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The Battle of Britain’s show of ‘force’

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The “economy of force” principle is simple: Use your power skillfully and prudently so that you reserve your maximum force for the point of decision.

Case history: Early in World War II, when England suddenly stood alone against the Nazis, Adolf Hitler figured he could squeeze the U.K. to death.

With air warfare relatively new, no island kingdom had ever been conquered by air. Yet, Germany boasted almost four times as many bombers and fighter planes as England. On July 10, 1940, Hitler unleashed his air force, starting the Battle of Britain.

England’s strategy was to not give up. Prime Minister Winston Churchill strode around puffing a cigar, holding up two fingers in a victory salute. Royal Air Force pilots in their raggedy Hurricanes and Spitfires fought back, plane by plane.

Then, Churchill decided to teach “Corporal Hitler” a lesson. On Aug. 25, the RAF bombed Berlin for the first time. Furious, Hitler began firebombing London at night to demoralize the city.

That proved to be a fundamental error because it took the pressure off the RAF just to satisfy Hitler’s hunger for revenge.

The blitz began on Sept. 7, with 600 Nazi bombers and 600 escorts dropping tons of bombs on London, which burned but didn’t yield. Thousands of Londoners died or were injured. The RAF continued meeting its attackers, however, and, by the following June, Hitler gave up.

“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few,” said Churchill.

And never was there a better example of economy of force.

— Adapted from Corporate Combat, William E. Peacock, Facts on File Publications.

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