Battle of Britain, 1940: The Finest Hour’s Human Cost – Book Review

By: Dilip Sarkar
Published On: July 8, 2020

In the summer of 1940, Germany began developing plans to invade Britain. Every other nation they had invaded had fallen so quickly how could Britain not fall as well? Their first task to accomplishing this goal would be to dominate them by air. Beginning ‘officially’ in July 1940, Germany waged war over certain objectives like air fields, radar, and other essential infrastructure. Many books have been written on this four month period of WWII that includes strategies, timelines, or even recollections from those who survived. This particular book focuses on the war from the perspectives of those who fell during this period of time. Those who never made it home.

In The Battle of Britain 1940, Dilip Sarkar uses each chapter to introduce us to an individual who gave the ultimate sacrifice during this period of the war. The chapter begins with the individual’s name, squadron or group, and date they were killed in action or went missing. But instead of taking the reader straight to the date in question we first learn of who they were, their family and what brought them into the war and into the service they were part of. Later we hear in their own words, through official documentation, recounts of their encounters with the Luftwaffe where they safely made it back home. For the day when they did not make it back home we read someone else’s official account of what transpired.

As easy as it would be to stop at just the pilot’s sacrifices, the author pays homage to others individuals who lost their lives during this battle but whose sacrifice isn’t as well documented as the pilots may be. During the events convoys going from America to Britain were often a target of attack. What may not be as well known is that a significant number of the sailors or merchant seaman were not British. Many who crewed these ships were part of the Indian Merchant Navy or were from China or Hong Kong. Another ‘hidden history’ as the author calls it was that of the sacrifices made by those who on the ground, such as ground crew or women in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force.

Overall, I liked how personal these stories were. A lot of photographs were included that were given by their families or from other sources. I suspect many history buffs will be happy to read these stories too, especially since it includes detailed accounts of what happened in the air during these fights against the Luftwaffe.

Thanks to Netgalley and Pen & Sword for an advanced reader copy and opportunity to provide an honest review.

Description:

The summer of 1940 remains a pivotal moment in modern British history – still inspiring immense national pride and a global fascination.

The Fall of France was catastrophic. Britain stood alone and within range of German air attack. America, with its vast resources was neutral, Hitler’s forces unbeaten, the outlook for Britain bleak. As Britain’s wartime leader, Winston Churchill, rightly predicted, ‘the Battle of Britain is about to begin’.

Famously, Churchill mobilized the English language, emboldening the nation with rousing rhetoric. In this darkest of hours, Churchill told the people that this was, in fact, their ‘Finest Hour’, a time of unprecedented courage and defiance which defined the British people. Connecting the crucial battle with Shakespeare’s heroic Henry V and Agincourt, Churchill also immortalized Fighter Command’s young aircrew as the ‘Few’ – to whom so many owed everything.

The Few comprised nearly 3,000 aircrew, 544 of which gave their lives during the Battle of Britain’s sixteen weeks of high drama. Arguably, however, the official dates of 10 July – 31 October 1940 are arbitrary, the fighting actually ongoing before and afterwards. Many gave their lives whose names are not included among the Few, as of course did civilians, seamen, and ground staff – which is not overlooked in this groundbreaking book.

In this unique study, veteran historian and author Dilip Sarkar explores the individual stories of a wide selection of those who lost their lives during the ‘Finest Hour’, examining their all-too brief lives and sharing these tragic stories – told here, in full, for the first time. Also included is the story of a German fighter pilot, indicating the breadth of investigation involved.

Researched with the full cooperation of the families concerned, this work is a crucial contribution to the Battle of Britain’s bibliography. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s