Year 9 History exam revision (ii) Key batttles of WW2 – Battles of Britain, Stalingrad & Iwo Jima

Battle of Britain

Citation: C N Trueman “Battle of Britain” The History Learning Site, 20 May 2015. 3 Mar 2016.

The  Battle of Britain took place between August and September 1940. After the success of Blitzkrieg, the evacuation of Dunkirk and the surrender of France, Britain was by herself. The Battle of Britain remains one of the most famous battles of World War Two.


An original “Never was so much” poster

The Germans needed to control the English Channel to launch her invasion of Britain (which the Germans code-named Operation Sealion).

They needed this control of the Channel so that the British Navy would not be able to attack her invasion barges which were scheduled to land on the Kent and Sussex beaches.

To control the Channel the Germans needed control of the air. This meant that they had to take on Fighter Command, led by Sir Hugh Dowding, of the Royal Air Force.

The main fighter planes of the RAF were the Spitfire and the Hurricane.

The Germans relied primarily on their Messcherschmitt fighters and their Junkers dive bombers – the famed Stukas.

At the start of the war, Germany had 4,000 aircraft compared to Britain’s front-line strength of 1,660. By the time of the fall of France, the Luftwaffe (the German air force) had 3,000 planes based in north-west Europe alone including 1,400 bombers, 300 dive bombers, 800 single engine fighter planes and 240 twin engine fighter bombers. At the start of the battle, the Luftwaffe had 2,500 planes that were serviceable and in any normal day, the Luftwaffe could put up over 1,600 planes. The RAF had 1,200 planes on the eve of the battle which included 800 Spitfires and Hurricanes – but only 660 of these were serviceable. The rate of British plane production was good – the only weakness of the RAF was the fact that they lacked sufficient trained and experienced pilots. Trained pilots had been killed in the war in France and they had not been replaced.

Britain had a number of advantages over the Luftwaffe. Britain had RADAR which gave us early warning of the approach of the German planes. By the Spring of 1940, fifty-one radar bases had been built around the coast of southern Britain. We also had the Royal Observer Corps (ROC) which used such basics as binoculars to do the same job. By 1940, over 1000 ROC posts had been established. British fighter planes could spend more time in the air over Kent and Sussex as we could easily land for fuel whereas the German fighters could not. German bombers could fly for longer distances than their fighter planes could cover and therefore, the bombers could not always count on fighter cover for protection. The German fighters were also limited in that they could not reload their guns if they ran out of ammunition while over Kent etc. Our fighters could. Without sufficient fighter cover, the German bombers were very open to attack from British fighter planes.

The battle started on July 10th 1940 when the Luftwaffe attempted to gain control of the Straits of Dover. The aim of the Luftwaffe was to tempt the RAF out for a full-scale battle. By the end of July, the RAF had lost 150 aircraft while the Luftwaffe had lost 268. In August, the Luftwaffe started to attack Fighter Command’s airfields, operation rooms and radar stations – the idea being that the RAF could be destroyed on the ground so that the Luftwaffe need not fight them in the air. Without radar the RAF would be seriously hampered in terms of early warning and the destruction of operation rooms would cut off communications between fighter bases and those at the heart of the battle controlling the movement of fighter planes. Destroyed runways would hamper the chances of a fighter plane taking off.

Bad weather stopped the Luftwaffe from daily raids in August but August 15th is seen as a key date as nearly all the Stuka dive-bombers were destroyed by this date as they fell easy prey to the British fighter planes. Therefore, pin-point bombing of radar stations was all but impossible.

From August 23rd to September 6th, the Luftwaffe started night time bombing raids on cities. The RAF was also badly hit with 6 out of 7 main fighter bases in south-eastern England being put out of action. Biggen Hill was wrecked. However, for all this apparent success, the Luftwaffe was losing more planes than the RAF was – 1000 German losses to 550 RAF.

One event did greatly aid the British. The head of the Luftwaffe – Herman Goering – ordered an end to the raids on radar bases as he believed that they were too unimportant to matter. Albert Speer – a leading Nazi throughout the war – claimed in his book “Inside the Third Reich” that a number of important decisions were made based on Goering’s ignorance. As Goering did not understand the importance of something, it was dismissed as unnecessary for success. As a result of this, the radar station at Ventnor on the Isle of Wight functioned throughout the battle and gave Fighter Command vital information regarding German targets.

The change to bombing the cities also gave Fighter Command time to recover from its losses and for pilots to recover from the many hours a day they operated which took many to the brink of exhaustion.

On September 15th came the last major engagement of the battle. On that day, the Luftwaffe lost 60 planes while the RAF lost 28. On September 17th, Hitler postponed indefinitely the invasion of Britain though the night time raids – the Blitz – continued. London, Plymouth and Coventry were all badly hit by these raids.

