The summer of 2015 marks the 75th anniversary of one of the most significant battles in British history, if not world history, the Battle of Britain. The first major battle fought solely by competing air forces, the Battle of Britain was the Luftwaffe’s attempt to wrest control of the air away from Britain’s Royal Air Force. Victory by the Luftwaffe would have allowed the German air force free reign to harry the Royal Navy in any attempt to stop a German invasion of Britain. Given Germany’s rash of victories in Poland, the Low Countries, and France; few doubted what the outcome of the German army making successful landings in England would mean. It was therefore crucial that the RAF fight the Luftwaffe to at least a standstill, so that if an invasion attempt was made there would be air cover for the vastly superior Royal Navy to block the Kriegsmarine and take the Germans out while they tried to cross the English Channel. That the RAF succeeded in this task is the reason Britain stayed in the war and was able to continue the fight against the Nazis. It was Germany’s first major defeat of the war.
The British have never forgotten the brave efforts of the young men and women of the RAF’s Fighter Command that summer and the Battle of Britain has become a legend in the 75 years since it occurred. It’s no wonder that, with the anniversary, many British publishers, model companies and so forth, would issue commemorative merchandise. This book from Osprey and the Imperial War Museum is one such effort.
“The Battle of Britain” appears to be a reprint of a 2010 book released for the 75th anniversary. These books often fall into categories and Osprey’s offerings usually focus on the uniforms or machines of war, with some text to give descriptions and context and a lot of illustrations. Other books are far more text oriented with more or less scrupulous telling of the history of a given event. This book falls somewhere in the middle. Kate Moore has a Masters in History from Oxford University where her thesis subject was the Battle of Britain, so she knows her stuff. The historical text, therefore, is thorough and knowledgeable and covers not just the men and machines but the background to the battle, including the technological innovations that played such an important part in the RAF’s victory. Along the way, Ms Moore looks at some of the more overlooked aspects of the story including the major contribution of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (the WAAFs) and pilots from the British Commonwealth and conquered European countries such as Czechoslovakia, Poland, and France.
But lest we forget that this IS an Osprey book, there are a large number of good quality photographs and diagrams to illustrate the text. These are very well captioned with good information to supplement the text. Not so many maps (though since the battle was fought over a fairly static landscape, this isn't a negative) and no aircraft profiles, but some interesting short biographies of major players such as Air Chief Marshall Hugh Dowding and Reichsmarchall Hermann Göring as well as individual pilots, ground crews and so on are scattered through the book. Many of the photos and posters I haven’t seen before, and are no doubt available due to the partnership with the Imperial War Museum. The book is divided into 11 chapters which are:
Blitzkrieg: Germany’s Lightning Strike
Spitfire Summer: The Air Battle for Britain
You’re pretty nearly half way through the book before you get to the Battle proper, but the lead in information lays a very good background for how the conflict was set up and how combatants prepared for it. The author sprinkles numerous quotes throughout the text from actual participants in the action that give a good flavor for how people were thinking and doing their jobs at the time. She approaches the subject as a historian and keeps the rhetoric to a minimum, but it’s still clear that this is a British author with a great deal of respect for the men and women who fought and won this crucial battle. Unfortunately for this unreconstructed Hurricane fan, she has definitely bought into the Spitfire Myth (see the title of the 6th chapter) but doesn't go so far as to say that it was Mitchell’s creation which won the Battle singlehandedly, as I've seen other books do. The Hurricane is given its due as are other machines and Radar and its associated ground control system as set up by ACM Dowding is certainly, and appropriately, given a major share of the credit. By the way, Ms Moore tends to refer to RDF as Radar throughout the book, though noting early on that it wasn't called that at the time. Obviously it’s easier to use the word more familiar to her audience than try to be completely historically accurate and loose them.
The writing is good and easy to follow overall, with some minor points where things might have been clearer. It is aimed at a general rather than a specifically academic or specialist audience and I think it achieves that goal well. This book is certainly more in depth than the usual Osprey offering, if less detailed than a book like “The Most Dangerous Enemy” by Stephen Bungay, generally considered the most complete work on the subject. The text is rather small for these tired old eyes but it has to be to make room for all the illustrations, which are definitely a high point of the book.
Appendices are included which consist of tables covering Fighter Command strength at several times; British aircraft output; British casualties; Fighter Command orders of battle in July and November, 1940; and German losses. As can be seen, this is definitely a British oriented book.
In short, if you're looking for a good, solid, general history of the Battle of Britain you can't go wrong with this book. Highly recommended!
Please remember, when contacting retailers or manufacturers, to mention that you saw their products highlighted here - on Aeroscale.
Highs: A solid general history of the Battle with lots of good pictures and short biographies.Lows: Small text, noticeable pro-Spitfire bias.Verdict: Highly recommended