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The Battle of Britain

The Battle of Britain (Hardback)

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'If Hitler fails to invade or destroy Britain, he has lost the war,' Churchill said in the summer of 1940. He was right. "The Battle of Britain" was a crucial turning point in the history of the Second World War. Had Britain's defences collapsed, Hitler would have dominated all of Europe and been able to turn his full attention east to the Soviet Union. The German invasion of France and the Low Countries in May 1940 was unlike any the world had ever seen. It hit with a force and aggression that no-one could counter and in just a few short weeks, all in their way crumbled under the force of the Nazi hammer blow. With France facing defeat and with British forces pressed back to the Channel, there were few who believed Britain could possibly survive. Soon, it seemed, Hitler would have all of Europe at his feet. Yet Hitler's forces were not quite the Goliath they at first seemed, while her leadership lacked the single-minded purpose, vision and direction that had led to such success on land. Nor was Britain any David.

Thanks to a sophisticated defensive system and the combined efforts of the RAF, Royal Navy as well as the mounting sense of collective defiance led by a new Prime Minister, Britain was not ready to roll over just yet. From clashes between coastal convoys and Schnellboote in the Channel to astonishing last stands in Flanders, and from the slaughter by the U-boats in the icy Atlantic to the dramatic aerial battles over England, "The Battle of Britain" tells this most epic of stories from all sides, drawing on extensive new research from around the world. In so doing, it paints a complete picture of that extraordinary summer - a time in which the fate of the world truly hung by a thread.

James Holland was born in Salisbury, Wiltshire, and studied history at Durham University. A member of the British Commission for Military History and the Guild of Battlefield Guides, he also regularly contributes reviews and articles in national newspapers and magazines. His many interviews with veterans of the Second World War are available at the Imperial War Museum and are also archived on

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Customer Reviews

In the film "The Battle of Britain", an officer suggests to an wobblingly outraged Herman Goering that what he requires to complete the job is a squadron of Spitfires. The revisionist precision of this lovely book is best understood in his explanation of why this was said - and yes, it was really said. Germany's armed forces achieved stunning gains in these early days, only to run into the infamous "Haltbefehl", from which point their fumbling political leadership and ancient generals began to force their misunderstandings of the new warfare upon their brilliant officers. The Me109s were obliged to stick to the bombers in close support. Superior to the early Spitfire in so many ways - there's the revisionism - they were spectacularly ill-suited to this role, which a Spitfire with its smaller turning circle could have fulfilled so much better. Holland balances his account beautifully, telling the story from the points of view of cold strategy, of the politicians and of individual warriors and civilians on both sides. The story of the aggressors has been little heard, and this book redresses that to some extent. They sound, mostly, like nice guys, and one is again struck by the insanity of war - and I speak as one married to a German and living in the German-speaking world. The book covers not just the aerial Battle, but the retreat of the BEF, the miraculous Dunkirk evacuation, truly the most glorious defeat in modern military history, and the battle of the convoys. The Few have rightly been hailed as Britain's saviours, but the raw courage of its mariners and the soaring rhetoric of Churchill merit and receive their proper mention. As the author makes chillingly clear, we came perilously close to defeat, and should perhaps on paper not have been so lucky. The cost to the entire world would have been devastating - as if it were not already great enough. We had many breaks and were fortunate in our choice of incompetent enemy leader. Rarely have I been so proud to hail from Britain as when reading of these men, and in such a moving and masterly style. This young author, I think, will produce great works.

- 06/01/2014
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Staff Choice

Those with a special interest in the Battle of Britain or air war more generally will enjoy this book. It is a lively, detailed, not to say exhaustive narrative of the entire battle. Careful attention is given to both sides. The story is told from both the commander’s perspective and that of ordinary air-crew.

That said, I am not convinced that the book reveals ‘startling new evidence about one of the greatest turning-points in the Second World War’. It is certainly not accurate to claim that it is the first book to provide ‘an account of the Battle of Britain told equally from both sides’. Perhaps authors should edit their publisher’s puffs more critically.

Holland’s study represents good, solid story-telling, not path-breaking new analysis. Nor does it displace, for me, Stephen Bungay’s The Most Dangerous Enemy: a history of the Battle of Britain as the best single-volume account. Bungay’s narrative is fast, the prose crisp and uncluttered, and the book packed with insight and understanding. Read this first; then read Holland if you are hooked on the subject. 

Reprinted with permission by

Charing Cross Rd Bookshop - 22/02/2011


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