Review: The Battle of Britain: Five Months That Changed History; May-October 1940 Kindle Edition, by James Holland

 

Mr. Holland’s book covers the crucial period between Hitler’s attack on France, Holland, and Belgium and the defeat of his attempt to destroy the British Fighter Command.  The attack on France was an immense success, mostly due to the incompetence of French planning, leadership, and communications.  France had spent much of its military budget on the fortifications of the Maginot Line and had anticipated the German push through the low countries, but utterly failed to appreciate the main thrust through the Ardennes.  Even when this was reported, the high command refused to believe it, and thanks in part to poor communications, failed utterly to respond aggressively.

The tragedy was that France had plenty of tanks, soldiers and aircraft to respond but poor leadership, communications, and morale meant that they could not respond effectively to Guderian’s panzer thrust to the coast.  As a consequence, much of the French Army, and the British Expeditionary Force was cutoff and trapped.  Thanks to Hitler’s dilatory response, much of the BEF was able to escape from Dunkirk, minus their equipment.

The core of the book, though, is concerned with the air battle over Britain.  The British were blessed with great leadership: Lord Beaverbrook who organized aircraft production, Air Marshalls Dowling and Park, and, of course Churchill.  Despite lagging a bit behind Germany in radar, they had an excellent coastal early warning system and a highly organized communication and tracking system.

Holland tells this story well, but much of the focus is on the individual combatants, both German and British, and told in their own words.  It was an immensely dangerous business, with astronomical casualty rates.  Flight wings, one airman said, were a one-way ticket. 

The Germans had a larger air force, and the ME 109 was a bit more capable than the best British fighter, the Spitfire Mark 1, with a more powerful turbocharged engine, heavier armament, and 1 minute’s worth of ammo vs the Mark 1’s 15 seconds. 

During the crucial five months, Britain’s fate hung by a thread, but Fighter Command turned the tide and gravely damaged the German AF.

Good book.  An exciting story well told.

 

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