Recent research indicates that Hitler’s heart was not in an attack on Britain but that he wanted to concentrate his country’s strength on an attack on communist Russia. However, no-one in Britain in the autumn of 1940 would have known about this and all indications from April 1940 onwards, were that Hitler did intend to invade Britain, especially after his boast to the German people – “he’s coming, he’s coming!”

In a continuation of the propaganda war, the British government claimed that the RAF had shot down 2,698 German planes. The actual figure was 1,100. The RAF lost 650 planes – not the 3,058 planes that the Luftwaffe claimed to have shot down – more than  the entire RAF!

Why were the Germans defeated ?

1. The Germans fought too far away from their bases so that refueling and rearming were impossible. The German fighters had a very limited time which they could spend over Britain before their fuel got too low.2. British fighters could land, refuel and rearm and be in the air again very quickly.

3. The change of targets was crucial. It is now believed that Fighter Command was perhaps only 24 hours away from defeat when the attack on the cities occurred. The breathing space this gave Fighter Command was crucial.

4. The Hurricane and Spitfire (above) were exceptional planes – capable of taking on the might of the Luftwaffe.

At the end of the battle, Winston Churchill said: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

The Battle of Stalingrad

Citation: C N Trueman “The Battle of Stalingrad” The History Learning Site, 21 May 2015. 3 Mar 2016.


The Battle of Stalingrad is considered by many historians to have been the turning point in World War Two in Europe. The battle at Stalingrad bled the German army dry in Russia and after this defeat, the Germany Army was in full retreat. One of the ironies of the war, is that the German Sixth Army need not have got entangled in Stanlingrad. Army Groups A and B were well on their way to the Caucasus in south-west Russia, when Hitler ordered an attack on Stalingrad. From a strategic point of view it would have been unwise to have left a major city unconquered in your rear as you advanced. However, some historians believe that Hitler ordered the taking of Stalingrad simply because of the name of the city and Hitler’s hatred of Joseph Stalin. For the same reason Stalin ordered that the city had to be saved.

The Battle for Stalingrad was fought during the winter of 1942 to 1943. In September 1942, the German commander of the Sixth Army, General Paulus, assisted by the Fourth Panzer Army, advanced on the city of Stalingrad. His primary task was to secure the oil fields in the Caucasus and to do this, Paulus was ordered by Hitler to take Stalingrad. The Germans final target was to have been Baku.

Stalingrad was also an important target as it was Russia’s centre of communications in the south as well as being a centre for manufacturing.

In early September 1942, the German Army advanced to the city. The Russians, already devastated by the power of Blitzkrieg during Operation Barbarossa, had to make a stand especially as the city was named after the Russian leader, Joseph Stalin. For simple reasons of morale, the Russians could not let this city fall. Likewise, the Russians could not let the Germans get hold of the oil fields in the Caucasus. Stalin’s order was “Not a step backwards”.

The strength of both armies for the battle was as follows:

German Army Russian Army
Led by Paulus Led by Zhukov
1,011,500 men 1,000,500 men
10, 290 artillery guns 13,541 artillery guns
675 tanks 894 tanks
1,216 planes 1,115 planes

The battle for the city descended into one of the most brutal in World War Two. Individual streets were fought over using hand-to-hand combat. The Germans took a great deal of the city but they failed to fully assert their authority. Areas captured by the Germans during the day, were re-taken by the Russians at night.

On November 19th, the Russians were in a position whereby they could launch a counter-offensive.

Marshal Zhukov used six armies of one million men to surround the city. The 5th tank regiment led by Romanenko attacked from the north as did the 21st Army (led by Chistyakov), the 65th Army (led by Chuikov) and the 24th Army (led by Galinin). The 64th, 57th and 521st armies attacked from the south. The attacking armies met up on November 23rd at Kalach with Stalingrad to the east.

The bulk of the Sixth Army – some 250,000 to 300,000 men – was in the city and Zhukov, having used his resources to go around the city, north and south, had trapped the Germans in Stalingrad.

Paulus could have broken out of this trap in the first stages of Zhukov’s attack but was forbidden from doing so by Hitler.

Supreme Commander to 6 Army, January 24, 1943“Surrender is forbidden. 6 Army will hold their positions to the last man and the last round and by their heroic endurance will make an unforgettable contribution towards the establishment of a defensive front and the salvation of the Western world.”Hitler’s communication with von Paulus.

Unable to break out, the Germans also had to face the winter. Temperatures dropped to well below zero and food, ammunition and heat were in short supply.

