Air Vice-Marshal Peter Dye, Director General of the RAF Museum, takes an in-depth look at the crucial role played by logistics during the Battle of Britain, and finds some surprising facts that seem to run counter to the accepted view of the Few" against lithe many"
Hitler's flawed strategy
The Battle of Britain was essentially an attritional struggle that tested the logistic systems of the opposing air forces as much as it tested the individual pilots, technologies and tactics. It was a trial of strength, a grinding contest far removed from the popular image of "the Few" pitted against "the many". Although production, storage, repair and salvage may not have been as glamorous in the public eye as the undoubted heroism shown by Fighter Command's pilots, they were every bit as important.
During the course of 1940 Fighter Command's total wastage in Hurricanes and Spitfires approached 3,000, while production deliveries were in excess of 3,500. As a result, front-line strength was able to grow from some 500 Hurricanes and Spitfires in January 1940 to more than 1,000 by August. Even so, without a comprehensive repair and salvage organisation, attrition (in excess of 50 per cent of front-line strength per month) would have rapidly weakened the operational squadrons.
The Battle of Britain was a contest that the Luftwaffe had neither prepared for nor envisaged. Created as a strategic instrument, the Luftwaffe had in fact become a superb tactical weapon. However, the expectation of a short war meant that there were neither the industrial resources nor the necessary logistic arrangements in place to sustain operations in the face of a determined enemy. These shortcomings were subsequently never properly addressed, and this, coupled with the huge logistic resources available to the Allied air forces, ultimately sealed the Luftwaffe's defeat.
That said, too much can perhaps be made of the Luftwaffe's doctrinal weaknesses and flawed strategies. It was the creation of a strategic air defence force, in the form of Fighter Command, with the necessary equipment, organisation and resources, that denied victory to the Luftwaffe. In this regard, victory in the Battle of Britain was owed as much to the vision, determination and hard work of the pre-war planning staffs as 1:1 to any other factor.