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World War II: The Battle of Britain

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In the summer and autumn of 1940, Germany's Luftwaffe conducted thousands of bombing runs, attacking military and civilian targets across the United Kingdom. Hitler's forces, in an attempt to achieve air superiority, were preparing for an invasion of Britain code-named "Operation Sea Lion." At first, they bombed only military and industrial targets. But after the Royal Air Force hit Berlin with retaliatory strikes in September, the Germans began bombing British civilian centers. Some 23,000 British civilians were killed between July and December 1940. Thousands of pilots and air crews engaged in battle in the skies above Britain, Germany, and the English Channel, each side losing more than 1,500 aircraft by the end of the year. Prime Minister Winston Churchill, speaking of the British pilots in an August speech, said, "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few." The British defenses held, and Hitler quietly canceled Operation Sea Lion in October, though bombing raids continued long after. (This entry is Part 4 of a weekly 20-part retrospective of World War II) [45 photos]

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The dome of St. Paul's Cathedral (undamaged) stands out among the flames and smoke of surrounding buildings during heavy attacks of the German Luftwaffe on December 29, 1940 in London, England. (AP Photo/U.S. Office of War Information)
The dome of St. Paul's Cathedral (undamaged) stands out among the flames and smoke of surrounding buildings during heavy attacks of the German Luftwaffe on December 29, 1940 in London, England. (AP Photo/U.S. Office of War Information)
A formation of low-flying German Heinkel He 111 bombers flies over the waves of the English Channel in 1940. (Deutsches Bundesarchiv/German Federal Archive) #
Three anti-aircraft guns flash in the dark in London, on September 20, 1940, throwing shells at raiding German planes. Shells in stacked rows behind the guns leap about as the concussions from the firing loosen them. (AP Photo) #
These London schoolchildren are in the midst of an air raid drill ordered by the London Board of Education as a precaution in case an air raid comes too fast to give the youngsters a chance to leave the building for special shelters, on July 20, 1940. They were ordered to go to the middle of the room, away from windows, and hold their hands over the backs of their necks. (AP Photo) #
A German twin propelled Messerschmitt BF 110 bomber, nicknamed "Fliegender Haifisch" (Flying Shark), over the English Channel, in August of 1940. (AP Photo) #
The condensation trails from German and British fighter planes engaged in an aerial battle appear in the sky over Kent, along the southeastern coast of England, on September 3, 1940. (AP Photo) #
Fires set by bursting German bombs lit up the docks along the River Thames in London, on September 7, 1940 and brought into vivid relief the merchant ships lying alongside the many docks which line London's busy port. British sources said the bombing that night was the heaviest of the war to date. (AP Photo) #
A great column of smoke billowing upward from a fire started at Plymouth, South West England, in November 1940, as a result of heavy enemy bombardment. (AP Photo) #
The tail and part of the fuselage of a German Dornier plane landed on a London rooftop shown Sept. 21, 1940, after British fighter planes shot it down on September 15. The rest of the raiding plane crashed near Victoria Station. (AP Photo) #
Workmen fit a set of paraboloids in a sound detector for use by anti-aircraft batteries guarding England, in a factory somewhere in England, on July 30, 1940. (AP Photo) #
The biggest shipping center for London's food-supplies, Tilbury, has been the target of numerous German air attacks. Bombs dropping on the port of Tilbury, on October 4, 1940. The first group of bombs will hit the ships lying in the Thames, the second will strike the docks. (AP Photo) #
Two German Luftwaffe Ju 87 Stuka dive bombers return from an attack against the British south coast, during the Battle for Britain, on August 19, 1940. (AP Photo) #
A bomb is fitted to the wings of a British raider prior to the start of an assault on Berlin, on October 24, 1940. (AP Photo) #
A ninety minute exposure taken from a Fleet Street rooftop during an air raid in London, on September 2, 1940. The searchlight beams on the right had picked up an enemy raider. The horizontal marks across the image are from stars and the small wiggles in them were caused by the concussions of anti-aircraft fire vibrating the camera. The German pilot released a flare, which left a streak across the top left, behind the steeple of St. Bride's Church. (AP Photo) #
People shelter and sleep on the platform and on the train tracks, in Aldwych Underground Station, London, after sirens sounded to warn of German bombing raids, on October 8, 1940. (AP Photo) #
The Palace of Westminster in London, silhouetted against light from fires caused by bombings. (Library of Congress) #
The force of a bomb blast in London piled these furniture vans atop one another in a street after a raid on December 5, 1940. (AP Photo) #
