This was possibly the darkest year in the entire history of Great Britain.
War had been declared against Nazi Germany the previous September, but so far it had been a ‘phoney war’: this would change rapidly in the months to come. In January, the Blitzkreig was unleashed upon Finland and Norway, which were defeated after stiff resistance; Denmark, Belgium and The Netherlands surrendered; Paris was bombed, and in June Marshall Pétain surrendered and France was occupied. The same month Italy declared war on Great Britain, 13,000 British and French troops surrendered to Field Marshall Rommel at St. Valery and 300,000 Allied troops were evacuated from Dunkirk.
Britain stood alone against the Axis powers, and Winston Churchill (who had become Prime Minister in May) told the nation that “the Battle of France is now over; the Battle of Britain is about to begin”.
And begin it did, in July, with continuous bombing raids by the Luftwaffe, bravely checked by ‘The Few’ RAF fighter pilots: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few”. During September and October - the months of the Blitz – London was bombed on fifty-seven consecutive nights; in November, Coventry was utterly destroyed and in December 500 German bombers devastated Sheffield.
The Nazi tactic was to achieve aerial superiority in order to invade or force an armistice. Churchill had made it clear that this would never happen:
“We shall not flag or fail. We shall fight on the beaches…on the landing grounds…in the fields and the streets… We shall never surrender”.
By the end of the year it was clear that the Luftwaffe would not achieve its goal: the first, crucial, turning point in the war had been reached.