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An RAF Airman's Blog

The Battle OF…? What A Difference A Word Makes…

I noticed something yesterday. And it’s about the use of words and the difference a small word can make.

The two words in question are very short, very small; the sort of words that you don’t normally have to think about a definition.

They are: ‘of’ and ‘for’.

Why does this matter? What am I getting at?

Well, it’s the use of the word ‘of’ in the title of the massive event that occurred in 1940 – and that we will be celebrating/commemorating over this summer.

The Battle of Britain.

Why use the word ‘of’. Why not ‘for’?

I actually had to look up the definition in my Little Boy’s Book of Big Words (or is that Big Boy’s Book of Little Words?) of the two words.

‘Of – concerning; out of; among; relating to.’

‘For – in place of; in defence of or in favour of; with a view to; as regards; because of; on account of.’

Hold on. Rewind there. Of – concerning; relating to. For – in defence of. In defence of.

So why is it the Battle of Britain? The battle concerning Britain…That doesn’t seem right to me…surely it should have been the Battle FOR Britain.

Because that is was it is. That is what it was. It was the Battle for our country and our way of life. Back at that time, there was a very real danger that the Nazi’s would invade and given the state of the British Army after retreating from Dunkirk, our resistance to them would have been questionable. Plucky I am sure, but would we have had the forces and the equipment to push the invading Germans back into the sea? Would the Royal Navy have had the strength to intercept the invasion forces without RAF control of the air?

Massive questions that more learned people than I have attempted to answer…and with different outcomes. There are people who maintain that the Germans were never serious in their intent to actually invade. Others say that the threat of the Royal navy put off any actual invasion.

But one thing is true. As part of the plan to knock the British out of the war and to defeat us – attacking this country by air – destroying our air force and taking air superiority over the UK was a definite aim by the Germans. This plan changed and shifted as the campaign moved on and events turned one way and another – from failing to crush the RAF’s air defence, through to shifting to bombing cities and the civilian population, but the aim was true – to set about to defeat us and knock the British out of the war.

And if Hitler had done this…if the Nazi’s had defeated the RAF…then the consequences for our way of life today would be much, much different. No base for the Americans to enter the war…no threat of a second front using up German resources in France meaning the Germans could have concentrated on beating the Russians…

There are a whole load of ‘what ifs…’ But one thing is certain; the world would be a very different place today.

So. Was it actually the Battle of Britain – or should it be called the Battle FOR Britain. When I first set out to write this I was going to maintain that the title we give the events from June – October 1940 the Battle of Britain is wrong and it should have been called the Battle for Britain. But now, on actually writing this and following the train of thought a bit better I know I am wrong.

It is the Battle of Britain. That is right. It was a battle (and the first one fought totally in the air) that concerned Britain.

It wasn’t a battle that was just for Britain at all, it was for something much bigger than all that. And it is the bigger thing that each one of us should remember when we play our part in the commemorations of the event over the summer…because if the ‘Few’ of RAF had lost, then a whole lot more than Britain’s defence would have been at stake. And the fact that he RAF didn’t lose (although it came very, very close to it..) is of huge pride to me as a member of the RAF today. It was the Battle of Britain…yes. That is certain and clear to me now.

But, if it were to have a subtitle to expand upon it, it would have to be called ‘The Battle of Britain. The Battle for the Future.’


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4 thoughts on “The Battle OF…? What A Difference A Word Makes…

  1. There are 2 ways of looking at it and this stems from much of the historiographical debate surrounding the battle. In essence there is an arguement that exists that argues that the RAF’s and in particular Fighter Commands role has been over stated. Indeed it has been suggested that even had FC been defeated then not all was lost becuase of the existence of the Home Fleet. What we have then is two battle.

    First is the battle as seen to those of the time. This is very much the Battle for Britain i.e. a failed Combined Operation on the part of the Germans. In this battle the whole country was planning to deal with the threat of a German invasion. As such we see defences spring up around the country and the Navy on full alert. Of course this Battle for Britain never occurs because of the second battle. This is the Battle of Britain i.e. the aerial battle that Fighter Command ‘win’ in the period July to October. This is the battle we tend to remember. Of course this is because the ‘other’ battle never happens but we should not forget this other battle as it played and important part in preperation in 1940. To think about the battle we should think about it holistically. What was being prepared for was invasion. It never happens because the Germans never achieve the recognised precursor for a succesful invasion i.e. air superiority. When this fails, that Battle for Britian never occurs, though fear of it remains until mid-1941. So what we have been left with is the Battle of Britain.

    I hope that makes some sense.

  2. Battle for the World, Battle for Freedom, Battle for Life.

    The hypothetical scenario you mention doesn’t bear thinking of.

    • Several writers have, including the fantastic Fatherland by Robert Harris, or SS-GB by Len Deighton. But neither of them cover the full horror of what could have happened I feel.

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