With Wings Like Eagles: A History of the Battle of Britain Hardcover – Jan 13 2009
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"* 'Brilliantly told...I was fascinated by the first-class rehabilitation job done on Dowding. Until this book, I had no idea how detailed and determined were his preparations from 1936 - 1940'. Winston S Churchill * 'His mastery of aero-technics is phenomenal, and no-one can make an exciting and complex tale more understandable'. Sir Alistair Horne 'Korda's natural talent and experience as a storyteller has enabled him to bind all the disparate and sometimes conflicting episodes into a gripping story. A formidable job, beautifully completed.' Len Deighton author of Fighter and Bomber. 'We climb into our cockpits for the dog-fights with an awareness none of the pilots had of the context of politics, personalities, engineering and strategy from both sides of the battle. It is compelling history.' Sir Harold Evans" --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.
From the Back Cover
Michael Korda's brilliant work of history takes the reader back to the summer of 1940, when fewer than three thousand young fighter pilots of the Royal Air Force—often no more than nine hundred on any given day—stood between Hitler and the victory that seemed almost within his grasp.
Korda re-creates the intensity of combat in "the long, delirious, burning blue" of the sky above southern England, and at the same time—perhaps for the first time—traces the entire complex web of political, diplomatic, scientific, industrial, and human decisions during the 1930s that led inexorably to the world's first, greatest, and most decisive air battle. Korda deftly interweaves the critical strands of the story—the invention of radar (the most important of Britain's military secrets); the developments by such visionary aircraft designers as R. J. Mitchell, Sidney Camm, and Willy Messerschmitt of the revolutionary, all-metal, high-speed monoplane fighters the British Spitfire and Hurricane and the German Bf 109; the rise of the theory of air bombing as the decisive weapon of modern warfare and the prevailing belief that "the bomber will always get through" (in the words of British prime minister Stanley Baldwin). As Nazi Germany rearmed swiftly after 1933, building up its bomber force, only one man, the central figure of Korda's book, Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding, the eccentric, infuriating, obstinate, difficult, and astonishingly foresighted creator and leader of RAF Fighter Command, did not believe that the bomber would always get through and was determined to provide Britain with a weapon few people wanted to believe was needed or even possible. Dowding persevered—despite opposition, shortage of funding, and bureaucratic infighting—to perfect the British fighter force just in time to meet and defeat the German onslaught. Korda brings to life the extraordinary men and women on both sides of the conflict, from such major historical figures as Winston Churchill, Neville Chamberlain, and Reichsmarschall Herman Göring (and his disputatious and bitterly feuding generals) to the British and German pilots, the American airmen who joined the RAF just in time for the Battle of Britain, the young airwomen of the RAF, the ground crews who refueled and rearmed the fighters in the middle of heavy German raids, and such heroic figures as Douglas Bader, Josef František, and the Luftwaffe aces Adolf Galland and his archrival Werner Mölders.
Winston Churchill memorably said about the Battle of Britain, "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few." Here is the story of "the few," and how they prevailed against the odds, deprived Hitler of victory, and saved the world during three epic months in 1940.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
Michael Korda's new book is a refreshing overview of the major factors which allowed British to win the Battle of Britain. Reflecting historically, it is easy to point to the advantages of the British and the follies of the Luftwaffe, but it still doesn't take away from the background significance that led to those fateful decisions. Korda doesn't necessarily offer any new analysis, but rather he synthesizes much of the historiography and presents a clear above the clouds (pardon the pun) overview of the why.
Factually, much of the book's content is accurate. If there was one criticism it would be Korda's over-emphasis on the so-called "Miracle at Dunkirk" which wasn't really a miracle at all as Hitler at the time held out hope for a Nazi-British pact, certainly he could have destroyed the BEF had he really wanted to.
Korda highlights the major reasons why the British prevailed: airplane technology; the use of radar; ULTRA intelligence resulting from the decoding of enigma; Dowding's successful pinprick strategy and baiting the Nazis to bomb the cities instead of industry; and the reverse intention of increasing British morale instead of destroying it.
All in all, this a highly readable, well-researched, well-illustrated book about one of the most important battles in the history of World War II. Definitely recommend for anyone currently studying or wanting to learn more about the war.
As for the key figures, Prime Minister Churchill of course but Korda's primary focus is on Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding, the leader of RAF Fighter Command and his own "team or rivals," Commanders Trafford Leigh-Mallory, Keith Park, C. J. Quintin Brand, and Richard Saul. Juxtaposed to Churchill was Adolph Hitler but Korda's primary focus is on Hermann Göring and several General Field Marshals who included Albert Kesselring, Hugo Sperrle, and Hans-Jürgen Stumpff. Over a relatively brief period of time (from July 10 until October 31 in 1940), the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) attempted to gain air superiority over the Royal Air Force (RAF), especially its Fighter Command, and hopefully force a surrender without having to invade Great Britain. Without air superiority, such an invasion (codenamed "Operation Sea Lion") would not have succeeded and Hitler knew it.
In this book, Korda explains what the RAF's "Dowding System" was, how it operated, and why effective execution of it eventually defeated the Luftwaffe.Read more ›
After Poland fell to the Nazis, thousands of Polish pilots, soldiers, and sailors escaped to England. Devoted to liberating their homeland, some would form the RAF's 303 squadron, known as the Kosciuszko Squadron, after the elite unit in which many had flown back home. Their thrilling exploits and fearless flying made them celebrities in Britain, where they were "adopted" by socialites and seduced by countless women, even as they yearned for news from home. During the Battle of Britain, they downed more German aircraft than any other squadron, but in a stunning twist at the war's end, the Allies rewarded their valor by abandoning Poland to Joseph Stalin. This moving, fascinating book uncovers a crucial forgotten chapter in World War II-and Polish-history
Polish Squadrons played an important role in the Battle of Britain, accounting for 12% of all German aircraft destroyed.
