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Battle of Britain 1940 (Paperback)

The Finest Hour's Human Cost

Aviation > WWII > Battle of Britain WWII

By Dilip Sarkar MBE
Imprint: Air World
Pages: 392
Illustrations: 100 black and white illustrations
ISBN: 9781526797964
Published: 30th August 2024


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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 mobilised 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 immortalised 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 ground-breaking 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.

"Dilip Sarkar tells the story of this historic moment through the experiences of participants who did not survive the battle."

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New York Journal of Books

"Meticulously researched and affectingly written, Battle of Britain is a bittersweet memorial to the unheralded casualties of 1940 and their loved ones. At a time when key tropes and images of that momentous year are routinely hijacked, manipulated, and reduced to crass internet memes, Dilip Sarkar offers readers a sobering and timely reminder that "'inest hours' leave a trail of terrible human costs in their wake."

Read the full review here

Michigan War Studies Review

Review by Dave Berryman

This book is thoroughly recommended to all, especially those with an interest in British history and the RAF.

IPMS Magazine

Review by Eric Probert

There have been many books written on the Battle of Britain - Amazon alone suggests about 20 alternatives to this book– but I don't think there is another that concentrates on the lives and flying of lesser known heroes.

The newsletter of the North Weald Airfield Museum Association

The author has been building a formidable and acclaimed portfolio of WWII aviation history and this volume addresses the human cost. The Battle of Britain halted the German expansion, but it did so much more, it defeated Germany because the German plan for World Domination depended on a very fast victory before British and American industry could out produce that of Germany. – Most Highly Recommended

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Article: 'Battle of Britain: Hidden history shines light on tragic stories

Shropshire Star and Express & Star, 3rd September 2020 – words by Toby Neal

This book is yet another from the prolific Dilip Sarkar. In it he tells the story of a varied group of individuals who were lost during the battle – aircrew, ground staff, sailors and civilians. While each of the eighteen chapters is devoted to a named person, there are countless others who weave through the stories.

There is little doubt that the immense amount of research carried out by the author over many years has armed him with an arsenal of histories to include in his work. His dedication to it is impressive. Books like this are not an overnight sensation; they take years of reading and delving in archives to create.

If you follow the author on social media you can see what it means to him to do this work. He delights in it. All power to him.

I have built up a small library of Battle of Britain themed books, the first of which was Peter Townsend’s classic Duel of Eagles that I bought in 1972. I’m not an obsessive by any means, but the history of the battle means a great deal to me. Books like this one from Dilip Sarkar keep that flame burning. I am sure that is his aim.

The people in his book were real; they were not one-dimensional avatars. Their stories are as vivid as they are tragic. I recall standing over the grave of an RAF pilot, Patrick Chaloner, Lindsay, buried in France. He was shot down over the English Channel and his body had washed up on a beach some time after his demise. People like him turn up in books like this. They gain substance and matter to us even more as a consequence.

This fine book is effectively a memorial to what the author describes as the human cost of the Finest Hour. Very highly recommended.

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War History Online

Hugely enjoyable, a good read, authoritative and coming from a new angle. What's not to like?

Watch the full video review here

Scale Modelling Now

A brilliantly times look at the Battle of Britain as we experience the eightieth anniversary of one of the definitive battles of the second world war.

Books Monthly

I would like to say that I have really looked forward to reading this book, by one of the leading historians and experts on the subject Dilip Sarkar MBE. This book looks at the Battle of Britain, on it’s 80th anniversary, but it’s not just the battle it looks at the men involved in the event by using interviews, letters, diaries and correspondence. But it’s not just the well-known names, it also looks at some of the lesser known names who served from other countries in such as Poland, Canada and New Zealand. The book delicately weaves both the information about the life and the battle along with the stories and thoughts of the men flying. The Battle of Britain was such a momentous moment in British history, this book really does pay a fitting tribute to all the brave men involved. While this event may be forgotten by today’s generation, this very well written and researched book does them great credit and service. It’s like a be all and end all book where it becomes one the books to always refer to. It was nice to read not just about British pilots involved as we read about a German pilot and ground crew also killed during the event, showing that the battle didn’t just affect a few but both sides of the cause.

In conclusion, this is a beautifully well written book and the excellent research by the author clearly shines through, and is a definitive account of an event in British history. I would fully recommend this book to others for a blockbuster read.

Read the full review here

UK Historian

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.

NetGalley, Christi M

An interesting and engaging book looking at the Battle of Britain, looking at some lesser known heroes and not the usual really well known names we often hear about. Really interesting, detailed accounts and the backgrounds of these heroes. Well presented and a great narrative, a good addition to the library of anyone interested in the War, Battle of Britain or any history buffs.

NetGalley, Tara Keating

I have read other accounts of the Battle of Britain. This book gives a more personal account of those eventful 16 weeks. Mr. Sarkar has done a superb job of telling their stories. I like the selected cover art.

NetGalley, John Purvis

An interesting read. Unlike most historical novels detailing the events, the author examines the roles of various participants in the battle. Each story tells the life of an individual, and not the ones most famous, but those in the background. A good engaging book.

NetGalley, Ron Baumer

I came to this book after having last year reviewed Dilip Sarkar’s excellent account of Arnhem which received my first and only ‘HUGELY recommended’. This book follows the same pattern of following the individuals and telling the narrative of events through them. It works well and being from Southampton I took particular interest in the Luftwaffe attacks on the Spitfire assembly factories in Woolston and Eastleigh; not least as my father awaiting call up and working at the Cunliffe-Owen factory had recalled the bombing raid in which by a twist of fate he survived, and later of a German bomber strafing the railway bridge beside the factory by which he took cover. Seems Mr Hitler didn’t much like the McCarthy’s! Anyway, this is an excellent book with plenty of images that underline the depth of research.

Michael McCarthy. Battlefield Guide

Michael McCarthy
 Dilip Sarkar MBE

About Dilip Sarkar MBE

Dilip Sarkar has now written over sixty well-received books. Having enjoyed a privileged relationship with many of The Few, he is a globally acknowledged expert on the Battle of Britain, currently working on a career-topping eight volume official history for The Battle of Britain Memorial Trust and National Memorial to The Few. Described by the late Dr Gordon Mitchell, son of the Spitfire’s designer RJ Mitchell, as an ‘aviation detective’, Dilip Sarkar did actually begin his professional life as just that – a police detective. His evidence-based approach and ability to discover new material is well-known – in 2023, for example, he was responsible for having Air Chief-Marshal Sir Keith Park, a New Zealander, officially recognised as one of The Few. Made an MBE for ‘services to aviation history’ in 2003, Dilip was elected to the Fellowship of the Royal Historical Society in 2006, achieved First Class Honours in Modern History as a mature student in 2010, and in 2024 was made both a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society and member of London’s Royal Air Force Club. During his long career, Dilip has exhibited and spoken internationally at such prestigious venues as Oxford University, the RAF Museum, IWM Museum, and Airborne Museum, Oosterbeek; he has worked on many TV documentaries, on and off screen, again internationally, and has an engaging presence on YouTube and Facebook in particular.

Battle of Britain: The air battle known as "The Hardest Day" occurs

18th August 1940

Luftwaffe lose approximately 69 aircraft and the RAF lose 68 in one of the largest ever air battles

View all events View all anniversaries

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