This smiling girl, dirtied but apparently not injured, was assisted across a London street on October 23, 1940, after she was rescued from the debris of a building damaged by a bomb attack in a German daylight raid. (AP Photo) #
Firemen spray water on damaged buildings, near London Bridge, in the City of London on September 9, 1940, after a recent set of weekend air raids. (AP Photo) #
Hundreds of people, many of whom have lost their homes through bombing, now use the caves in Hastings, a south-east English town as their nightly refuge. Special sections are reserved for games and recreation, and several people have "set up house", bringing their own furniture and sleeping on their own beds. Photo taken on December 12, 1940. (AP Photo) #
Undaunted by a night of German air raids in which his store front was blasted, a shopkeeper opens up the morning after for "business as usual" in London. (AP Photo) #
All that remains of a German bomber brought down on the English south-east coast, on July 13, 1940. The aircraft is riddled with bullet holes and its machine guns were twisted out of action. (AP Photo) #
British workers in a salvage yard break up the remains of wrecked German raiders which were shot down over England, on August 26, 1940. (AP Photo) #
A huge scrap heap where German planes, brought down over Great Britain, were dumped, photographed on August 27, 1940. The large number of Nazi planes downed during raids on Britain made a substantial contribution to the national scrap metal salvage campaign. (AP Photo) #
A Nazi Heinkel He 111 bomber flies over London in the autumn of 1940. The Thames River runs through the image. (AP Photo/British Official Photo) #
Mrs. Mary Couchman, a 24-year-old warden of a small Kentish Village, shields three little children, among them her son, as bombs fall during an air attack on October 18, 1940. The three children were playing in the street when the siren suddenly sounded. Bombs began to fall as she ran to them and gathered the three in her arms, protecting them with her body. Complimented on her bravery, she said, "Oh, it was nothing. Someone had look after the children." (AP Photo) #
Two barrage balloons come down in flames after being shot by German war planes during an aerial attack over the Kent coast in England, on August 30, 1940. (AP Photo) #
Air raid damage, including the twisted remains of a double-decker city bus, in the City of London on September 10, 1940. (AP Photo) #
A scene of devastation in the Dockland area of London attacked by German bomber on September 17, 1940. (AP Photo) #
An abandoned boy, holding a stuffed toy animal amid ruins following a German aerial bombing of London in 1940. (Toni Frissell/LOC) #
A German aircraft drops its load of bombs above England, during an attack on September 20, 1940. (AP Photo) #
One of many fires started in Surrey Commercial Dock, London, on September 7, 1940, after a heavy raid during the night by German bombers. (AP Photo/Staff/Worth) #
Fires rage in the city of London after a lone German bomber had dropped incendiary bombs close to the heart of the city on September 1, 1940. (AP Photo) #
London children enjoy themselves at a Christmas Party, on December 25, 1940, in an underground shelter. (AP Photo) #
The effects of a large concentrated attack by the German Luftwaffe, on London dock and industry districts, on September 7, 1940. Factories and storehouses were seriously damaged; the mills at the Victories Docks (below at left) show damage wrought by fire. (AP Photo) #
The Record Office in London, lit by flames ignited by a German air in 1940. (LOC) #
Princess Elizabeth of England (center), 14-year-old heiress apparent to the British throne, makes her broadcast debut, delivering a three-minute speech to British girls and boys evacuated overseas, on October 22, 1940, in London, England. She is joined in bidding good-night to her listeners by her sister, Princess Margaret Rose. (AP Photo) #
Soldiers carrying off the tail of a Messerschmitt 110, which was shot down by fighter planes in Essex, England, on September 3, 1940. (AP Photo) #
Through bombs and sirens, the Windmill Theatre carried on providing music, revue, and ballet performances for the people of wartime London. The artists sleep on mattresses in their dressing rooms, living and eating on the premises. Here, a scene behind the scenes shows one of the girls having a wash while the others sleep soundly surrounded by their picturesque costumes, after the show on September 24, 1940, in London. (AP Photo) #
A German raid smashed this hall in an undisclosed London district, on October 16, 1940. (AP Photo) #
A huge crater was made in a road at Elephant & Castle, London on September 7, 1940, after a night raid on London . (AP Photo/Staff/Worth) #
Two girls on the south coast of England look out toward the beach through a barbed wire fence constructed as part of Britain's coastal defenses (LOC) #
The artist Ethel Gabain, newly appointed by the Ministry of Information to make historical war pictures, at work among bombed ruins in the East End of London on November 28, 1940. (AP Photo) #
A forward machine gunner sits at his battle position in the nose of a German Heinkel He 111 bomber, while en route to England in November of 1940. (AP Photo) #
A boy sits amid the ruins of a London bookshop following an air raid on October 8, 1940, reading a book titled "The History of London." (AP Photo) #

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