In all, the Polish Air Force in Britain consisted of 14 squadrons and 17,000 pilots and support personnel. They flew a total of 102,486 sorties, shot down 745 enemy planes including 190 V1 rockets, dropped thousands of bombs, and laid hundreds of mines. By the end of the war they had flown a total of 86,527 sorties.
The Polish Air Force fought hard in spite of spotty support from the Allies, cultural differences with British pilots and civilians, debilitating confinement in Soviet gulags earlier in the war, a longing for home, and a host of other hardships. The Polish pilots fought with the hope that they would eventually return triumphantly to their homeland, a hope dashed by the Allied betrayal at Yalta.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
If you are looking for stirring accounts of heated dogfights and stories of swashbuckling airmen who singlehandedly prevented a Nazi invasion of Mother England, then you will be disappointed. On the other hand, if you want to understand how political, technological, logistical and military decisions made during the 1930s affected the outcome of the battle and how the genius and vision of one man, Hugh Dowding, Chief of RAF Fighter Command, set the stage for Britain's triumph, then this book is for you. (You will also be surprised to learn that the infamous "appeasers," Messrs. Baldwin and Chamberlain, actually made important contributions to the outcome of the Battle of Britain by supporting the development of a defensive fighter force, a concept that was looked upon with disfavor by most senior aviation officers in the RAF.)
Mr. Korda weaves a fascinating tale with lucid prose. I can assure you that even if you are well versed in the history of the Battle of Britain, you will learn much from his book. Highly recommended.
One emphasis of this book is the arguments in the 1930s about the need for fighters or bombers to defend Britain. A massive fleet of heavy bombers was sought by military experts as an aggressive retaliatory force to deter bomber attacks. Politicians who wanted to keep taxes low wanted fighters as cheaper defence against bombers.
Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain won the "cheap" arguments, which is why Britain had a large force of Hurricanes and Spitfires to defend the country in the summer of 1940. Luck? Foresight? Cost conscious wisdom in favour of low taxes? Or simple decency in not building an offensive force? Those issues of "Why?" are still open for debate.
This book deals decisions and personalities of leaders in Britain and Germany, and outlines the almost inevitable reasons that Germany couldn't win a war in the air against an equal opponent. Thus, a cross-channel invasion was impossible. The RAF simply made it unthinkable. Instead, Hitler settled for what he thought he knew best -- a foot soldier's invasion of Russia in the summer of 1941.
This isn't a tacka-tacka-tacka account of aerial warfare; instead, it examines the personalities and decisions that produced the Battle of Britain. There are plenty of books from both sides about the aerial combat; it's one of the few which analyze policy decisions.
After reading it I'm left with two impressions: 1) Hitler was a
bully who backed down if he couldn't terrorize people into submission; and 2) the British are a lot smarter than is ever portrayed in the "peace in our time" of the Munich-and-umbrella scenario.
The book solidifies the image of the German spur-of-the-moment war efforts, as seen in the aerial campaign to capture Crete in the spring of 1941 and later piecemeal reinforcements of the Afrika Krops. Bullies usually don't plan well or far in advance; Korda's book reinforces the image of Hitler as pure bully rather than military genius.
When backed into a corner, bullies become desperate which is why the war was so long and hard; on their own, as seen in the Russian campaign, they waste efforts on non-essential flailing instead of decisive blows. The same failing doomed the German effort in the skies over Britain. In other words, Hitler couldn't have won the war; he was limited to the vision and foresight of a corporal. But, given German ability to produce vast amounts of superb weapons, he did inflict a lot of damage.
Whether or not you share my assessment, it's a superb book and will give every reader due cause to think and re-consider everything they were taught or think they knew about the Battle of Britain. Instead of battles of numbers, miles per hour and other tech specs of equipment, it is a superb account of the personalities who won and those who were fated to lose.
(One further point: For anyone wanting a beautiful film of the Battle of Britain, get the superb 1969 'Battle of Britain' DVD with lots of tacka-tacka-tacka action and Spitfires and Hurricanes plus dozens of Rolls-Royce powered re-painted made-in-Spain Me-109s and He - 111s -- it's available from Amazon.com. It's simply the best 'Battle of Britain' film.)
However, for those BoB enthusiasts who have perhaps read Wood and Dempster's "The Narrow Margin", Korda's book will not be as satisfying. It barely skims the surface of what the battle was like for "the few", although Korda does pay homage to Geoffrey Wellum's masterpiece "First Light" which, along with Pierre Clostermann's "The Big Show", is certainly one of the best--and most recent--first-hand accounts of what it meant to be strapped into the cockpit of a Spitfire and hurling oneself into aerial battles against attackers who outnumbered the defenders in many instances almost 10:1.
For those who want to read the most definitive work on The Battle of Britain, I would recommend highly Stephen Bungay's "The Most Dangerous Enemy"The Most Dangerous Enemy: A History of the Battle of Britain. Bungay's work treats both the political and personal elements of the battle in a way that is deeply satisfying to the serious student of this phase of WWII.