Fighter, UK First Edition, 1977
A detailed description of the battle from the UK and, controversially, the German perspectives, with as much focus on the human stories as the planes, this history has an introduction by his friend, renowned historian A.J.P. Taylor, who encouraged him to write the book. It was part of a planned twelve-part series examining important WWII battles and the technology involved in them.
Deighton explains both the political and personal machinations and how they influenced technical decisions and affected the efforts of both countries. He covers the errors in the strategic, tactical and technical decisions made by both sides with remarkable objectivity.
Many myths are punctured and he concludes that the RAF achieved their main aim - merely to survive as an effective fighting force - largely because they made fewer mistakes than did the German Luftwaffe. Deighton caused controversy with ex-service personnel at the time with allegations that during the repeated bombing of RAF Manston in Kent, many RAF ground crew remained in their air raid shelters and refused to come out to carry out their duties.
No hard evidence was produced by the author for such allegations (see below).
Why it's interesting
Deighton did more than most historians in separating reality from myth over the battle. His meticulous research and his main contention that 'the Few' were very brave but their leaders misguided, caused consternation at the time. Yet now his perspective reflects much more the orthodox historical position, and demonstrate that Air-Marshall Dowding and other leaders did surprisingly well with what they had.
'RAF Manston - built on a cliff-top alongside the sea - was suffering not only the scheduled bombing attacks, but spontaneous ground-strafing from fighters which came in low over the sea and crossed the airfield and near ground-level. Many airmen had been sitting in the air-raid shelters ever since the attact that Fink had delivered to the airfield at lunchtime on 12 August.
Now the terrified men would not budge, and the accountant officer could not even find enough airmen above ground to hold a pay parade. Squadron Leader Leathart, of 54 Squadron, had only just prevented another officer from going into the shelter to shoot the first man who refused to come out.'
The illustration on the front cover is Paul Nash's painting 'Under the Cliff'.
Deighton had originally planned a twelve chapter book on the decisive battles of the Second World War. After conducting his research, he identified he had enough material for a twelve volume book. Fighter is, with Blitzkrieg, so far - the only product from that extensive period of research Deighton undertook in the mid-seventies.
The quoted sample text above from the book was the cause of some controversy at the time, the book coming out at a time when many Battle of Britain servicemen were still alive and, understandably, protective of the legacy of this famous battle. The 600 squadron assocation for the airmen at RAF Manston was dismayed and undertook its own investigation of the allegations made in the book.
Subsequently different squadron members have identified the allegation as a myth, based on Deighton's apparent misunderstanding of a quote by Alan Deere, who subsequently refuted the idea that he'd called it a "mutiny", when in fact what he understood was the situation was that a small number of had stayed in a shelter when an officer in fact thought they should be working on aircraft. A signal on 22 August, A/117, commented on "good discipline and calm behaviour" displayed by the squadron when the field was attacked. This online extract from Gentlemen in Blue sets out the evidence for the squadron's advocates.
Which version is right? Who knows - that's one of the challenges of history, to interpret facts and interpret them.