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The Battle of Britain: Five Months That Changed History; May-October 1940 Hardcover – March 15, 2011

4.6 out of 5 stars 77 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* This massive volume is informative, enthralling, and moving�often all three at once. It effectively combines narrative and analysis to tell the story of the confrontation between the Luftwaffe and RAF Fighter Command from May through October 1940. The Germans won the Battle of France, but not in a walk�and could not prevent the evacuation at Dunkirk. When they had set up bases in France and were crossing the Channel in short-legged fighters, it was another matter, as the Luftwaffe was trying to fight a strategic campaign with a tactical air force. They also never caught on to the British radar net, although they came perilously close to either disabling it or wearing out Fighter Command�s pilots before they switched to attacks on cities in September. More than a battle of weapons, this was also a battle of human will and endurance, and Holland does full justice to the people on both sides. They are not just the pilots, although he includes both those who become household names as well as those who didn�t survive their first combats, but the sweating ground crews and the families who waited for the pilots� return, and on the British side, the ground observers, radar operators, intelligence officers, and ordinary civilians ducking into rudimentary shelters when the sirens went. Genuinely brilliant. --Roland Green


“This massive volume is informative, enthralling, and moving--often all three at once...Genuinely brilliant.” ―Booklist

“Thoroughly researched yet written in a relaxed, enjoyable style.” ―History Book Review

“…Holland is a young historian who has forged a considerable reputation, especially for his intimate human portraits of the men who fought on both sides of the war…this is a notable account of an epic human experience, told with the informality and enthusiasm that distinguish Holland's work…If the story is familiar, Holland tells it with authority and exuberant panache.” ―Max Hastings, author of Winston's War, in The Sunday Times UK

“The 70th anniversary of the battle...has prompted a surge of new books and the republication of several old ones. Among the best is the comprehensive new study by James Holland... Holland's book has all the hallmarks of his previous successes: the gripping narrative; the ability to recreate the intensity of combat, the breadth of research; and the authoritative historical judgments.” ―The Spectator UK

“The novelty of Holland's excellent book…lies in its extended time frame, and also in its use of first-hand sources from both sides of the conflict, and its assertion that the battle was not won by the RAF alone. Holland prefers his history to be about people, and his dazzling cast of characters includes civilians and servicemen, men and women, young and old.” ―The Telegraph UK

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 677 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press (March 15, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312675003
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312675004
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.6 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (77 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #404,874 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Despite its nearly 700 pages, this is a very engaging summary of and introduction to the German attack on France, the miracle at Dunkirk and the air battle over Britain. James Holland, using biographies of survivors and other first hand accounts from both German and British combatants, has put together an illuminating, gripping and thorough account of the first summer of the war on the ground and in the air.

Since the first nearly three hundred-plus pages deal with the German blitzkreig and the evacuation of the BEF from France, the title is a bit misleading but probably represents how Holland views the critical importance of not sending precious fighter squadrons to France where they would have certainly been largely destroyed.

His balanced, largely non-judgemental and occasionally humourous approach makes sense given that he is recounting events largely through the eyes of ordinary soldiers, pilots and a handful of civilians on both sides.

When he includes the actions and deliberations of the great and mighty he also makes them appear very human. Churchill, Beaverbrook and Dowding come off best, while Goering and the Luftwaffe high command (except for Milch) as pompous sycophants who seemed to ignore or were uninterested in what was actually happening on the ground and in the air.

The strengths of the book are Holland's clear and lively prose, his tieing of personal anecdotes to the main time-line, his detailed grasp of both sides planes and fighter tactics and the inclusion of a number of very informative maps. Given the lengthy bibliography and Holland's mastery of his sources, an annotated bibliography would have been very useful.

Overall the book is an excellent introduction to the initial critical events of the war.
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Format: Hardcover
Just over 70 years ago as I write, the first and last major aeronautical-only battle raged in the skies over southern England. The outcome, although dismissed by the Germans at the time as an unimportant side-show, was crucial to the outcome of the Second World War. For the first time, the Germans had received a set-back. And by failing to invade Britain or bring it to its knees, the Germans left off the coast of Europe an unsinkable aircraft carrier from which bomber fleets would one day pummel Germany day and night, and from which the operation to liberate Europe would be launched. Churchill's immortal "Few" changed the course of history. Without them, the Soviet juggernaut might have finally stopped at the Channel, instead of in central Germany.

The interesting thing that this book brings out is exactly that - the Germans failed, not that the British succeeded. As the Duke of Wellington said at Waterloo, it was a "damned close-run thing". The British survived, and that's all, but it was enough. All the cards were apparently in German hands. They had a big air force. In the Messerschmitt 109 they had the best fighter in the world, one that bested the early model of Reginald Mitchell's gorgeous Spitfire in nearly every department. And they were often flown by people such as Adolf Galland, hardened combat veterans of the Condor Legion in Spain. However, they were handicapped by being forced to use the wrong tactics, and by the facts that they had only a few minutes over the target and that every pilot shot down over England was a pilot lost, whereas an RAF flyer, if uninjured, was ready to fly again.

The British made up for their deficiencies in equipment and experience by being better organised and knowing exactly what they had to do.
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Format: Hardcover
World War II is probably the most written about war of all time, and you keep saying to your self that no once can write anything new about it. Well, James Holland has done it. He has written an engrossing story on the Battle of Britain in a whole new way. Most scholars who write about the Battle of Britain start their narrative with the bombing of the channel convoys or the battle of the aerodromes. But Mr. Holland starts his book on May 10, 1940, the date the German Army invaded France. We get to see a wonderful description of the fighting done the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), and the fighting retreat to Dunkirk. This scholarship is something we don't see very often in books about WWII. I consider a book is extremely good if it tells me something that I did not know before. This book tells us that men, materials, and planes were sent to France after the Dunkirk withdrawal occurred, in a vain attempt to keep France in the war This necessitated a second withdrawal from France. I would highly recommend this bo0ok to anyone who is looking for a fresh approach to one of the most written about battles of WWII.
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Format: Hardcover
After finishing this book I first had to recover from the exhausting research the author unearthed and now that I've absorbed the pages a bit, I have to admit it was pretty good. A great supplement to your studies of WW II, this book is well written to explain both the points of view of England and Germany. Just prepare yourself for a tough read in a sense that it is so highly detailed. If you don't have a lot of background education on this subject this is a great introduction and my feeling if you are experienced in this subject, this book will shine light on events of the Great Battle of Britain.
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