When Push Comes to Shove
In August 1940 the continent of Europe was all but conquered by the Nazis. There was no army left to fight the Germans on the Western front. Adolf Hitler’s troops had pushed 340,000 English soldiers off the coast at Dunkirk, back across the channel to England. The British Isles was the only conquest left for the Nazi Empire. France had crumbled to the pressure of German blitzkrieg only months before, and the English were next on the list. The Battle of Britain in 1940-41, proved to be the first unsuccessful German campaign of World War II. According to the film, Why We Fight, the battle was won not only over the skies of England by the Royal Air Force, but also by the people on the ground. The film argues that the English people’s remarkable fortitude in the face of constant bombing, was a main factor in keeping Nazi soldiers and panzers off the shores of Britain. Although there were nearly 40,000 English citizens killed during the infamous Blitz, Hitler and the Nazis were stopped when push came to shove.
The Royal Air Force’s success in the Battle of Britain destroyed the German’s Operation Sea Lion. Hitler and his generals planned to develop Operation Sea Lion in three phases: First they needed to gain air superiority over the skies of Britain. Then, use the Luftwafe’s dive bombing tactics to weaken the coast cities. Which finally would lead to an actual invasion of troops and tanks on English soil. The RAF made sure none of these objectives were effectively accomplished. The Luftwafe lost 182 planes in the first four days of the Battle of Britain. They never fully gained air superiority over the RAF. English systems of radar and listening posts were able to give the pilots warning of Luftwafe attacks. British Spitfire fighters were in the air within minutes to combat the enemy. Goering’s flight crews were dropping like flies over the English skies. Hitler wanted a change in Goering’s strategy.
The Luftwafe began attacking urban centers and non-military targets in hopes off breaking the English morale, and thus forcing a peace settlement. The savage destruction of total war brought citizens into the heat of battle. London was bombed on a nightly basis, as people in the film sought cover in the underground shelters. Citizens worked the factories and war materials were still being made. Hitler wasn’t able to stop the Civilian Army from persevering and maintaining an operating society. Women drove the buses and ambulances, children were evacuated from the major cities, and many factories remained open. The Luftwafe assaults ironically galvanized the people of England to live through life in the grits.
The film presents both the RAF and the Civilian Army as the reasons for Germany losing the Battle of Britain. Hitler had under-estimated the determination and mental toughness of the a unified English culture. Not one Nazi soldier crossed the English Channel, and the idea of German invincibility was debunked. As London burned, the people only seemed to grow stronger. This victory in the sky and on the homefront, served as the first step toward German surrender in 1945.