People felt patriotic, ebullient and determined mood, but there was a great deal of anxiety too.
During the early stages of the Battle of Britain from where most of these interpretations come from there was a lot of bombing by the Luftwaffe and defense from the RAF. During the struggle over the channel from Late July to 11th August 1940 The Luftwaffe intensely bombed British shipping to test fighter command. They did inflict quite a lot of damage on the ships and destroyed 260 British Fighters. Then came Eagle attack when the entire Luftwaffe attacked Britain in wave after wave. The British did however manage to stay in contact during this stage due to some mistakes by Herman Goring second in power to Hitler himself.
Then came the critical period when Goring suddenly changed tactics and started bombing airfields in Southern Eastern England. This was highly successful as they it caused some disunity between Park’s South Eastern region and Leigh Mallory’s north region. These strategic bombing brought Britain to its knees and the situation was worsening. Therefore Churchill realized that public support and morale would be needed if he was to survive the battle and stay in power and therefore the Government gave the public what they needed in the form of propaganda by popularizing the myth of the “few” and Britain’s “finest hour”.
The later interpretations have not mentioned the popular myth as much and the further away from the Battle of Britain the less they adhere to the myth. They question the importance of the Battle of Britain and raise other factors such as the Russian campaign. Interpretation 7 is an article printed in the Daily Graphic, 1944 when it was clear the allies were going to win. It was written by a famous historian Sir Arthur Bryant. He keeps to the popular interpretation stressing its importance, the defeat of evil and “the few”.
However he does hint that there were other factors that contributed to the victory which include the planes being far superior in quality, equipment, radar advantage and the leadership of Hugh Dowding. Although the RAF had less planes than the Luftwaffe, 850 compared to 1100, the spitfire was much more maneuverable in battle being able to increase and decrease speed and turn more rapidly than its German counterparts namely the Messer Schmitt 109’s and 110’s. Britain had developed an effective system along the south coast, which alerted of the approaching Luftwaffe. It was developed in 1930 by Robert Watson.
Dowding effectively led the British setting up HQ at Bentley Priory. He was rather unsociable and very dedicated to his work. He believed that fighters and not bombers would win it for the allies and therefore built a sufficient fighter force. He also mentions the efforts of the ground crew. He was a popular historian chosen to write for the Daily Graphic and was very traditional and patriotic. He inserts his own views and responds well to his audience. He mentions other factors in the victory. As a historian he has also evaluated his evidence carefully. However he is quite biased and very nationalistic.
It is partly propaganda as it was printed in a newspaper and the war wasn’t quite over yet although its outcome was quite certain. Interpretation 8 is an official history of the Second World War written in 1957. The writer stresses the importance of the Battle of Britain. He raises the issue whether the Battle of Britain was merely a sideline and the real issue was Russia. We do know that after the cancellation of Operation Sea Lion Hitler did turn his attention to Russia and in June 1940 he finally attacked. It was written in 1957 so it can give an overview because the war had been over for a few years.
He considers other factors for the victory beyond one view. As a historian his work is well-researched, evaluated and providing balanced conclusions. However there is still reference to “the few” and it is an official history therefore the Government can use it for propaganda and it does contain a certain element of bias. Interpretation 9 is a book called “Europe since Napoleon”, 1957 by David Thomson. It is a long survey of history of Europe between1815 and the 1950’s. Thomson states that Hitler was not just concerned with the invasion of Britain, but the invasion of Russia.
He gives a number of reasons for the British victory, not just the pilots but the planes and radar. “the few are mentioned because they cannot be omitted and have some validity. It is written by a distinguished Cambridge historian, well researched an expert evaluates evidence and brings a balanced conclusion. He appeals to wide audience not just students but the British public too. Written in 1957, it could give an overview of the war. He also mentions Russia as a factor. His audience is on the other hand very wide and the period covered quite extensive from 1815 to the 1950’s.
