British Military Greats, UK First Edition, 2004

British Military Greats - 2004 - (chapter by Len Deighton)


This book asks the question: who would you nominate as the all-time greats of British Military History, both individuals and systems? Contributions from historians and journalists seek to provide the answer. The book is introduced by TV broadcaster and historian Peter Snow.

Drawing on his interest and research into the Battle of Britain, set out in Fighter, Deighton provides a chapter on the same battle, alongside a classic image of fighter pilots scrambling for action during the battle.

Why it's interesting

The book is a roll-call of all the great military figures, from Blenheim to Montgomery, with different writers making the case for their 'great' individual; others choose particular technologies or systems, such as the regimental system, the SAS or the tank. Deighton is alongside some serious historians and experts (such as Hugh Sebag-Montefiore, Andrew Roberts and Jane Wellesley), demonstrating the recognition he has of having made an important contribution to the UK's understanding of the Second World War, in particular the role of technology in the conflict.

Over only three pages this piece is necessarily summary rather than anything detailed, but nonetheless Deighton makes a good case for the fighter pilots and the strategists as earning the epithet 'great'. Alongside the personal heroism of these men the UK benefitted, Deighton argues, from a temporary advantage over the Germans in the use of available technology and systems, in particular the basic radar technology which gave Fighter Command an approximate range and rough estimate of height and direction, and the unique reporting networks set up by Air Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding, whereby 'filter rooms' and 'operations rooms' processed the various reports from the radar stations and represented the results onto the map tables, with 'tote boards' on the walls lit up to show the state of readiness of various squadrons.

Sample text

'Britain won because the British retained a healthy mistrust of uniforms and authority; and this extended even to those who wore the uniforms and had the authority. Long may it be so.'

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