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An Historical Injustice Rectified,
This review is from: With Wings Like Eagles: A History of the Battle of Britain (Hardcover)This book is subtitled "The untold story of the Battle of Britain" and my first thoughts upon receiving it were that, considering the hundreds of books and articles that have been written about the Battle of Britain, there really couldn't be any story left untold. Wrong! Michael Korda's book opens with a detailed but very readable analysis of the social and political situations in England and Europe during the 1930's and reveals that there was no enthusiasm and certainly no budget in Britain to prepare the Air Force for war. It was into this inertia that a remarkable visionary convinced Stanley Baldwin to invest in a previously undreamt of strategy for air defence. Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding had seen the potential for a new scientific invention called radar to provide the basis of a comprehensive air defence system and in 1935 set to work constructing a network of overlapping radar stations linked by protected underground telephone wires to operational centres sighted well away from London and the main airfields. Bearing in mind that at the time radar was unproven and very unreliable technology, the fact that Dowding managed to obtain a (very limited) budget and oversee the project to its successful conclusion was truly remarkable. Dowding's vision wasn't just restricted to the use of radar as a detection system but crucially as an integrated element of defence using fighter aircraft with the (again revolutionary use of women) operators at the regional control centres collating information from the radars and visual observations to plot incoming enemy aircraft so that a small number of fighter aircraft could be despatched and accurately targeted to intercept them by use of another new technology, high frequency radio communication. By 1939 the network was complete just in time to save Britain because "With Wings Like Eagles" convincingly proves that Dowding's air defence network and fighter despatch strategy was a key element of the subsequent victory of the Battle of Britain so bravely fought by the heroic "Few". The well written account of how this defence network functioned as the attacks grew ever fiercer is as gripping as any thriller and Michael Korda also details how the young women operators proved themselves time after time not just by remaining calm and focussed under bombardment but also despite being frequently subjected to the horrific screams from pilots they were directing being shot down.
However, nicknamed "stuffy", Dowding wasn't a popular personality and apart from Air Vice Marshal Park, few understood or supported his strategy and so, despite his remarkable achievements, he was elbowed out of the Air Ministry by stronger personalities such as Leigh-Mallory and subsequently written out of the official history of the Battle of Britain.
This historical injustice has been rectified by Michael Korda's well researched and highly readable book and I would personally rate it as essential reading for all those interested in this epic battle.