The Battle of Britain was the fourth of Frank Capra’s Why We Fight series of seven propaganda films, which made the case for fighting and winning the Second World War. It was released in 1943 and concentrated on the German bombardment of the United Kingdom in anticipation of Operation Sea Lion, the planned Nazi invasion of Great Britain.
The narrator describes the fall of France, leaving Britain almost defenceless. British forces are vastly outnumbered, but the British people are calm. The narrator explains that this is because in a democracy the people as a whole are involved in the decision to fight. Hitler’s masterplan to subjugate Britain is described. Hitler begins by attacking convoys and ports, but fails to destroy them. The RAF are outnumbered “6 – 8 – 10 to one”, but knock out far more planes than the Germans do. Bailed out British pilots are also able to return to the air, but German pilots are lost. Unlike the Dutch and Polish airforce Britain does not “make the mistake of bunching its planes on the runways”.
Losses force Hitler to “take time out”. He tells Goering to change tactics, so the Luftwaffe attack factories. Britain deploys “improved listening posts” to identify coming attacks. In August and September German losses are far more severe. However the “German mind” cannot understand why “free people fight on against overwhelming odds”. The Nazis now aim to “crush the British spirit” by attacking London, destroying homes, hospitals and churches. But the people adapt and survive. Enraged, Goering takes personal command, sending a massive attack on September 15, to which the British respond with “everything they had”. In the battle the Germans suffer severe losses.
Despite many losses, and destruction of historic buildings, the Germans cannot break Britain. They switch to night attacks, hoping to terrorise the people and make them “cry for mercy”, then die of begging.. But the people show great resilience. The British also counter-attack, bombing key German factories. Hitler takes revenge by destroying Coventry. After a brief respite at Christmas Hitler sends fire bombs to London, creating “the greatest fire in recorded history”. More bombings and firestorms are created, but Britain’s defences hold up, giving a year of precious time to other countries threatened by the Nazis. The film ends with Winston Churchill’s statement that “never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few”.
Allegations of anti-Polish bias
The episode has been criticised for anti-Polish bias.:151–2 The bias is a result of propaganda justifying the Western Allies’ alliance with the Soviets, as the Soviets had to be portrayed as the “good guys.” The Allies who were unsympathetic towards the Soviet Union, such as the Poles, were misportrayed or simply ignored.:148–52 Thus, in this episode the map of Europe displayed shows half of Poland free (to avoid mentioning Soviet annexation of Polish territories following Soviet invasion of Poland), repeats the false Nazi propaganda claims that the Polish Air Force was destroyed on the ground (contrasting it with the correct fact that the RAF was not destroyed), and ignores the significant Polish participation in the Battle of Britain. Participation from Polish pilots from No. 303 Polish Fighter Squadron and other units was widely publicized in Britain at the time this propaganda piece was filmed
Why We Fight Series
The Why We Fight was a series of seven documentary films commissioned by the US government during World War II to justify to US soldiers their country’s involvement in the war. Later on, they were also shown to the US public to persuade them to support US involvement in the war.
Most of the films were directed by Frank Capra, who was daunted, yet impressed and challenged, by Leni Riefenstahl’s propaganda film Triumph of the Will, and worked in direct response to it. The series faced a tough challenge: convincing a recently non-interventionist nation of the need to become involved in the war and ally with the Soviets, among other things. In many of the films, Capra and other directors spliced in Axis powers propaganda footage going back twenty years, and re-contextualised it so it promoted the cause of the Allies.
Why We Fight was edited primarily by William Hornbeck, although some parts were re-enacted “under War Department supervision” if there was no relevant footage available. The animated portions of the films were produced by the Disney studios – with the animated maps following a convention of depicting Axis-occupied territory in black.
- Prelude to War.
- The Nazis Strike.
- Divide and Conquer.
- The Battle of Britain.
- The Battle of Russia.
- The Battle of China.
- War Comes to America.
Production & Filming Details
- Director: Frank Capra and Anthony Veiller.
- Producer: Office of War Information.
- Writers:Julius Epstein and Philip Epstein.
- Narrator: Walter Huston.
- Cinematography: Robert Flaherty.
- Editor: William Hornbeck.
- Distributors: War Activities Committee of the Motion Pictures Industry.
- Released Date: 1943.
- Running time: 54 minutes.
- Country: United States.
- Language: English.