Bomber - 1970

Other novels

Plot summary

A story of a night-time RAF raid over Germany told from the point of view of the aircrew and the German civilians and soldiers on the ground. Sam Lambert is an experienced RAF men sent to an East Anglian bomber station. He is a heroic flyer, loved by his men, but a man who is at breaking point after multiple missions over enemy territory.

Through his eyes and that of his crew and the ground staff, we follow the intricate preparations necessary to deliver night bombing raids over German. The novel is a devastating indictment of war and the role of individuals as small cogs in a vast military machine, as a mistake means that tens of thousands of tonnes of explosive is dropped, not on its industrial target Krefeld, but on the small town of Altgarten, with devasting effects.

Why it's enjoyable

Its excruciating details of the impact of the bombing on Germany - only 25 years after the end of the war - shocked people in the UK when it was published, and is still as accurate as any formal history in giving you a sense of what World War II in the air was really like...and it wasn't pleasant.

Ultimately, it's a story about the relationship between ordinary men and extraordinary machines in wartime (a frequent theme of Deighton's wartime works) and the power they can give over the lives of others.

One of Deighton’s classic books, for an untrained historian he’s spot on the mark with his analysis of the strategic and local impact of allied bombing. You understand clearly why is was named as one of the ninety-nine best novels of the 20th Century by English novelist Kingsley Amis, in his book, 99 novels, from 1984.

The equivocation in the storyline, focusing on the impact of bombing on the German civilians as well as the fights in the air, did cause consternation upon its publication. The book worked extremely well as a BBC Radio 4 play, which was broadcast in real time over one day on the sixtieth anniversary of the end of the war to recreate the effect of listening to a real bombing raid play out.

Sample dialogue

'"I wish I could understand German better," said Jimmy Grimm. "That's the trouble with being a radio ham; in peactime I used to pick up all sorts of stations and only speak a few words of everything."

"While you types are sodding about, some poor bastard is going to get the chop," said Digby. "Why don't you jam him?"

"Perhaps it's us he's after," said Binty from the mid-upper turret.'

Related fact

Again the dustcover is designed by Raymond Hawkey, who'd designed all the book covers for Len Deighton since his writing career began. It reproduces a detail from Turner's painting 'Fisherman at Sea off the Needles.'

Writer Anthony Burgess regarded Bomber as one of the 99 greatest English novels of the 20th Century.

Bomber

Bomber, UK first edition, 1970

Did you know?

Deighton wrote half a million hand-written words in research notes alone in preparation for this novel