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The Most Dangerous Enemy: A History of the Battle of Britain Paperback – 25 Aug 2009
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‘Stephen Bungay delves into new ground. These threads have been woven together to form an eloquent and informative tapestry… It will be difficult for a new work on this subject to add any more to our knowledge of those months in 1940’(Wingspan)
‘The magnitude and vital importance of the Battle of Britain has found a superb chronicler in Stephen Bungay, whose book is the best single-volume history to be published in over a decade’(Andrew Roberts)
'The most exhaustive and detailed account of the Battle of Britain that has yet appeared'(Times Literary Supplement)
'A fascinating case history in illusion and reality. He dispels the myths and kills the cliches... Admirable'(Sunday Times)
From the Publisher
A compelling read for the military scholar and general reader alike, this is a classic of military history. Stephen Bungay's magisterial account of the Battle of Britain questions the truth behind the myths and his investigation affords some surprising revelations about the battle for the skies. `The Most Dangerous Enemy' provides a comprehensive and thoughtful insight into one of the most important events in our country's past.
Top customer reviews
The map of Western Europe was determined from this titanic air battle. The Battle of Britain was really the Battle for Europe.
This is a gripping account of the day by day attempts by the Luftwaffe to destroy the RAF to pave the way for an invasion and explains how the British met the challenge
The stakes could not have been higher for Britain yet it chose to fight. The author also explores the reasoning behind the strategies of both sides .
The outcome of this battle may actually have ensured the survival of Germany as a nation. Fascinating stuff.
The BBC charter requires the Corporation to 'inform educate and entertain', and that is also what this book does. I was concerned about using the word 'entertain' when dealing with warfare, but one definition of it is to 'keep hold, or maintain in the mind' and that will do nicely.
Mr Bungay creates a good balance between background history, technical analysis and description of the day to day events. The truth is that to just list all the daily sorties, detail the places attacked and record numbers of aircraft shot down can eventaully become, dare I say, somewhat grueling to read, so here the author frequently stops doing that and switches to something relevant but quite different.
For example, having reached 18th August Mr Bungay diverts onto the necessary qualities of the pilots ('hunters and hunted') and then onto tactics. He also includes many anecdotes, much irony and some black humour- all appropriate in this context when we bear in mind that those young men were theirselves noted masters of all these things. For example we find the letter from a novice German pilot who shows huge excitement and appears to be having a great time- though perhaps really it was just bravado for his mothers benefit: he refers to the Hawker Hurricane as an 'old puffer'. We are then informed that the very next day he was shot down and killed- by an 'old puffer': I felt very sad for his poor mother. There is though also light humour. We owe a great deal to the Poles, who came to be greatly liked and respected. I laughed upon learning that Polish pilots Brzezina and Szczesny of 74 squadron were 'quickly and inevitably' dubbed 'Breezy' and 'Sneezy'. If you want to know what 'Miss Shilling's oriface' really was you will have to read the note on page 264.
The book is not overly clogged up with charts and tables, but there are enough to show what really happened. I learned many things. For example I'd always thought that the Messerschmitt BF109 had the best of its encounters with British fighters, but actually it did not. Of course the 109 as a type shot down more of them than it lost, but that's because the RAF pilots were under orders to go for the bombers, not the fighters. In fact, and despite inferior RAF tactics, even the Hurricane fared quite well again the 109 and overall the Spitfires and Hurricanes shot down twice as many aircraft as the Germans managed to do whilst losing surprisingly few pilots in the process.
By contrast, away from the day to day action we are told all about the feuding within both the Luftwaffe and Fighter command. The latter includes the tale of how Mallory and Sholto Douglas outmanouvred Dowding and Park. But never mind, in our own time old injustices have been set to rights: it is the latter two who clearly masterminded the victory- a true deliverance- and that is well recognized today. In Central London both men are now honoured by fine statues in their memory.
So, it becomes apparent that the Battle was not a 'close run thing' at all. There was much more to this victory than a pair of good fighter aeroplanes and their brave pilots. Traditionally we British love to think of ourselves as the defiant underdogs, but whilst there was no lack of courage (on both sides) we also were very well prepared, husbanded resources, produced more aircraft than we lost and sustained the supply of pilots- all things that the Luftwaffe failed to do. So we won. Note that I say 'we', not a BBC- style 'The British'.
You will find this book a gripping read, all 407 pages of it, whilst being educated and 'entertained' in the process; that, after all, is all anyone can really ask for in any book.
It's not hard to get choked up anyway about that period from May to September 1940. Even as France fell, and Britain waited to see what Germany would do, the mythologisers were at work -- not the least of whom was Winston Churchill himself. Now myth can actually be a good thing -- taking the essence and stripping away the daily details. Certainly it was a vital part of Britain's self-belief - and you could argue - its survival.
Stephen Bungay's achievement is to strip away the myth, and let the true colours of the summer of aerial conflict above the hopfields of Kent shine through. An astounding work and I highly recommend it.