The Battle of Britain Experience by Richard Overy
www.andredeutsch.co.uk £30 RRP. Hardback and boxed, 64 pages, black-and-white and occasional colour pictures, chart and document facsimiles
This large format book really does justice to early photographs taken from World War One and then images from the inter-war years, leading up to the Battle of Britain in the summer and autumn of 1940. It is designed as if it were a scrapbook of memories of people and times, including inserted envelopes containing copies of what would have been top secret official reports, maps, letters and charts from both Britain and Germany. These reveal how events were organised and unfolded, what information was available and how word of the morale and opinions of the British people was passed back to government. In these Home Intelligence reports, a very different, but entirely familiar picture is painted of the civilians witnessing dramatic events and reacting to them. One account, for instance, tells of concerns by Londoners that enemy planes had been perfectly caught in the beam of searchlights and yet no fighters or anti-aircraft guns opposed them. It also recorded, ‘people rushing in crowds to scene of disaster before police can rope off area. Demands from responsible people that police or Home Guard should be more ruthless in preventing sight-seeing crowd from gathering…’ and ‘Peckham reports enthusiastic reception of seven to eight hundred Belgian, French and Polish refugees changing to suspicion and resentment at number of able bodied men hanging about.’ Recognisable reactions even in peaceful times today?
The book is packed with fascinating detail delivered in a concise and very readable way, with interesting comparisons between the major personalities from both sides of the conflict and the strategies employed by governments and the Forces. The chapters are laid out chronologically so that the development of events can easily be followed, with side chapters on topics such as the role of women and the allies in Fighter Command. The technical equipment of war is also well-documented with facsimiles of paperwork such as the Pilot’s Notes for the Spitfire I Aeroplane and Merlin II engine, and a cutaway interior of a Messerschmitt Bf 109.
All in all, a handsome, informative book that will keep you occupied, browsing and discovering, for a good amount of time. SH