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on 30 July 2012
Focusing on the two best-known and arguably most significant fighter aircraft of the Second World War - the British Supermarine Spitfire and the German Messerschmitt Bf 109 -- this book is a "dual biography", aimed at the more general reader (think Roberts, Hastings, Beevor rather than Price, Goss, Shores as its apparent models). Nor is it a technical history, of which there are already shelves full of valuable books for the scholar and buff alike).

The book documents the two opposing fighters' intertwined evolution, and how this was related, in turn, to the 1930s race to design and deploy these fighters, to the prewar arms buildup, the vital role each fighter played in its country's war-fighting capability, and how each has become an artifact of history and legend. The book shows the two fighters as organic entities: growing, changing, adapting.

I liked best (because it was new to me) the opening chapters. The book starts with the two designers, Germany's Willy Messerchmitt and Britain's R.J. Mitchell. These chapters show how the interaction between the Spitfire and Bf 109 included the race to design, develop and produce the fighters in the 1930s - a race the Germans won through early rearmament. This was followed by a second competition, starting as war appeared closer and ending when the two fighters first met in air combat over Dunkirk in May 1940. The results of these two competitions lead directly to the most important air combat in history, the Battle of Britain.

The writing, especially about air combat, is vivid and exciting, drawn from first-person accounts and combat reports. But this is a story also about those that designed and built these fighters as well, including enslaved workers forced to build the 109. I would have liked more first-person accounts from the Spitfire production lines.

Today, both fighters are valued relics of an earlier age. But what is changing is that the context in which they were developed - the organizations that operated them and the industries that built them - have already faded into history. Few remain of the many thousands that designed, built, flew and maintained the Spitfire and Bf 109 during the Second World War.

The closing scenes of the book are at the Imperial War Museum's Duxford airfield, where Spitfires and a few Bf 109s (usually in their post-war Merlin-powered version) fly. The challenge will be to prevent them from becoming artifacts of a vanished world, a place that we can no longer understand. The danger is that, in losing this understanding, the context of the aircraft and the actions of those that flew them may be lost too.
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on 28 July 2012
I must confess that my first reaction when seeing yet another book about the Spitfire and the Me 109 was along the lines of 'Oh no, not another one!' I was pleasantly surprised and after a cautious start can highly recommend this book to anybody with an interest in the design, development and operational use of both of these famous aircraft types. The author, not usually known for aircraft titles, has written a very effective book yet manages to be avoid being overly technical. Obviously the technology employed plays a major role in the story but it is couched very much at the layman's level and so is easy to understand - which is of great importance when trying to understand the whys and wherefores of the changes applied to each type during their service careers. The various descriptions of how the planes actually flew - usually from first hand accounts - are very helpful and the various struggles with bureaucracy that both the British and German design teams had to endure and the conditions under which the designs evolved is also well described - as was the increasing difficulties the German aircraft industry laboured under as the allied bombing intensified.

Numerous combat reports add to the flavour and the continuing overview of the tactical and strategic factors surrounding how the types were used operationally is also particularly useful. There is a wealth of trivia contained within this book and whilst I am not an aeronautical historian much of the data seems to have been obtained from some very 'heavy weight' sources so should be there or thereabouts in respect of accuracy. I was quite interested in the story of the two types after the Battle of Britain - which pretty much forms the second half of the book. As an aerial war games player the prospect of gaming the Luftwaffe against the Swiss Air Force in 1940 - with both sides using the same fighter, i.e. the 109 - and then the Swiss versus the USAAF in 1944 has a whimsical charm all of its own. As does lend lease Spitfires being used by the Soviet Air Force!

If I have any criticisms of the book I would say that the photos included are nothing exceptional and I would have also liked to have seen perhaps some specifications for the various types in tabular form. Some side views in colour would have been nice but I guess that the cost would have jumped accordingly.

In summary then, this book is most certainly not a super technical guide to the two types covered, rather it is the story of how they came about and evolved and how their use on operations helped to continually develop their capabilities as the war progressed. It is an enthralling read, well written and would serve as an excellent primer for more detailed study.

Thoroughly recommended.
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on 8 November 2012
I was absorbed by the detail and the way the varying balance of power achieved between two marques of aircraft designed with the same desogn object in view. The production facilities for each aircraft are similar in that both countries used dispersal to minimise the effect of bombing, but the book describes how incredibly different they dealt with the problem of manpower. It is very difficult to believe that the autocratic nation's solution was to use slave labour supervised by Himmler! The reader will be engrossed to read how far the research goes beyond the end of WW2
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on 2 March 2013
This is a thorough,painstaking account of the development of these two aircraft, with the added entertainment of numerous snippets about the people who flew them and made them. There was no one ME109 or one Spitfire. they went through numerous incarnations-first one gaining the upper hand,then the other. We are treated to a fascinating account of all war theatres in which they operated, and to a good account of the politics which influenced their development. The saddest part of the story is how the German plane was taken over by appalling slave labour and brutality in its manufacture. As aeroplanes, they were the outstanding examples of two equally matched antagonists fighting each other for round after round. I was riveted.
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on 16 December 2013
Many such 'specialist' histories are little more than a catalogue of technical details, dates and numbers - accurate but dry. Here, though, David Isby writes a scholarly account of the development of the two key fighter aircraft of the Second World War which holds the attention throughout. It is punctuated with accounts of events told by the protagonists, covering every aspect of the story - from the development of modern fighter aircraft through to the final fates of both types. In doing so Isby draws on hundreds of sources and knits these together to produce a supremely well-written and complete narrative, easily on a par with the best of the genre (such as 'Spitfire: portrait of a legend by Leo Mc Kinstry). If the title of the book limits it's 'shelf appeal' to hardcore military aviation enthusiasts that would be a great shame, as this book deserves, and would reward, much wider readership.
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on 6 November 2013
This looked like the ideal read - a thick tome which should have been perfect autumn reading. Unfortunately, both the author and, ultimately his editor should be deeply ashamed at this effort. The story telling is haphazard, points and 'facts' are repeated, repeated and repeated, the structure of the book is......well, there is practically no structure, it is littered with grammatical errors and generally gives the impression of a 'quantity rather than quality' production. There are interesting facts and stories, but all in all, it was a struggle to wade through the repetition and not just cast it aside as a bad job. A shame as with tight editing, it could have been a marvellous addition to the shelf.. The Charity Shop bookshelf beckons for this one.....
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on 18 September 2015
Superb, fascinating factual account of the WW2 struggle between the RAF & Luftwaffe. Anyone with any interest at all in WW2 aircraft will love it. Although non-fiction it's a great read, full of technical and development details and also a candid, neutral account without bias. Essential reading for anyone debating (especially with Germans) the pros & cons on Spitfire vs. Messerschmitt / FW aircraft.
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on 6 March 2013
Various other books on the Bf 109 had stories that alluded to people and events, and this book provided names and more information. It does successfully manage to provide an interesting and informative read despite being on a subject awash in publications.
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on 28 August 2012
The Decisive Duel.

Mr. Isby, has produced a well written and informative, product. Well worth reading. By any one interested in fighter operations during, World War Two. Not only Northern Europe, but North Africa and The Far East. Even though, the facts are well known. Mr. Isby, has produced a Book, which is well worth the time needed to read it.
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on 15 January 2016
Excellent book. I have not started to read it yet. But know that from browsing that this
is right up my street.
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