“My hands are done for, and have been ever since the beginning of December. The little finger of my left hand is missing and – what’s even  worse – the three middle fingers of my right one are frozen. I can only hold my mug with my thumb and little finger. I’m pretty helpless; only when a man has lost any fingers does he see how much he needs then for the smallest jobs. The best thing I can do with the little finger is to shoot with it. My hands are finished.”Anonymous German soldier 

Hitler ordered that Paulus should fight to the last bullet, and to encourage Paulus, he promoted him to field marshal. However, by the end of January 1943, the Germans could do nothing else but surrender. Paulus surrendered the army in the southern sector on January 31st while General Schreck surrendered the northern group on February 2nd, 1943.

“I was horrified when I saw the map. We’re quite alone, without any help from outside. Hitler has left us in the lurch. Whether this letter gets away depends on whether we still hold the airfield. We are lying in the north of the city. The men in my unit already suspect the truth, but they aren’t so exactly informed as I am. No, we are not going to be captured. When Stalingrad falls you will hear and read about it. Then you will know that I shall not return.”Anonymous German soldier 

Why was this battle so important?

The failure of the German Army was nothing short of a disaster. A complete army group was lost at Stalingrad and 91,000 Germans were taken prisoner. With such a massive loss of manpower and equipment, the Germans simply did not have enough manpower to cope with the Russian advance to Germany when it came.

Despite resistance in parts – such as a Kursk – they were in retreat on the Eastern Front from February 1943 on. In his fury, Hitler ordered a day’s national mourning in Germany, not for the men lost at the battle, but for the shame von Paulus had brought on the Wehrmacht and Germany. Paulus was also stripped of his rank to emphasise Hitler’s anger with him. Hitler commented:

“The God of War has gone over to the other side.”


The Battle of Iwo Jima

Citation: C N Trueman “The Battle of Iwo Jima” The History Learning Site, 22 May 2015. 3 Mar 2016


The Battle of Iwo Jima took place in February 1945. The capture of Iwo Jima was part of a three-point plan the Americans had for winning the war in the Far East.

By 1944, America and her allies in the Pacific War had the ascendancy. In the west, the Japanese were being turned back in Burma and island hopping had isolated Japanese forces in the eastern sector. Combined with the attacks on Iwo Jima, was America’s desire to finally destroy Japan’s merchant fleet so that the Japanese mainland could not be supplied from the food-rich sectors of South East Asia which Japan still had control over. Linked to this, was the destruction of Japan’s remaining industrial base by the bombing of it by the American airforce.

Iwo Jima is a very small Pacific island – just over 4.5 miles long and 2.5 miles wide which lies at the foot of the Bonin chain of islands, south of the main Japanese island of Honshu.

Despite its size, Iwo Jima was considered to have great tactical importance. There were two airfields on the island – under Japan’s control; they could be used by Japanese fighter planes to attack American bombers on their flights to Japan. Under American control, the airfields could be used as emergency landing bases for damaged airplanes in the bombing raids. They could also be used for American fighter planes to escort the bombers, as they needed smaller runways for take-off.

Knowing that the island was of such importance, the Japanese were determined to keep control of it. There were about 22,000 soldiers under the command of Lieutenant-General Kuribayashi. These men had had the time to build strong defensive positions throughout the island but especially in the north. Kuribayashi knew that his options for launching attacks were extremely limited because of the small size of the island. In fact, his options to do anything other than defend ferociously were extremely limited.

America had vast reserves at their disposal. Iwo Jima was ‘softened up’ by bombing raids for more than two months before the actual amphibious assault. For three days prior to the attack, six American battleships had launched a continuous barrage on the island. Within the region, the Americans were led by Admiral Raymond Spruance – though the overall commander of the campaign was Admiral Chester Nimitz. The landing forces were under the command of Lieutenant-General Holland ‘Howling Mad’ Smith. The bulk of the amphibious attack was done by Marines.

The first day of the landings was February 19th, 1945. The Marines took heavy casualties, as the American bombings had not been effective. What it had done was to churn up the beaches and the immediate hinterland and had given the Japanese far more opportunities to find hiding-holes for snipers. It also meant that American movement inland was hindered as the area had been so heavily bombed. A few well placed Japanese snipers could hold up an American advance for hours.

However, the Americans had cut the island in two by the end of the first day – despite taking over 2,400 casualties. On Day 2, the Marines attacked Mount Suribachi. Here they found fanatical Japanese defence and Suribachi was taken on February 23rd after three days of fighting.

Iwo Jima proved a difficult and bloody target to take – frequently the Americans only advanced at several hundred metres per day. By March 11th, the Japanese were trapped in an area around Kitano Point, the island’s most northerly extremity. By March 16th, the island was declared secure and all resistance had ceased by March 26th.

The tiny island had taken America over one month to take. The Marines lost 6,891 men killed and 18,070 wounded. Out of the 22,000 Japanese soldiers on the island, only 212 were taken prisoners. What the battle did show the Americans was how far the Japanese would go to defend their country – a decision that was to influence the use of the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.