Bombed almost daily for several months and in fear of an imminent German invasion, the British were hanging on by their fingernails when September 1940 came.
With the fate of Western freedom in the balance, history’s first major air battle raged as Supermarine Spitfires and Hawker Hurricanes of Royal Air Force Fighter Command rose to challenge relentless formations of Luftwaffe bombers over southeastern England. Aerial supremacy was vital to the Germans, and the British had to be softened up before Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler could mount his postponed invasion, Operation Sea Lion. Otherwise, the English Channel assault was considered too risky.
A September 14 directive from the impatient Führer gave Reichsmarshal Hermann Göring, commander of the Luftwaffe, until the 17th to batter the RAF into submission. So, as dawn clouds cleared and the sun rose early on Sunday, September 15, the powerful Luftwaffe prepared to launch its supreme attempt.
The Battle of Britain and Bader’s “Big Wing”
The climactic day of the Battle of Britain unfolded quietly. “It was one of those days of autumn when the countryside is at its loveliest,” observed Air Vice Marshal Keith Park, the able commander of No. 11 Fighter Group. Royal Air Force patrols reported an empty, cloudless sky, and no enemy aircraft appeared until mid-morning, apart from reconnaissance flights.