Seventy-five years ago in July of 1940, Great Britain was in the midst of a life-and-death struggle with Nazi Germany. Following the fall of France a month earlier, the United Kingdom found herself standing alone against one of the mightiest and most evil military machines the world has ever known.
Throughout that summer and fall, the German Luftwaffe carried out a relentless air attack on London and many of Britain’s key industrial cities as a precursor to invasion. Initially, Britain’s fate was very much in doubt as casualties mounted and reserves of Royal Air Force pilots and aircraft were stretched to the breaking point. This proud nation that had contributed so much to civilization and which until a generation earlier had ruled over a quarter of the globe, now faced annihilation.
Despite the overwhelming odds against them, the British people remained steadfast during what has come to be known as the “Battle of Britain.” Thanks to the immeasurable courage of countless RAF pilots, the British methodically regained control of their skies. Eventually, German losses became so great that any attempt to invade Britain was abandoned by late-October. In the words of Winston Churchill, this was Britain’s “finest hour.”
Sadly, the price Britain paid for victory was enormous. Not only were large parts of her major cities destroyed, but the human cost was catastrophic. More than 50,000 civilians alone died as a result of the Third Reich’s relentless aerial bombardment. Many members of my family were among them.
In retrospect, the role played by the sons and daughters of Great Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa in that heroic struggle should never be underestimated. When Hitler invaded Russia a year later, he did so with half the German Air Force lying at the bottom of the English Channel.
Four years after history’s first great “battle in the sky,” the Allied D-Day invasion was launched using Great Britain as a springboard for attack. Needless to say, if the British had not been successful in that fateful struggle, there may have been no Allied victory. The consequences of a Nazi victory in World War II are unimaginable.
Today, the United Kingdom still stands in the front line in the fight against barbarism. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the United States, the UK’s elite armed forces continue to fight for the same principles that Britain stood so courageously for three generations ago. As Americans, we go forward in the years ahead knowing that we face yet another evil and relentless enemy. We do so, however, knowing that there will always be one nation standing at our side.