The Many Not the Few : The Stolen History of the Battle of Britain Hardback
Immortalised in Churchill's often quoted assertion that never before "was so much owed by so many to so few", the top-down narrative of the Battle of Britain has been firmly established in British legend.
Britain was saved from German invasion by the gallant band of Fighter Command Pilots in their Spitfires and Hurricanes, and the public owed them their freedom.
Richard North's radical re-evaluation of the Battle of Britain dismantles this mythical retelling of events.
Taking a wider perspective than the much-discussed air war, North takes a fresh look at the conflict as a whole to show that the civilian experience, far from being separate and distinct, was integral to the Battle.
This recovery of the people's stolen history demonstrates that Hitler's aim was not the military conquest of England, and that his unattained target was the hearts and minds of British people.
- Format: Hardback
- Pages: 456 pages, illustrations
- Publisher: Continuum Publishing Corporation
- Publication Date: 08/03/2012
- Category: British & Irish history
- ISBN: 9781441131515
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Review by RobertDay
This is a revisionist history of World War 2, challenging the accepted wisdom that Britain was saved from invasion in 1940 by the gallant efforts of "the Few", the RAF fighter pilots who defended the skies of South-east England in 1940.Richard North is a noted Eurosceptic and rather maverick historian and defence analyst. In this book, he examines the so-called "Battle of Britain" (July - October 1940) from a political perspective and reaches a rather different conclusion to most historians. Instead of the nation being saved by the heroic efforts of a relatively small number of RAF fighter pilots - all doubtless very fine chaps - he outlines that the German war effort against the UK was at best equivocal over the aim of mounting an invasion; rather, Hitler's intention was to put the British people under such pressure that they would press for regime change that would bring to power a British Government more willing to conclude a peace treaty with Nazi Germany.North's analysis is rigorous. He takes a day-by-day approach and looks at a large number of sources, from Cabinet papers to local history websites to put together a picture of an all-out assault on the entire island of Britain. He also points out major failings in Government policy, especially relating to civil defence. He advocates that invasion was at best an outside possibility; and that Hitler was guided by his senior commanders not to mount an invasion in the Autumn of 1940. He further suggests that Churchill used the threat of invasion to promote a policy route that maintained the myth of a ruling class directing the events of the war rather than a supreme effort by the entire population to resist the German war effort. He further suggests that if an invasion had been mounted in 1940, it would probably have failed due to unpreparedness on the part of the German High Command.The author not only suggests that there was no realistic prospect of invasion after mid-September 1940, but also that Hitler may well have returned to address the matter of Britain if he had achieved a swift victory against Russia in late 1941. In this, given the Nazi policy against Switzerland and the expectations of the progress of the war on the Eastern Front, it is entirely likely that a second Battle of Britain might have taken place in 1942 or '43 in the event of a German victory in the east.I personally cannot accept 100% that there was no prospect of invasion in 1940. My father was in the Home Guard in semi-rural Essex in 1940-41. His home was just by the outer ring of London's anti-aircraft defences, and he recounts that his platoon, like the rest of the Home Guard, were actually getting regular training from Guards regiments and receiving all the latest weaponry in anticipation of having to repel an invasion. So at the time, the threat was real, as was the reaction to it. Indeed, North acknowledges that there was no way of knowing Hitler's intentions from day to day. It's interesting to compare and contrast Britain and Switzerland. The Wehrmacht drew up plans for the invasion of Switzerland, but never used them even though Hitler would complain about having a neutral country in the heart of the Reich for so long. Of course, the Swiss had the advantage of being able to threaten to destroy the Alpine rail tunnels and drastically restrict the passage of men, materials and supplies to both the Italians and the German forces in the Mediterranean. They also planned to retreat to the high alpine regions and block the passes, making it very difficult for the Germans to eliminate all resistance in the event of invasion. These threats put Switzerland very much on the back burner as far as Hitler was concerned; and so I find Richard North's argument that Britain could well have been also put on the back-burner pending victory in the east equally convincing.It's also interesting to seer how the myth of "the Few" was extended into the Cold War era, especially when you look at civil defence policy. Civil Defence in the 1950s and 1960s concentrated on reserving deep bunkers for the elite and the governing class, whilst leaving the bulk of the population to "Protect and Survive" with measures little improved from the Anderson shelter. Compare and contrast with the Soviet Union, where (in Moscow at least) there were deep bunkers available for a much higher proportion of the population.Proof-reading and fact-checking in the book are pretty abysmal, but that's what we've come to expect these days; most of that fact-checking is something that just comes down to minor details, but there's one area where I would take serious issue with the author, and that's the existence or otherwise of a pool of railway wagons. In looking at the crisis of coal supply to London, he states that there was no pool of wagons; in fact, pooled arrangements for railway wagons had been in existence for a number of years before the war, when the Railway Clearing House - a body set up by the independent railway companies to manage cross-border issues, both strategic and everyday, between the different companies - established a wagon pool to cut down on the number of empty wagon movements that were taking place. Not only did each railway company have its own wagons (about 120 companies before 1923, four from 1923 to 1948), but individual collieries, factories and other undertakings also had their own wagons, originally for the consignment of collieries' own coal to customers, or for customers to transport coal they purchased in bulk to their own sites for use. Having all these wagons have to make empty journeys back to colliery or factory was wasteful of time, money and resources, so the RCH established a pooling system for "standard" wagons, and by 1919 most railway company wagons were part of that system. Privately-owned wagon were exempt unless their owners signed them up into the wagon pool, as were specialist wagons.(I see from the bibliography that the writer didn't review any works on the railways during wartime; indeed, with a couple of exceptions from the companies themselves, I'm a bit hard-pressed to think of a book on that subject, though some must exist.)All that aside, I think the author has done a good job in helping deconstruct the myth of "the Few" and contributing to the wider debate about what did, didn't or couldn't have happened during the war. As far as I can see, the attitude of the right of the Ruling Class to rule was formalised in Churchill's time, in part using the constructed "history" of WW2, and it has continued one way or another up to the present day under governments of both political colours.