To Defeat the Few: The Luftwaffe's campaign to destroy RAF Fighter Command, August-September 1940

ARRSE Rating
5.00 star(s)
A sizeable 384 page hardback, Dildy & Crickmore's 'To Defeat the Few' is an operational/campaign history, intended to look at the Battle of Britain on its own terms and assess the reasons behind the Luftwaffe's failure to achieve victory in what the authors describe as 'history's first independent offensive counter-air campaign against an integrated air defence system'.

Drawn from the Luftwaffe perspective as initiator of the battle, it serves as a challenge to some of the established historiography/mythology around the battle and is marked by substantial detail and an understanding of the inner workings of the German system and the responses of the German commanders. These qualities really lift the book as an account of the battle.

After a useful prologue setting out the aims of the book, it begins (Chapter 1) with a look at Fall Gelb (the defeat of France) and how the Luftwaffe was organised for this, and the progress of the campaign. Interestingly it places the campaign in part as an opportunity to further an air war against Britain by gaining bases within fighter distance on the Channel coast. This forms the first of six informative chapters, with some interesting photographs (many in colour or colourised) and informative text boxes, setting out the context of the Battle of Britain, both in relation to the opposing air fleets, progress of the war, UK air defence, personal profiles of leading figures, etc.

Coverage of the Battle of Britain proper begins with the Kanalkampf (Channel Battle) in chapter 7, and explains the exent to which it did (and did not) achieve its short and long-term aims. This acts as a useful introduction to Chapter 8, on Operation Sealion (the invasion of Britain) and the relationship of Luftwaffe planning to the proposed invasion, as well as the tactical and strategic limitations of senior commanders on the Luftwaffe side.

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The 'Eagle Attack' (Alderangriff) itself takes up the book from chapter 9 onwards, dealing with the first stage, from 12 to 16 August, all the way through to stage 4 of the attack, the turn to London, which is narrated in chapter 12. The interesting narrative includes many quotations from British and German official sources and also some personal accounts for added 'colour'. As well as referencing developments in British tactics, it intelligently discusses German strategy for the Battle of Britain and compares German intelligence (for example claims for destroyed aircraft with actual losses) against the facts on the ground to identify what the Germans thought they knew and how this played into German strategy and the assumptions of Goering and others. Significantly, it places the responsibility for the fatal shift away from bombing of airfields towards daylight raids on London onto Goering, Kesselring and Kesselring's Chief of Staff, Deichmann. This is part of an ongoing narrative in relation to the German side about weak strategic planning abilities, limited vision (particularly on the part of Goering) and a tendency on the part of some senior commanders (Sperrle being the notable exception) to revert to 'army' ways of thinking about campaigns to the detriment of an air superiority focus.

Having discussed the battle's climactic phase in the previous chapter, Chapter 13 then discusses the dying-away of the battle, introducing the Night Blitz and, eventually, the diversion away of the Luftwaffe for Operation Barbarossa.

The book concludes with an analysis chapter which explores the reasons behind the German defeat. It attributes it to the abandonment of a potentially promising offensive counter-air campaign focused on key bases in favour of an airborne battle attrition strategy which could not deliver the intended result. In the resulting battles, the Luftwaffe's marginal advantage in single-engined fighter victories (the authors estimate a kill ratio of 1.77:1) was more than compensated for by the superior British manufacturing capacity, repair organisation and general 'home advantage' as well as by improved British tactics and control, not least in refusing fighter versus fighter combats and vectoring larger fighting formations onto the enemy. Finally, it places the Battle in the broader context of WW2 as the last battle of the German Westfeldzug (Western Campaign), a German defeat which ultimately had defining consequences for the progress of the war.

This is a really excellent book on the battle and highly recommended.

Dildly, Douglas C and Crickmore, Paul F, Osprey, 2020, 384 pages.
 
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PhotEx

On ROPS
On ROPs
A major flaw in German intelligence analysis was they compared apples with oranges.

they assumed a British fighter Squadron was the same as a Luftwaffe squadron, 12 planes and 12 pilots - ergo, you shoot down 6 fighters in an engagement, 50% of the RAF strength ‘destroyed’.

but a front line RAF squadron was typically 20 aircraft strong, 16 on the flight line and 4 spares, with spare pilots - actuality, you lost 6 fighters, you lost 30% of your overall strength, but only 13% of Your actual squadron strength.

This caused the Germans to assume the RAF must be drawing in squadrons from the West and North to make up losses, further compounding their erroneous assumptions of RAF losses.
In reality, not only was the RAF not short of fighters, it was even able to carry on rotating out combat experienced pilots after they reached their quota of flying hours - building up a strategic reserve of 1,200 combat trained fighter pilots by September.

the Luftwaffe was a little different from WWI strictly tactical Air Force fighting a thoroughly modern integrated Air Force that had been reorganised with real strategic depth.

Another interesting fact.... throughout the Battle of Britain, Bomber Command carried out constant raids on Luftwaffe airfields, railheads and invasion harbours in northern France. All those light flak guns you see in contemporary German newsreels and photographs were not there for show.
 
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Interesting that again the blame for the shortcomings of German strategy is being placed on Goering and others beneath him. In Christer Bergstrom's book, The Battle Of Britain: An Epic Conflict Revisited, written as a result of 40 years of research, yes 40 years, he is far more lenient on Goering arguing that the decision to shift the bombing from the airfields to the cities was opposed by him. Incidentally, I heartily recommend the book as he counters a number of the perceived truths surrounding the battle and looks very closely at the claims made by both sides (over claimed massively) and comes up with a far more realistic result.
 
Don't forget 'The Few' included Bomber Command.

Churchill said so in his speech.


No axe to grind, but historians who have seemingly not read the speech might just be a little lacking.
 

Penfold

Clanker
"...it intelligently discusses German strategy for the Battle of Britain and compares German intelligence (for example claims for destroyed aircraft with actual losses) against the facts on the ground to identify what the Germans thought they knew and how this played into German strategy..."

A similar review of our own bomber offensive could be educational. There were differing estimates of the actual damage inflicted, interpretation of which was a key part of the planning for follow up raids and attacks.
 
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