What happened during the Battle of Britain - and how the 80th anniversary is being commemorated in the UK

Tuesday, 15th September 2020, 12:01 pm
Updated Tuesday, 15th September 2020, 12:01 pm
The event was the first battle in history that was fought entirely in the air (Photo: Shutterstock)

The 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain will be marked with a variety of tributes and commemorations across the UK on Tuesday 15 September.

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Celebrations are to take place despite limitations caused by the current coronavirus crisis, including special exhibitions and previously unseen historic Second World War rooms at the Imperial War Museum.

What happened in the Battle of Britain?

The Battle of Britain was a major military air campaign fought in the skies over the UK between July and Octover 1940 against Nazi Germany’s air force, the Luftwaffe.

The event was the first battle in history that was fought entirely in the air and 15 September saw the British Royal Air Force (RAF) gain a decisive victory over the Luftwaffe in what was Nazi Germany’s largest daylight attack.

Some 1,120 Luftwaffe aircraft were sent to attack London, but were repelled by just 630 RAF fighters. Two days after the attack, Hitler postponed his plans to invade Britain.

More than 500 RAF aviators and over 300 RAF ground personnel lost their lives during the battle, with the airmen later becoming known as “The Few” following a tribute paid by then Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who said: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few”.

Only one member of The Few, John Hemingway, is still alive today, aged 101.

How is the anniversary being commemorated?

Various tributes and commemorations will take place on Tuesday (15 September) in honour of the historic event, although events will be limited this year due to coronavirus restrictions.

Here are some of the main events being held:

14 September

New exhibition at the Imperial War Museum Duxford

An aircraft hangar has been transformed into part of an exhibition at Imperial War Museum Duxford, The Ops Block: Battle of Britain, on the site of a Sector Station which was active during the conflict.

The museum highlights Duxford specific stories through interactive displays, and will even allow visitors to get up close to Second World War aircraft, including a German Messerschmitt Bf 109.

The exhibition opened on Monday 14 September. However, the annual Duxford air show to commemorate the battle has been cancelled this year due to safety concerns.

15 September

Hurricane and Spitfire flyover

Former Red Arrows pilots will fly Hurricanes and Spitfires over the south east of England, visiting the main RAF control centres during the air campaign.

The planes will fly over Tangmere, Kenley, Biggin Hill, Hornchurch, North Weald, Bentley Priory, Debden and Duxford.

Raising of the flags

Alternating union and RAF Ensign flags will fly on The Mall, at Buckingham Palace, from 15 to 20 September, the Ministry of Defence has said.

Light shows

A radar-based light show will be held at RAF Bawdsey, a former radar station in Suffolk, and RAF Buchan in Aberdeenshire to commemorate the achievements of women and other unsung heroes during the great battle.

It will feature archive footage and photography to “bring to life” the stories of those who served on the ground in the Battle of Britain.

TV programmes

Actor Ewan McGregor and his brother Colin, an RAF pilot, will retell the story of the Battle of Britain on BBC One at 9pm, with the pair getting hands-on experience of flying period fighter aircraft and meeting with some of those who participated in the conflict.

Actor David Jason will also meet members of the RAF's Battle of Britain Memorial Flight in the TV documentary Flying for Britain on ITV at 8pm.

20 September

Battle of Britain service

The annual Westminster Abbey Battle of Britain service is still due to take place on 20 September, although attendance will be significantly reduced.