4 July – 11 August 1940

The Channel Fight

The Kanalkampf (Channel Fight) was the German term for the Luftwaffe's air operations over the English Channel against the British Royal Air Force (RAF) in July 1940. During World War II, air operations over the Channel launched the Battle of Britain. The Allies had been defeated in Western Europe and Scandinavia by the 25th of June. Adolf Hitler issued Directive 16 to the Wehrmacht (German armed forces) on July 16, ordering preparations for an invasion of Britain under the codename Unternehmen Seelöwe (Operation Sea Lion).

Air superiority

Before the invasion, the Germans needed to gain air superiority over southern England, and the Luftwaffe's role was to destroy the RAF and protect the cross-channel invasion from the Royal Navy. To engage RAF Fighter Command, the Luftwaffe attacked Channel convoys. Historians disagree on the dates for the start and end of the battle, and British histories usually start on 10th July.

Air battles were fought over the Channel between the Battle of France and Britain, according to British and German writers and historians; systematic German attacks on British coastal targets and convoys began on July 4th. During the Kanalkampf, the Luftwaffe received limited support from shore artillery and Kriegsmarine E-Boats (German navy).

Because Fighter Command was unable to adequately protect the convoys, the Germans sank several British and neutral ships and shot down a large number of British fighters. The Royal Navy was forced to suspend large convoys in Channel waters and close the channel to ocean-going vessels until additional protection could be arranged, which took several weeks.

Directive 17

Hitler issued Directive 17 on 1st August 1940, extending Luftwaffe operations to the British mainland and RAF-related targets. The main air offensive against the RAF began on Adlertag (Eagle Day, 13 August). The Kanalkampf had, as planned, drawn out Fighter Command, and convoy attacks continued for several days. Both sides had suffered losses, but the Luftwaffe had failed to defeat Fighter Command and the RAF decisively; the Luftwaffe had yet to gain air superiority for Operation Sea Lion.


The Channel battles were viewed as inconclusive by historian Williamson Murray (1983), however Smith (2007), states the battles could be described as a sort of German victory.  

According to Stephen Bungay, the Channel was "German" by day in early August, but this did not endanger Fighter Command itself. Bungay contends that in order to win an aerial campaign and gain air superiority, the Luftwaffe had to advance far beyond the Channel, and that Hugo Sperrle, the commander of Luftflotte 3, was already concerned about high German losses.

Furthermore, Albert Kesselring, the commander of Luftflotte 2, could not afford losses at the rate they were in July 1940.

Further reading