Their Finest Hour; The Story of the Battle of Britain 1940

New York, NY: Ballantine Books, 1977. Fourth Printing. Trade Paperback. 160 pages. Profusely illustrated with black and white photographs. Includes Introduction, France falls, Britain digs in, Into battle, the Eagle swoops, The fabled few, The miraculous mistake, London reels, Point of balance, Verdict of history, and Bibliography. Edward Bishop was the author of a series of popular historical books on the Royal Air Force. A Fleet Street journalist with an engaging shrewdness wrote The Wooden Wonder (1959), the story of the Mosquito, which had been dismissed as a hopeless anachronism by the air establishment because it had a wooden frame. The book's greatest admirer was Lord Beaverbrook, the newspaper proprietor. On hearing that Bishop was working next on the Battle of Britain he immediately summoned him to his penthouse flat at midnight. "Sit down on that sofa where many great men have sat," said "The Beaver". "Who?" asked his bemused guest. "Lloyd George, Churchill . . . and now Edward Bishop," came the reply. Beaverbrook, who had been Minister of Aircraft Production when the German invasion was threatened, offered Bishop a wide range of contacts; and later he paid the then large sum of £4,000 for the rights to serialize The Battle of Britain. Again and again the British fighters tore into the huge formations of heavily escorted German bombers. Six Hurricanes against seventy Dorniers; twelve Spitfires against one hundred Heinkels. It was summer, 1940, and "The Few," a dwindling, gallant company of Royal Air Force fighter pilots, were all that stood between Britain and defeat. The Battle of Britain was a military campaign of the Second World War, in which the Royal Air Force (RAF) defended the United Kingdom (UK) against large-scale attacks by Nazi Germany's air force, the Luftwaffe. It has been described as the first major military campaign fought entirely by air forces. The British officially recognize the battle's duration as being from 10 July until 31 October 1940, which overlaps the period of large-scale night attacks known as the Blitz, that lasted from 7 September 1940 to 11 May 1941. German historians do not accept this subdivision and regard the battle as a single campaign lasting from July 1940 to June 1941, including the Blitz.[19]

The primary objective of the German forces was to compel Britain to agree to a negotiated peace settlement. In July 1940, the air and sea blockade began, with the Luftwaffe mainly targeting coastal-shipping convoys, ports and shipping centers, such as Portsmouth. On 1 August, the Luftwaffe was directed to achieve air superiority over the RAF, with the aim of incapacitating RAF Fighter Command; 12 days later, it shifted the attacks to RAF airfields and infrastructure. As the battle progressed, the Luftwaffe also targeted factories involved in aircraft production and strategic infrastructure. Eventually, it employed terror bombing on areas of political significance and on civilians.

The Germans had rapidly overwhelmed France and the Low Countries, leaving Britain to face the threat of invasion by sea. The German high command knew the difficulties of a seaborne attack and its impracticality while the Royal Navy controlled the English Channel and the North Sea. On 16 July, Adolf Hitler ordered the preparation of Operation Sea Lion as a potential amphibious and airborne assault on Britain, to follow once the Luftwaffe had air superiority over the UK. In September, RAF Bomber Command night raids disrupted the German preparation of converted barges, and the Luftwaffe's failure to overwhelm the RAF forced Hitler to postpone, and eventually cancel Operation Sea Lion. Germany proved unable to sustain daylight raids, but their continued night-bombing operations on Britain became known as the Blitz.

Historian Stephen Bungay cited Germany's failure to destroy Britain's air defenses to force an armistice (or even an outright surrender) as the first major German defeat in World War II and a crucial turning point in the conflict. The Battle of Britain takes its name from the speech given by Prime Minister Winston Churchill to the House of Commons on 18 June: "What General Weygand called the 'Battle of France' is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin.

McDonald Publishing and the Imperial War Museum teamed up back in the late 1960s and early 1970s to publish a series of illustrated paperbacks on the history of World War I, World War II (and a few other conflicts of the 20th century), which were picked up by Ballantine in the United States. They were all divided into subjects: battles, campaigns, weapons, war leaders, politics in action, human conflict, and regalia, by color bands on the bottom, enjoying common editing and artwork, and a fairly common collection of well-known historians.
The series remain then and now a fine introduction to conflict in the 20th century -- if you can find them.

Edward Bishop's entry on the Battle of Britain is one of the earliest books in the series. It covers the inspiring defense of the United Kingdom in 1940 by the "Few."

The ground covered remains gripping and taut, with the familiar spectacles of vast numbers of German bombers and fighters swarming over Kent and Sussex, pounding airbases and London's East End, being torn into by determined British and Allied airmen. There are plenty of photographs (with interesting captions) and a good deal of discussion and analysis of how German indecision kept coming back to bite the Luftwaffe.

This book is certainly one of the earliest accounts, and it remains a solid, readable, and tight introduction to one of history's most decisive battles.
Condition: Very good.

Keywords: World War 2, Battle of Britain, German Bombers, Royal Air Force, Aerial Operations, Luftwaffe

ISBN: 034525886X250

[Book #79664]

Price: $25.00

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