The Battle of Britain became famous as much for the aircraft that were used to fight in it as for what actually happened during that battle itself.
German Success Before the Battle
The aircraft of the Luftwaffe had defeated all before them in the German invasions of France, Poland, and the low countries (as they would do again in Greece, Yugoslavia and at first in the Soviet Union). German bombers had met only token resistance, whilst the Luftwaffe fighters outfought their opponents. However the use of German bombers had to be altered during the course of the Battle of Britain due to the unexpected vulnerability of some types of bombers when faced with the RAF’s modern fighters.
The main types of German bombers used in the Battle of Britain were the Dornier DO17, the Heinkel HEIII, the previously dreaded Junkers JU87 ‘Stuka’, and the Junkers JU88. The Luftwaffe soon found out that the Dorniers and the much-vaunted Stukas were very vulnerable to attacks by British fighters. It would be logical to assume that the Luftwaffe could have caused much more damage if it had more Junkers JU88s available.
The two main German fighters in the Battle of Britain were the single seater Messerschmitt BF 109, and the twin-engined two seater Messerschmitt BF 110. In France, and Poland the Messerschmitt BF 110 had performed well, yet in the Battle of Britain its pilots found it difficult going against the RAF’s Hurricanes, and especially the spitfires.
On the other hand the Messerschmitt BF109E as used in the Battle of Britain was an excellent fighter plane. It comfortably outperformed the Hawker Hurricane, and was when flown by an experienced pilot on a par with the Spitfire.
A major problem for the Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain was that the Me BF 109E lacked enough fuel capacity to stay over England for long periods of time.
The mainstays of the Battle of Britain for the RAF were undoubtedly the Hawker Hurricanes and the Supermarine Spitfires. The rugged Hurricane was able to destroy the German bombers it encountered during the Battle of Britain as well as the Messerschmitt BF 110.
As the Battle of Britain went on the usual tactic was for the slightly slower Hurricanes to take on the German bombers, whilst the Spitfires were concentrated against the Luftwaffe’s fighters. Other RAF fighters such as the Bleinheim and the Defiant were inadequate against the Messerschmitt BF 109 and BF 110, being transferred to night fighter squadrons or withdrawn from service completely.
The Spitfires received much of the attention and the plaudits for taking on the Messerschmitt BF 109E in the Battle of Britain.