In the middle of 1940, a seemingly irresistible German military had swept across Europe and was preparing to invade Britain.

Before they could risk a land invasion, the Nazis first had to eliminate the Royal Air Force.

Despite the Luftwaffe having superior numbers and aircraft, the RAF held them off for three months and eventually handed the Nazi military its first defeat of the war.

The victory came at huge cost of life, said Anthony Cary, British High Commissioner to Canada at a ceremony yesterday to mark the 70th anniversary of the victory at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum.

The average life expectancy of a Spitfire pilot during that battle was only four weeks, said Carey.

Twenty-one Canadian pilots died during the battle and another 33 who fought there would not survive the war. “Think of the boys you know today, your sons and grandsons, as the young pilots of 1940, many of them barely trained. No wonder their achievement over the skies of southern England still rings down over the years,” he said.

“It stands out as one sharp shining moment in our history.”

The Battle of Britain has been called, without hyperbole, a turning point in the history of the 20th century.