The Battle of Britain in World War II was between Britain’s Royal Air Force (RAF) and the Luftwaffe, Nazi Germany’s air force, and was the first battle in history fought solely in the air. From July 10 through October 31, 1940, pilots and support crews on both sides took to the skies and battled for control of airspace over Great Britain, Germany and the English Channel. The powerful, combat-experienced Luftwaffe hoped to conquer Britain easily, but the RAF proved a formidable enemy.

Herman Göring and the Luftwaffe

After World War I, the Treaty of Versailles forbade Germany to have an air force. With the help of the Soviet Union, however, Germany secretly defied the treaty and trained air force pilots and support staff on combat planes.

When Adolf Hitler and his Third Reich came to power, Nazi Germany began rebuilding their air force. He officially created the Luftwaffe in February 1935, placing former World War I fighter pilot and political ally Hermann Göring in charge.

Operation Sea Lion

By the start of World War II in 1939, the Luftwaffe was the strongest and best-trained air force in the world. They played a crucial role in Germany’s methodical and highly effective invasion of much of Western Europe, including Poland, Holland, Belgium and France.