Strategically, the British advantage of radar, conveniently scoffed at by Göring, allowed Dowding to organize an effective response to German incursions. Dowding scrambled appropriate numbers of fighters to deal with each threat, and this enabled him to keep fighters on the ground at the ready for the next wave of German bombers. Radar completely demolished the German element of surprise and gave it to the RAF.
The advantage of radar combined with the excellent climbing characteristics of the Hurricane and Spitfire allowed the British the comfort of being not only in the right spot to intercept, but also at the proper altitude or, if they were lucky, higher. British response tactics were modified by Douglas Bader and Trafford Leigh-Mallory to accommodate the Big Wing theory, which inflicted heavy casualties on the Luftwaffe. Eventually this tactic was adopted as official doctrine.
The Battle of Britain illustrated flaws in the German system and strengths in that of the British, who adapted when they had to. The RAF’s tactical rigidity, which was eventually corrected, was helped by its tremendous strategic pliability. The British were able to adjust on the fly to the conditions presented by each German raid.
The greatest British deficiency was tactical inadequacy, which was overcome with the adoption of Finger Four and Big Wing by the RAF. For the Germans, initial tactical superiority gave the Luftwaffe an edge early in the battle, but strategic flexibility allowed the RAF to survive—its very existence thwarting the German plan.
Originally Published Feb. 2, 2016
Updated Jan. 31, 2017
This article first appeared on the Warfare History Network.
Image: Wikimedia Commons.