Unless you’re planning to live under a rock for the rest of the summer, at some point you are bound to notice that it is the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. This book by a Battle of Britain veteran is really two books in one. The first charts the progress of the battle itself, with some interesting anecdotes and opinions thrown in for good measure. The most interesting aspect of this section is Brown’s argument that the weather played a more important part than previously thought.
But the biggest and most controversial aspect of the first half of Brown’s book is the Big Wing. While Keith Park’s Group was at the forefront of the battle, it seems that Leigh-Mallory, with the connivance of Douglas Bader, pioneered a ‘Big Wing’ tactic, using up to six Squadrons in one wing. Although this was publicity-grabbing, it was inefficient, and proved of little use in action.
Yet even weeks after the battle had ended, Leigh-Mallory and his allies in the Air Ministry were making selective use of statistics to promote the Big Wing, at the expense of the performance of Dowding and Park. At a so-called meeting of shame, Dowding in particular was treated unfairly, and eventually forced into retirement and denied due credit for his fine service. Brown argues that retired senior RAF offices such as Trenchard and Salmond were pulling the strings behind Downing’s scapegoating – given the sway that Trenchard held over the RAF in general, this would be by no means surprising.
Reading Brown’s arguments – and indeed, reading most other books about the Battle – it is not hard to come to the conclusion that Dowding and Park were shamefully treated during and after the Battle of Britain. And on the other side of the coin, men such as Douglas, Leigh-Mallory and possibly Bader stand accused of attempting to further their own careers regardless of the outcome of the battle and the country’s security. The RAF does seem to have had its fair share of unpleasant characters in the Second World War – witness Tedder’s guerilla campaign against Montgomery in 1944.
I found this a very interesting and engaging book – it is far more than the usual veterans account, Brown actually involves himself in the historiography. And his rants against New Labour and the EU certainly lighten the tone too!