It was only written a few years after the war in 1957 and might be slightly biased. Interpretation 10 is taken from Memoirs of the Second World War, 1959 by Winston Churchill. Churchill is more open here than he could be during the War. He also comments on the importance of The Battle of Britain but mentions other factors in Britain’s victory. He mentions Beaverbrook, communications, German tactics, Russia, the role of the Observer Corps, German mistakes as well as the pilots. Lord Beaverbrook as we know was Minister for Aircraft production and owner of the Daily Mail.
He played a great part in spreading propaganda through his newspaper and raised commitment amongst the public by appealing for aluminum. We know that during Eagle Attack Goring made some mistakes e. g. deciding to stop bombing Radar stations and to keep Messerchmit 109’s very close to their bombers. Also when Germany had inflicted so much damage by bombing airfields that the British only had two functioning air fields left in Southern Eastern England Tangmere and Kenley they made a conclusive error in deciding to take the pressure of airfields and start bombing civilians in London perhaps in retaliation to the British Berlin bombings.
The observer Corps were mostly unpaid civilians who observed German aircraft crossing the coast line which set up an effective warning system. This interpretation was based on Churchill’s own knowledge. He was also a skilled historian as well as a politician. He appealed to a wide audience and it was written after the War so Churchill could evaluate the evidence and not think in terms of Propaganda. It is however, biased since Churchill makes no mention of Dowding. It is also very nationalistic. Interpretation is a film about the Battle of Britain called “The Battle of Britain” made in 1969.
It shows Dowding saying ‘no pilots’. We know that Dowding was worried about the loss of experienced pilots and he was not in strong support of cutting down the training period from a year to two weeks. It is very nationalistic and emphasizes the role of the pilots but does mention other factors. It also might have reflected what the people thought including the popular myth. In 1969 Britain was no longer a major power and it was aimed at an audience for entertainment. Interpretation 12 is slightly different as it is from a German historian’s point of view.
It doesn’t mention the Battle of Britain whatsoever perhaps because he doesn’t deem it important enough or he is biased because they lost. It does mention however the Russian aspect and the entering of USA in the war that proved as a turning point. It is generally agreed that Britain alone could not win the war and bring a final defeat to Germany. They did however receive an ally in the form in Russia when Germany invaded in June 1941. However Britain needed help on the western front, which would squeeze the Germans into submission. However the American public under President Franklin D.
Roosevelt did not want to help. However America was forced into the war in December 1941 after the Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and the following month Hitler declared war on America. America two years later launched the D-Day landings in which they crossed the channel and attacked Germany in the west. The Battle of Britain did make this possible as the used the British island to launch this invasion. Interpretation 13 is a book introduction by AJP Taylor for the book “Fighter” by L. Deighton. He gives a balanced view mentioning pilots, Dowding, defensive nature of the battle and raises the issue of Russia.
Dowding played an instrumental part in the defence of Britain against operation Sea Lion. Upon appointment to the post of Chief of Fighter Command he realized his defence must depend on fighters, although it was nothing as strong as he would have preferred. It was Dowding who encouraged the development of Radar and set up the efficient system based on it. He also realized the potential of the spitfire. The Battle of Britain was indeed a defensive affair. The British first had to defend attacks on British shipping during the struggle over the channel During Late July to 11th August 1940.
Then they had to hold off the Eagle attack where radar stations, airfields, factories, naval bases and other targets were attacked by the whole force of Luftwaffe, this lasted from 12th August to 23rd August 1940. Then they had to hold on for dear life during the attacks on airfields during the critical period of 24th August to 6th September. Lastly they had to defend the civilians in London from German bombing. Although the RAF did however venture into Berlin for bombing raids most of the time they were defending their own turf. Interpretation 13 does mention the “few” through the Churchill saying of the “few”.
However there is no mention of their “finest hour” or of evil and right. Interpretation 15 is an article in a magazine for ‘A’ level students by Christopher Ray in 1997 entitled “The Battle of Britain- her Finest Hour or Hitler’s greatest hoax. ” This article is trying to sensationalize issues and pretending to bring up a new question when in reality it is a generally accepted theory that perhaps Hitler’s mind was more made up on the invasion of Russia. Such articles are trying to sell to the audience by dramatizing and therefore can be biased. It rejects the popular myths saying that facts have been pushed aside.
