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The Battle of Britain (German: die Luftschlacht um England, literally "Air battle for England") was a combat of the Second World War, when the Royal Air Force (RAF) defended the United Kingdom (UK) against the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) attacks from the end of June 1940. It is described as the first major campaign fought entirely by air forces.[14] The British officially recognise its duration as from 10 July until 31 October 1940 that overlaps with the period of large-scale night attacks known as the Blitz,[15] while German historians do not accept this subdivision and regard it as a campaign lasting from July 1940 to June 1941.[16]

The primary objective of the Nazi German forces was to compel Britain to agree to a negotiated peace settlement. In July 1940, the air and sea blockade began with the Luftwaffe mainly targeting coastal shipping convoys, ports and shipping centres, such as Portsmouth. On 1 August, the Luftwaffe was directed to achieve air superiority over the RAF with the aim of incapacitating RAF Fighter Command and, 12 days later, it shifted the attacks to RAF airfields and infrastructure.[17][clarification needed] As the battle progressed, the Luftwaffe also targeted factories involved in aircraft production and strategic infrastructure and, eventually, it employed terror bombing on areas of political significance and civilians.[nb 10]

The Nazis had swiftly overwhelmed continental countries, and Britain now faced the same threat of invasion, but the German high command knew the difficulties of an unprecedented seaborne attack, and its impracticality while the Royal Navy commanded the seas. On 16 July Adolf Hitler ordered preparation of Operation Sea Lion as a potential amphibious and airborne assault on Britain, to follow once the Luftwaffe had air superiority over the UK. In September German preparation of converted barges was disrupted by RAF Bomber Command night raids, and Luftwaffe failure to overwhelm the RAF forced Hitler to postpone and eventually cancel Operation Sea Lion.

Nazi Germany was unable to sustain daylight raids, but their continued night bombing operations on Britain became known as the Blitz. The failure to destroy Britain's air defences to force an armistice (or even outright surrender) is considered by Steven Bungay to be the Nazis' first major defeat in World War II, and a crucial turning point in the conflict.[19]

The Battle of Britain has the unusual distinction that it gained its name before being fought. The name is derived from the famous speech delivered by Prime Minister Winston Churchill in the House of Commons on 18 June, more than three weeks prior to the generally accepted date for the start of the battle:


... What General Weygand has called The Battle of France is over. The battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilisation. Upon it depends our own British life and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of a perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, "This was their finest hour".[20][21]

— Winston Churchill

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