In the summer and autumn of 1940 the Royal Air Force (RAF) fought a prolonged battle in defence of Britain against an experienced and numerically superior German Luftwaffe.
This air campaign, known as the Battle of Britain, officially lasted from 10 July to 31 October 1940. The battle began with German attacks on coastal convoys in an effort to draw RAF fighters into battle. These attacks were followed by brief and unsuccessful raids on British radar installations and concerted raids against RAF airfields in southern and south-western England. Luftwaffe bombers suffered heavy losses to RAF fighters - Spitfires and Hurricanes - but fighter losses were about even.
The Luftwaffe suffered from over-confidence, changing operational priorities, and a misreading of RAF strength, losses and aircraft production figures. In September 1940 Hitler postponed the planned invasion of England, Operation Sealion, but fighting continued into the winter.
Twenty-five Australians were considered eligible for the Battle of Britain clasp to the 1939–45 Star. Others flew during the battle with RAF Bomber Command and Coastal Command but the total number involved in the battle did not exceed 35. Eight Australians became air aces by shooting down five or more enemy aircraft. Pat Hughes from Cooma had 14 successes, which puts him among the ten leading aces of the battle.
Of the total of 537 RAF Fighter Command pilots who died at least ten were Australian. Another four who were enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force also died.
Prime Minister Churchill praised the pilots of the Battle of Britain with his famous words, "Never before in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few."
- John Herington, Air war against Germany and Italy 1939–1943: Australia in the war of 1939–1945, Series 3 (Air), vol. 3, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 1954
- Dennis Newton, A few of 'The Few': Australians and the Battle of Britain, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 1990