The Battle of Britain-another chapter in the 1940 Western Campaign.

The Battle of Britain-Five Months That Changed History May-October 1940.  James Holland.  New York, St. Martin's Press, 2010.  ISBN 978-0-312-67500-4.  Illustrations.  Maps.  Notes & References.  Bibliography.  Index.  Pp. 677.  $40.00.

James Holland has a completely fresh take on the Battle of Britain and has written a compelling study of the battle.  This book does a marvelous job of combining operational and strategic analysis, technical assessment, and personal narratives.

What sets this book apart from other studies I have read is that Holland actually begins his work in the late 1930s by introducing the genesis of the Royal Air Force's Fighter Command, the beginning of Britain's air defense system, including the invention and weaponization of radar, and the personalities that prophesied the need to defend Britain from the reborn Luftwaffe.  The book then traces the Battle of France and how Britain nearly sacrificed its fighter force defending the doomed Allied forces in Belgium and France in a losing attempt to show allied solidarity for the crumbling French military.  Holland really broke some new ground with this Grouchy Historian by making the case that the Battle of Britain was in large part won over France before the first German bomb ever fell on England.

The personal battle of Air Marshall Dowding in preserving Britain's fighter force from immolation over France was only one factor that influenced the air campaign in the fall of 1940.  The genius of the RAF in integrating radar, radio, centralized command and control, and even pilot training and aircraft production to keep Fighter Command from being overrun by the Luftwaffe seems quite miraculous 70 years later.  It was the first integrated air defense system in history and proved just enough to keep the invasion from happening.

The Luftwaffe and Nazi Germany in particular come in for some well deserved scathing criticism from Holland.  The lack of a serious strategic bomber like the B-17 or Stirling essentially doomed the German effort from the start.  Although the effectiveness of Allied strategic bombing in World War II is still a subject of debate, a large, well equipped strategic bomber force, properly protected by fighters and hurled at the British air defenses in south-west England, may have prevailed in 1940.  Of course Holland also does an excellent, although very secondary effort at describing the complete chaos of German planning for invading England, with the Wehrmacht, Luftwaffe, and Kreigsmarine each planning their piece of the effort in isolation.  In fact, as Holland lays out, the Luftwaffe high command, led by Goering, could not even coordinate their efforts to fight the battle and never really settled on basic tactical and operational issues of how fighters should escort bombers.  Given the chaos and angst that the unified Allied command had in planning the Normandy invasion of 1944, one can only imagine the slaughter had the Germans actually attempted a landing off Folkestone in September 1940.

Finally, this book actually meets my HIGH expectations for maps and illustrations.  The maps showing the division of England into air defense sectors and diagrams of the various flying formations are a welcome addition to this book.

Holland is described on the book jacket as a rising young military historian in England and this book clearly shows why.  It's a marvelous read for World War II buffs, aviation enthusiasts or anyone wanting to know about that period described a Britain's "Finest Hour."