Friday, October 12, 2012

"Fighter" - Len Deighton - a review...

If you weren't an avid fan of WWII Air wargaming before you read this book, then I can guarantee that you almost certainly will be by the time you've finished reading it....

Deighton's book is ostensibly a history of the Battle of Britain, but the span covers much more than this as the key components that came together for the battle had originated much earlier - in WWI, the Spanish Civil War, and of course in Poland and France...

The book is roughly divided into three parts so in no particular order...
  • First you get a description of the key players on both sides - the airmen, flyers, inventors and scientists on both sides who prepared the way for the actual battle, from Camm (designed the Hurricane), Mitchell (Spitfire), Willi Messerschmitt (the 109), Park/Dowding/Leigh Mallory for the RAF, to Goering/Galland/Sperle for the Luftwaffe - absolutely fascinating... lots of tit bits of information - how the RAF were as keen on political infighting as the Luftwaffe - the shameful way Dowding was treated, and how much was owed to Beaverbrook.... he spends a lot of time on the differing training methods, and how short the training time became for British pilots as the battle went on, and of course what we owed to the Polish and other foreign pilots that flew for the RAF.
  • The second section deals with the planes themselves - their design basis, how they came to be, and the struggles the forward thinkers in the RAF had trying to persuade the more conservative elements (including some pilots!) that all-metal monoplanes were the way forward...  we were, after all, still building Gladiators at the start of the war... he touches on the design limitations of the 109 (thin wings resulted in not so much armament), the 110 (too big basically). The problems the Germans had with engines - nothing to match the Merlin - and the British genius that sent the Merlin design to America to be made there under licence....
  • The third section deals with the battle, which Deighton divides it up into its various phases - it was an amazement to me how lackadaisical the Luftwaffe plan was when you consider their huge advantage in numbers of planes and their practical know-how gained in Spain/Poland/the Low Countries & France. Strategically the battle was supposed to pave the way for Operation Sealion, but the impression you get is that Hitler's lack of desire to actually invade Britain lead to him letting the Luftwaffe just get on with it....   despite that they came very close to winning, and if they had not been lured by the bombing of London they could have very well done it....
A superb book, hugely readable, but the overwhelming view I got is that ultimately the RAF won the battle by making fewer mistakes than the Luftwaffe. Deighton is clear who the hero's are - Dowding, Park (commander of 11 group who defended London and the South East), Beaverbrook (who put a 10 megaton rocket up the production schedules for Spitfire and Hurricane), and not least the pilots of both sides who exhibited huge bravery on a daily basis...

Loved it - 10/10...

8 comments:

  1. I've never read Len Deighton, though I enjoyed the Ipcress file movie and as a teenage wasted nearly a dozen eggs trying to replicate Harry Palmers feat of cracking eggs (yolk intact) with one hand.

    I read your review and thought it might be time to get around to Len. I looked up and saw Fighter sitting on a bookshelf. How it got there, I have no idea, but who am I to doubt providence?

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    1. Serendipity.... It's a cracking read - I absolutely raced through it... some of the German guys were truly/wonderfully hideous...... and I'm still irritated now (three weeks after finishing the book) with the way Dowding was treated....... either way, I foresee Wings of War making an appearance in the Kinch household... :o)

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    2. Its an interesting one. Dowding was definitely the architect of the victory of the Battle of Britain and he was ousted by the political machinations of people like Park. But he also claimed to see 'spirits' in his office - so maybe he was cracking under the strain and the powers that be recognised this.

      Wore (for me) was the free rein they gave Bomber Harris. If he'd stuck to hitting the targets he was told to hit (primarily oil and transportation related targets) then the war really could have been over much earlier. He instead stuck to flattening German cities long after it was recognised that this was having little effect in winning the war in relation to the expenditure in resources and crews.

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    3. Ah yes - the mystical Douhet's influence reached far into the war.....

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giulio_Douhet

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  2. Try also "Bomber" which is a novel- "Blitzkrieg" which is a history of the Battle of the River Meuse in 1940 . Goodbye Mickey Mouse- another novel- P-51 over Germany . Deighton was a serious student of WW2 and really knew his stuff try SSGB and XPD which show his knowledge in a different form. I'm not a massive fan of his spy novels but anything with a WW2 theme by him is worth reading.

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    1. Andy - absolutely... I have, and have read, them all in the past - in fact I thought to re-visit "Bomber" in the near future..

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  3. A really good book - and very objective. Never read a bad Deighton book (and that includes all the ones mentioned above).

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  4. It does look like a very interesting read, I'll look out for this one!

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