AIR BATTLE AT DUNKIRK

This book demonstrates that Dunkirk represented a major effort by the RAF who lost around 106 aircraft (British records) but, with the help of AA fire, destroyed 132 enemy aircraft (German records).

AFTER DUNKIRK IT was unwise for a member of the RAF to appear in uniform at any pub frequented by the Army, such was the soldiers' resentment of the Air Force's apparent desertion of the troops trapped on the Dunkirk beaches where they were subject to continual aerial bombardment. This book demonstrates that Dunkirk represented a major effort by the RAF who lost around 106 aircraft (British records) but, with the help of AA fire, destroyed 132 enemy aircraft (German records).

Given that the RAF was playing away and was up against a much larger enemy force, the view of history has to be that the service did well in the circumstances. However, from the viewpoint of a soldier trapped on the beaches for days, undergoing continual bombing and strafing with never a friendly aircraft in sight, the showing of the Brylcreem Boys must have seemed lamentable. This image problem resulted from the RAF's decision to engage the enemy at high level and mostly away from Dunkirk. These were undoubtedly the most cost effective tactics, and the morale of the soldiers on the beaches was not likely to have been foremost in Fighter Command's thoughts at the time. Admittedly, Air Chief Marshall Dowding did insist on keeping out of the fray many of his remaining squadrons for fear of subsequently leaving Britain defenceless. At the time his insistence can hardly have recommended Fighter Command to the Army and it was only the subsequent Battle of Britain that amply vindicated his policy.

Discussion of the tactical issues and a historical view of the RAF's accomplishment take up perhaps a quarter of this modestly sized book. The remainder is devoted to personal accounts and detailed reportage of precisely who did what, where and to whom. Thus from the extensive index I find my late uncle featuring twice in the narrative, although I never knew before that he took part at Dunkirk at all.

The book was first published in 1983 which must have been about the latest that so many personal accounts could have been assembled, given that virtually all the survivors would have been around seventy by then. You would have to be very interested in the minute detail of the campaign for this multitude of accounts of individual engagements to hold your attention for long. I feel disloyal and ungrateful in saying it, but I found much of the book repetitive and even tedious at times. There are very many photographs of young RAF pilots most of whom seemed to have died, if not at Dunkirk then, like my uncle, in the Battle of Britain that followed.

I am glad that the record has been so painstakingly made but I doubt whether, for the general aviation reader, the book will seem worth the effort of reading it nor its significant price. Nigel Everett.

Most Read