This is unfair as the pilots did indeed play an integral part in the survival of the RAF and perhaps the most important part in the Battle of Britain. This can be seen on Battle of Britain day September 15th when with only 150 planes and fuel running out they managed to shoot down more planes than they had ever before. Other factors are not mentioned such as leadership and tactical mistakes. My opinion of the popular myth of the Battle of Britain is that it is a bit too biased. I believe that the pilots did indeed contribute immensely to the success of the British but other factors perhaps played a more important role.
The most important factor in my opinion is the tactical mistake by the Luftwaffe to stop bombing airfields and concentrate on London. My interpretation of the Battle of Britain is that the effort of the British leadership namely Winston Churchill, the prime minister, Lord Beaverbrook, minister of aircraft production, Lord Dowding, Chief of Fighter Command, Keith Park, Commander of the South East region and Leigh- Mallory commander of the region north of London simply outweighed the leadership of Goring and Hitler for Germany.
The leadership factor is mentioned in Interpretation 7 an article printed in the Daily Graphic, 1944 when it was clear the allies were going to win. It was written by a famous historian Sir Arthur Bryant. Another interpretation, which mentions the leadership of Hugh Dowding, is Interpretation 13 a book introduction by AJP Taylor for the book “Fighter” by L. Deighton. AJP Taylor gives a very balanced view as he is a respected historian and wouldn’t want to spoil his reputation and researches well.
Even after the cancellation of operation “Sea Lion” Germany could have attacked again as Britain was still in no condition to fight back. However Hitler decided to concentrate on Russia that was perhaps a bad decision as it lets Russia and America eventually to the allied effort. Christopher Ray mentions this aspect in later interpretations most importantly Interpretation 15 is an article in a magazine for ‘A’ level students in 1997 entitled “The Battle of Britain- her Finest Hour or Hitler’s greatest hoax. ” This interpretation however is slightly biased in the fact that it tries to sensationalize and appeal to its readers.
I think that the Battle of Britain was essential to the survival of the allied effort but it hardly gained anything and is similar to other instances like Dunkirk in which the British just managed to scrape away from disaster also served the same purpose of hanging on. Therefore when the popular myth includes the phrase “their finest hour” I disagree slightly. I believe that the Battle of Britain was merely a Battle of survival and the real moment of victory came during the D-Day landings which forces Hitler to surrender.
Combined with Russia squeezing the Germans they had to give up in May 1945. Interpretation 1 from “Germany’s past” by Klaus Schultz. This also agrees that the entry of USA and Russia into the war was the undoing of Germany. However he doesn’t mention the Battle of Britain which I think deserves a mention because it did keep hope for victory alive. It is biased as it provides the German view and they lost. However in another sense I believe “their finest our” can be used in terms of morale.
The people’s commitment to the war can be measured by the making of Observer Corps which helped immensely during the war and the giving up of Aluminum pots and pans. The morale of the British pilots was extremely high throughout the Battle of Britain as they did realize what depended on them. This view is confirmed by Richard Hillary’s autobiography in interpretation 3. He talks of the comrade atmosphere and the teamwork of the pilots and mentions many brave and courageous incidents. His account is primary and is a witness account and therefore reliable if slightly biased.
However this interpretation does introduce the popular myth slightly in terms of the “few”. I believe that the pilots did do a tremendous job and do deserve praise but as earlier said there were other factors playing a part in the Battle of Britain. Therefore I believe the popular myth has been blown out of proportion however there is a fair amount of substance if we consider “the few” in the sense of bravery and discipline and “their finest hour” in terms of public and pilot morale. However a true interpretation would need to include other factors such as Russia, America and German mistakes.
However the triumph of right over evil aspect of the popular myth is spot on as the world would no doubt have been a worse place had the Germans won the war. This view backed up by Churchill speeches of 1940 in interpretation 2 where he says the whole world will suffer from “perverted science” and “sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age” which basically means the world would plunge into disaster and sinking prosperity. His view is biased however it is primary first hand experience and he would have been making this speech for the public who would need a reason against the Germans.
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