25 of 32 people found the following review helpful
The Most Dangerous Book: A Distortion of the Battle of Britain,
This review is from: The Most Dangerous Enemy: A History of the Battle of Britain (Paperback)
To begin with the positives, this book is well researched and well written. In particular I enjoyed the chapter dedicated to the development of the Spitfire and Hurricane. Unfortunately that is where the positives end, there is nothing new in this book.
After 20 pages I was almost ready to give up on this book, however I persevered only to find my disappointment grew and grew. I bought the book based on reviews and recommendations from people constantly saying that this is the one true book on the Battle of Britain ... it has almost achieved biblical status amongst some circles. When I reached page 200 I realised that I had only read a handful of pages relating to actual events during the battle the rest was about how Churchill was the main factor in Britain's victory, how inefficient and incompetent the German's were and in general how the British and their allies were destined to win no matter what. It became more and more obvious that the author had a pre-determined agenda to prove how bad the Luftwaffe was. This is where the extensive research comes into its own, in finding the most appropriate evidence to support the authors theory, discounting evidence that contradicts it and misrepresenting information and facts to suit.
For example the topic of combat claims is raised, on the one hand the author states that this is understandable on the part of the RAF due to the "fog of war" then suggests that Luftwaffe over claims were in part due to fraudulent reporting. There is no evidence provided to back up either claim whether it is correct or not. The author also states that over-claims are regularly 2:1 but with clever manipulation (something the author is good at) it can be proved that the RAF over claims were almost 3:1 (from 10th July to 11th August the author says that there were 216 German aircraft destroyed in combat; actual RAF claims for the same period including confirmed, unconfirmed and duplicate claims is somewhere in the region of 600).
Another example relates to German intelligence reports at the beginning of the battle and how this proves the Germans were incompetent. The author takes four points raised in a report produced on 16th July whereas the report actually includes more than twenty separate statements. Having read a translation of the report it is clear that the author has chosen carefully which parts to summarise and in the process twisting the facts to suit his theory:
From the book - "Both the Hurricane and Spitfire were inferior to the Bf109F (which was not yet in production) and only a skilfully handled Spitfire was better than the Bf110."
From the report - "In view of the combat performance and the fact that they are not yet equipped with cannon guns both types are inferior to the Me109, while the individual Me110 is inferior to skilfully handled Spitfires."
It must be remembered that from combat experience the German's would be partially correct in this assumption, the only time the two types had met in serious combat was over France and Belgium and following the Battle of France the performance of both the Hurricane and Spitfire were increased by improving the propellers and introducing a higher grade fuel.
From the book - "The number of operational airfields in Southern England was severely limited."
From the report - "In the ground organisation there is a considerable number of airstrips in the southern part of the island and in some areas of the north. However, only a limited number can be considered as operational airfields with modern maintenance and supply installations. In general, the well-equipped airfields are used as take-off and landing bases, while the numerous smaller airfields located in the vicinity serve as alternate landing grounds and rest bases."
In my opinion the German report is correct and the version in the book is a misrepresentation of what appears in the report. The report says there were a considerable number of airstrips with only a limited number being operational ... there may have been 40 or 50 airfields identified in the south but only 9 of those were sector stations, the main operational hubs. This is a limited number just 20-25%. The author has summarised this by saying the Germans believed there were a SEVERLY limited number which is incorrect.
From the book - "The British aircraft industry was producing 180-300 frontline fighters a month (the true figure for July was 496) and would decrease."
From the report - "At present the British aircraft industry produces 180-300 first line fighters and 140 first line bombers a month. In view of the present conditions relating to production (the appearance of raw material difficulties, the disruption or breakdown of production and factories owing to air attacks, the increased vulnerability to air attack owing to the fundamental reorganisation of the aircraft industry now in progress), it is believed that for the time being output will decrease rather than increase."
I believe the estimates regarding British fighter production are not wrong as such, just outdated. If the June figures for production are available (the latest at the time of the report) the average production rate over the previous six months would have been 250 fighters per month, if production figures were only available from May (the first month the British broke through the 300 per month mark) then the average over the previous six months would have been 190 fighters per month. By throwing in the production figure for July, a figure that no one could have known at the time of the report, the author of the book is manipulating the evidence, yet again, to prove his theory. As for the decrease in production predicted by the Germans this did actually happen and it would not be until Feb 1941 that the production rates would be back up to the figure achieved in July 1940. The average production rate of fighters for the six months following July were in the region of 420 per month.
In document WP (40) 427: Second Report on the Ministry of Aircraft production it states for September 1940 "We lost 300 machines as compared with August output" in relation to production of all aircraft types. It also goes on to say that one of the biggest worries is not from direct attack but from the time lost during air raid warnings where some factories were losing 50% of their production time.
