Beginning on July 10, 1940, the Nazis attempted to overcome British defenses with a massive aerial attack on England in advance of a planned invasion. But over the course of three months, the World War II engagement known as the Battle of Britain not only beat back the Luftwaffe (which was, in 1940, the largest air force in the world) but also demonstrated the superiority of British fighter aircraft and the determination of RAF pilots and crews (which hailed from across the Commonwealth and occupied Europe).
Left: A Hurricane Mk I from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight at Biggin Hill Airfield is pictured in this 2010 file photo.
Victory Through Air Power
The Battle of Britain was the first major campaign to be fought primarily in the air. Germany's failure to achieve air superiority against the RAF proved to be the Nazis' first major setback in the war.
A Hawker Hurricane, which was one of the two main fighter classes used by the RAF.
Britain's air defense network (a series of "groups") was able to detect incoming German aircraft and scramble fighters in response.
A 19th squadron Spitfire. One of the most famous aircraft ever built, a total of 1,583 Spitfires were built during World War II.
Spitfire Mk Vb
A Spitfire Mk Vb from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight flies over Biggin Hill Airfield on August 20, 2010 in London, England.
Defiants, 264th Squadron.
The RAF's Fighter Command sported an international contingent of pilots from across the British Commonwealth as well as occupied Europe. Some pilots hailed from France, Belgium, Poland and Czechoslovakia. One Czech pilot, Josef Frantisek, part of a squadron of Polish fliers, claimed 126 kills during the Battle of Britain.
Spitfire Mk Ia
A Supermarine Spitfire Mk Ia, 602 Squadron.
To some, the Gloster Gladiator may have seemed like a holdover from an earlier generation of fighter aircraft. But the Gladiator served an important purpose, bridging a gap between Britain's older biplanes and more modern monoplanes that were still in development.
The commander-in-chief of the Luftwaffe, Hermann Göring, promised Hitler that the air attack against England, code-named Operation Eagle, would force British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to surrender.
The Luftwaffe launched its attack on Britain on July 10, 1940, beginning with the bombing of targets along the British coast and in the English Channel. Despite some damage inflicted upon Britain's air defenses, German losses were heavy and became increasingly unsustainable as the campaign worse on.
Left: German Heinkels flying a sortie over the English Channel.
The Heinkel 111 is said to have originally been designed as a fast mail and passenger aircraft for Lufthansa. The early versions of aircraft were used by the Nazis to aid Franco's rebels during the Spanish Civil War. It later saw its first major use during the invasion of France in 1940.
But during the Battle of Britain, it was hampered by inadequate firepower when attacked. (The plane also suffered from relatively low speed and poor maneuverability.) In its later versions, the plane's distinctive "greenhouse" nose made it the most easily-recognized planes sent into battle by the Luftwaffe.
The German Messerschmitt 109 rates as one of the first modern fighter planes. The 109 version became the workhorse of the Luftwaffe at the start of the war and it filled a number of roles - from bomber escort to ground attack. Nearly 34,000 units were built, the most of any aircraft during the war.
Left: Germany's Dornier 17, which was originally conceived as a passenger aircraft, could fly at speeds of up to 248 mph. Prior to the Battle of Britain, the aircraft saw service in the Spanish Civil War and earned the sobriquet the "flying pencil" because of its thin, "pencil" fuselage.
Also known as the "Stuka," the Junker Ju87 was a two-seat ground attack aircraft. It chalked up great success during the German Blitzkrieg attacks against Poland and France. But it was also vulnerable once getting separated from its fighter escorts.
After absorbing serious losses in duels with Hurricanes and Spitfires in the early stages of the Battle of Britain, the Stuka largely disappeared from the dogfights raging over the skies of Britain.
The twin-engine Junker 88, known as "The Maid of all Work," was the Luftwaffe's most versatile (and long-lived) craft. It was used for a variety of bombing missions as well as for day and night fighter and reconnaissance missions. It also saw duty as a close-support aircraft, and, later, a flying bomb.
As the Luftwaffe bombed Britain, the RAF Bomber Command also launched bombing runs on German industry (including aircraft manufacturing plants) and airfields.
Left: The Blenheim was the first RAF aircraft to fly over Germany during the Second World War. At the end of 1941, the RAF replaced its Blenheim home squadrons with a number of American-designed aircraft. But the Blenheims still saw major use in the Mediterranean, Middle and Far East campaigns.
Two WWII Lancaster bombers perform a fly-past during the Eastbourne airshow off the coast at Eastbourne, southern England on August 14, 2014. The Lancaster "Thumper," which is part of the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. has been joined by the Canadian Lancaster "Vera" from the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in Ontario.
Eyes On The Sky
In September 1940 the German shifted their focus of attack from military defense positions to London, bombing civilians and government targets.
Unable to achieve air superiority, in October the German plans of invasion were postponed indefinitely.
Left: An Observer Corps spotter scans the skies of the British capital.
Hurricane Mk I
The Germans' defeat in the Battle of Britain scuppered their plans for a land invasion of the British Isles. Their failure to achieve air superiority against the RAF was the Nazis' first major setback in the war.
Left: A Hurricane Mk I from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight at Biggin Hill Airfield on August 20, 2010 in London, England.
Battle of Britain Veterans
A Spitfire Mk Vb (top) and a Hurricane MK I (bottom), from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, fly over Biggin Hill Airfield on August 20, 2010 in London, England.
Spitfire Mk Vb
Squadron Leader Duncan Mason of the Royal Air Force taxis a Spitfire Mk Vb from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight into Biggin Hill Airfield on August 20, 2010 in London, England.
Taking a Well-Earned Bow
Battle of Britain veterans and Dame Vera Lynn pose for pictures in front of a Mark IV Supermarine Spitfire replica, owned by the Imperial War Museum outside the Churchill War Rooms museum as part of the Battle of Britain anniversary celebration on August 20, 2010 in London, England.
Lady Soames, daughter of Winston Churchill speaks outside the Churchill War Rooms Museum at a Battle of Britain anniversary celebration on August 20, 2010 in London, England.
Three Spitfires and two Hurricanes pass over Buckingham Palace to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain on July 10, 2015 in London, England.
From left: Sophie, Countess of Wessex, Prince Edward, Count of Wessex, Prince William, The Duke of Cambridge, Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh and Prince Andrew, The Duke of York, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, Prince Michael of Kent, Princess Alexandra and Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester watch the fly-past from the balcony of Buckingham Palace to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain on July 10, 2015 in London, England.
Spitfire and Typoon
A Spitfire flies with an RAF Typoon over Buckingham Palace to mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain in London, on July 10, 2015.