In early July 1940, eighty years ago, the future of civilization balanced on a knife’s edge as the Battle of Britain began in the skies over the British Isles as Hitler’s Luftwaffe began its drive to dominate the air and bring the last remaining impediment to his power to their knees.
In June, Germany’s tanks, infantry and aircraft had cut a swathe across the Netherlands, Belgium and France in a new type of warfare that had been dubbed Blitzkrieg, isolating several hundred thousand British and some French forces, pinning them against the Atlantic and seemingly ending World War II by forcing Britain to surrender the majority of its land army on France—leaving it defenseless.
Hitler assumed that the British would surrender because that’s what any other sensible nation would have done when presented by such a choice. Surrender rather than total destruction.
But Hitler did not count on the dauntless British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and the stolid, stoic and quietly courageous British people, who facing annihilation, the loss of freedom and hundreds of thousands of soldiers’ lives, chose to fight on, alone, with nothing from the United States but good wishes.
And so the skies over England because a fierce battleground all during the summer of 1940. Spitfires and Hurricanes dueled with Messerschmitt Bf 109’s while Goring tried to squeeze the life out of Britain’s will to fight.
Very few people who are alive today remember those times. An exception is Queen Elizabeth II, who was a teenager then. Apparently she recalls it as if it were yesterday, as was demonstrated a few months ago when she gave an inspirational speech—to the world really—about getting through the unpleasantness that is the COVID-19 pandemic. Perhaps she acquired that grit and stolid courage watching the barrage balloons over the great city as searchlights pierced the night sky and bombs fell on Buckingham Palace.
If Britain hadn’t survived that battle until Hitler foolishly attacked the Soviet Union. If the Japanese hadn’t attacked Pearl Harbor. If, if. We probably wouldn’t be speaking German, but it might be taught more in American schools than it is now—Rather as Mandarin is of growing importance as that evil regime looms in the East. As it was, Churchill and the stiff-upper-lip Brits helped preserve freedom and the West. He warned at the time, “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 perverted science.”
Eighty years out, it is instructive to remember the kind of battle that was going on over the fields and cities of Britain. It wasn’t just the Battle of Britain, it was the battle of all free people everywhere.