From the book - "Command at all levels was inflexible, with fighters being rigidly tied to their home bases, and station commanders were non-flyers (most flew regularly)."
From the report - "Command at high level is inflexible in its organisation and strategy. As formations are rigidly attached to their home bases, command at medium level suffers mainly from operations being controlled in most cases by officers no longer accustomed to flying (station commanders). Command at low level is generally energetic but lacks tactical skill."
The above seems to be a good assessment of the experience gained in the skies above France, the main source of the Luftwaffe's knowledge at the time of the report. It was also contrary to the way the Germans did things. As history would prove, this rigidity in the command and control structure would be one of the RAF's greatest assets. To the Luftwaffe this concept was alien and therefore, in their eyes at least, flawed. Why the author of the book had to emphasise the incorrect statement that station commanders were non-flyers is just another example of his need to bend the truth to suit his theory. The German report says that station commanders are no longer accustomed to flying NOT that they were non-flyers. In fact this is true, station commanders rarely took part in operational flying except as observers. The Germans felt this was a weakness because it meant that those devising the everyday tactics were out of touch. What they didn't realise was that once the enemy was sighted it was the low level commanders (the squadron and flight leaders) that determined how the enemy should be engaged. They were the ones adapting and modifying the tactics as their experience grew.
The above examples are mainly taken from just one page of the book but are representative of the many, many areas of the text that show the authors true intentions. I have called this book "The Most Dangerous Book" because I believe it purposely misleads the reader.
Buy this book by all means, it is a reasonable read and well written but please, please, please I urge all who buy it, DO NOT make this the one book on the Battle of Britain that you own and take the analysis offered with a pinch of salt. There are far better sources of information out there and relying on this book will give you a false perspective on the events of the Summer and Autumn of 1940. Try the Battle of Britain Historical Society website for example, a much more rounded, unbiased account of events or the book "Battle of Britain: A day-to-day chronicle, 10 July-31 October 1940" by Patrick Bishop.
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Showing 1-5 of 5 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 11 Aug 2014 12:43:48 BDT
Posted on 23 Sep 2014 10:21:26 BDT
Chris Green says:
wow what a terrible review.
1) there is plenty new in this book, including some of his original and pithy views on why the Germans lost
2) there is constant reference in the book to the superiority of German tactics, maybe you did give up after page 20. otherwise I don't see how you can claim "how inefficient and incompetent the German's were and in general"
3) the author specifically states that nothing in war is inevitable and makes totally clear that his view is that a number of individuals and individual decision created victory. unless you never finished the book it is impossible to conclude that "the British and their allies were destined to win no matter what"
4) the author goes on to name the specific individuals he think contributed to the victory, top of the list is Park and second is Dowding. again, unless you haven't finished the book it is impossible to conclude "the rest was about how Churchill was the main factor in Britain's victory"
frankly I could go on but am not sure I need bother. you ought, at least to finish the book before writing a critique. one saves oneself red cheeks
In reply to an earlier post on 23 Sep 2014 10:49:51 BDT
MR IAN T HATHAWAY says:
Thanks for your comment and it is clear that as individuals we each have differing opinions. I have read the book twice now and reread certain passages/chapters as there is some useful information in there. Possibly my view that there is nothing new is based on the fact that I have read dozens of books on the subject and there is nothing new to me within this book. I'm not interested in one persons views of why he thinks things happened the way they did I'm more interested in the facts, the details and the stories that allow me to make up my own mind on the subject. In my view the author has cherry picked facts to suit his pre-determined theories, but that is just my view and the way I read the book, hence this is my review of a book that I didn't particularly enjoy.
In reply to an earlier post on 23 Sep 2014 13:09:59 BDT
Last edited by the author on 28 Sep 2014 21:24:04 BDT
Chris Green says:
thanks for the response. indeed we are all entitled to an opinion. but some of your comments were factually wrong as outlined above. which detracts from the credibility of your statement.
I have no problem with someone of a differing view point, indeed it's usually very refreshing. but much of what you say in your original preamble is demonstrably false and that is rather a shame. Bungay does not think the RAF endlessly superior, tactically it's quite the opposite. he does not think victory predestined and explicitly says so. he does not think Churchill the prime mover behind victory and specifically labels Keith Park as such.
your comments on the intelligence report and Bungay's view of it are much more worthwhile but given your earlier statements I am uncertain as to the veracity of your comments. a conundrum.
hmm, I was rather hoping for a response where you came up with a reason as to why I shouldn't doubt the veracity of the second part of your review given that in the first half you attributed views to Bungay which are demonstrably incorrect. disappointed that you haven't or haven't been able to as I was looking forward to a new paradigm. never mind.
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