Westminster Abbey today held a memorial service marking the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. It was the venue’s first major event since lockdown began in March, but will still have a significantly scaled-back attendance. The battle, fought entirely in the air, is considered as one of the most dramatic turning points in World War Two.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson was in attendance, as was opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer and Marshal of the Royal Air Force Lord Stirrup, representing the Prince of Wales.
In the summer of 1940, Germany was winning the war and the British army had been driven out of France by the German Nazis.
Britain and other countries like Poland were battling in the fight against Adolf Hitler, as the US and the Soviet Union had not yet joined the war.
Hitler and his officials knew that in order to win the war they needed to invade Britain – and calculated the best way of doing this was from the sky.
Battle of Britain: Hitler attempted to persuade Churchill to sign a peace accord before the BoB
The Blitz: Much of London was razed to the ground by German bombers during the Blitz
However, in June 1940, according to History.com, Hitler conceded he was wary of invading Britain and attempted to persuade Britain to acknowledge “her militarily hopeless situation” and reach a peace deal.
Archived reports from United Press International show that on July 19, 1940, Hitler issued Britain a stern warning, attempting an “appeal to reason” to avert “destruction of a great world empire” – making clear the rejection of such appeal would mean an attack with all of the forces at the command of the Axis powers.
He said: “In this hour and before this body, I feel myself obliged to make one more appeal to reason to England.
“I do this not as a victor, but for the triumph of common sense.
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Fighter jets: A British fighter airplane about to bring down a German V-1 missile
“Churchill may parry my words with the claim that I feel doubt or fear, but in any the case I will have my knowledge that I acted rightly, according to my conscience.”
“Despite my sincere efforts, it has not been possible,” he said, “to achieve the friendship with England which I believed would have been blessed by both.”
Prime Minister Winston Churchill refused Hitler his wish – although many of Churchill’s political circle agreed that a peace accord would be the best outcome.
So ensued the Battle of Britain.
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German bombers: Two German Dornier 217 aircraft over London’s Docklands
Adolf Hitler: The Führer attempted to get Churchill to agree to a peace treaty
The conflict was significant for a number of reasons, with Churchill chasing a campaign of vigorous public support, characterising the coming battle as a struggle for national survival.
It was also unique as it was the first battle in history waged almost exclusively in the air.
Germany’s notorious Luftwaffe initially believed the battle would be a breeze, over in a few days, yet, in fact, Germany found themselves fighting for three and a half months.
By the time the battle ended in late October 1940, the Nazis had lost nearly 2,000 planes – almost twice as many as the British.
UK Blitz: The period of intenser bombing spanned 1940 to 1941
Meanwhile, Westminster Abbey has held a service of thanksgiving on Battle of Britain Sunday every year since 1944.
Fewer than 100 guests were in attendance due to the coronavirus crisis, despite it usually attracting about 2,000 people.
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A flypast took place after the service, with a Hurricane and three Spitfires flying over central London.
Guests wore masks – but those giving readings were allowed to remove them before doing so.