The Battle of Britain: Hitler Moves On

On 13 October, 1940, Hitler postponed Operation Sea Lion, the invasion of Great Britain, until the spring of 1941. By October it became obvious that the Luftwaffe grossly underestimated the Royal Air Force’s fighter capacity, and capability to contest the air over Southern England, control of which was necessary for any German invasion to take place. The Luftwaffe pilots’ morale was almost bottomed out after being repeatedly told that RAF Fighter Command was on its last legs, only to find them waiting over London or some other city. However, the terror bombings, or what the British people referred to as “The Blitz”, continued for another year, mostly at night.

Hitler’s postponement of Operation Sea Lion until the spring of 1941 was only a ruse though: he wanted to convince Communist spies that his focus was still on Britain. In actuality, Hitler postponed Sea Lion indefinitely, and began moving the troops east. The planning for his next big operation was well under way, and the battle in the west was indecisive in his eyes.

Two weeks before on 27 September, Hitler signed the Tripartite Pact with Japan and Italy which formed the Axis against Great Britain and the Commonwealth. The next day, the Pact was extended to Germany’s de facto ally, the Soviet Union. Stalin’s foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov (of Molotov Cocktail fame) took the offer back to Moscow to work on the economic details of the alliance. Stalin welcomed the alliance, but felt that more economic concessions could be wrung from the Germans, who were in desperate need of the Soviet Union’s raw materials.

But neither Hitler nor Stalin had any intention of honoring a “Quadpartite Pact”. Stalin knew that any form of Socialism requires an enemy and when Hitler was done with Britain, he was the only remaining option in Europe. Stalin needed time to rebuild the Red Army after the purges of 1937/38, and the disastrous, if victorious, Winter War with Finland. A formal alliance with Germany could buy him that time.

Hitler had no intention of even that much, despite accepting Molotov’s economic counterproposals in November. He was just stallin’ (Ha!). Hitler would string the talks out about formal military alliance with Stalin until the spring, when he planned to launch, not Operation Sea Lion, but Operation Barbarossa — the invasion of the Soviet Union.

Though Churchill and the British people didn’t know it, the Battle of Britain was over. Hitler had moved on.

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