Flashback in History: July, 1940 When Britain Stood Alone

by Glenn R Swift

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.


4 thoughts on “Flashback in History: July, 1940 When Britain Stood Alone

  1. Hien Nguyen

    Very well written. It is amazing to see how the Allies managed to pull off the miraculous victory. United Kingdom’s lost was significant but if Hitler had successfully won WWII, then the world would not have been as diverse as today.

  2. Jonathan Reiss

    Wow, great, powerful article. The tenacity and strength of the British people is beyond belief. Their influence on intertnational struggle is monumental, nearly overpowering. Their experience shows through prowess and at the very least, under direct attack from the baddest monster, they vehemently survive until they can finally rise up and defeat their opponent.

  3. Lauren Haylett

    It is interesting to note the effect that this German strike had on not just the British military, but also the British people. This event continues to have a profound influence on history because its accounts can be supported using film, a rapidly-developing technology at this time. The fixation on this particular German campaign is made culturally apparent by the use of new mediums to remind the British people of the German transgression. Film from the Battle of Britain was used as Allied propaganda, “Churchill’s Island” being a prominent example (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0033466/). Documentation of the event and its effects on British citizens continue into modernity, one dramatization being the 1969 film “The Battle of Britain”; the film features high-profile British actors of the day, like Lawrence Olivier, Michael Caine, and Christopher Plummer, playing the roles of RAF pilots (http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/17443/Battle-of-Britain/). The Terrence Rattigan play, “The Deep Blue Sea”, was written for the stage in 1952, surrounding the effects of The Battle of Britain on a young RAF pilot once he returns to post-war society. Rattigan’s script has been adapted into feature film twice: once in 1955 by Anatole Litvak (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Deep_Blue_Sea_(1955_film)), and again in 2011 by Terence Davies (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Deep_Blue_Sea_(2011_film)). This event remains a facet of cultural unification for the British people; scenes from the 2011 “The Deep Blue Sea” serve as fashbacks of people young, old, rich, and destitute all hiding together in the underground subway tunnels. Even the Royal Family identified with the fear of the citizenry, visiting bombed areas and encouraging British subjects (http://www.britroyals.com/kings.asp?id=george6). The persistence of this memory potentially serves as an unforgettable reminder to the British people of their national identity.

  4. Taylor Sudnykovych

    A simple and easy to understand description displaying the strengths many can acquire even when the end seems too close.

    Many people know of the Holocaust and the connection with the Nazi’s although not many of us know about the battles outside the concentration camps; whether they are on land, in the air, or by sea. The victims of the Third Reich were not only people unwillingly taken from their homes but people trying to defend those who could not defend themselves.

    It seems that one of the keys to winning a fight is strongly believing in who you’re working with – people of your “own kind” or allies. Simply teamwork and dedication.

    They may have lost a lot but they also gained so much by winning. They may have possibly saved the world from Hitler’s power just because of the amount of Germans killed. We will never know but for now I say thank you.

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