Hornet Flightby Ken Follett
Ken Follett follows his bestsellers Jackdaws and Code to Zero with an extraordinary novel of early days of World War II...
It is June 1941 and the war is not going well for England. Across the North Sea, eighteen-year-old Harald Olufsen takes a shortcut on the German-occupied Danish island of Sande an discovers an astonishing sight that will/i>/i>
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Ken Follett follows his bestsellers Jackdaws and Code to Zero with an extraordinary novel of early days of World War II...
It is June 1941 and the war is not going well for England. Across the North Sea, eighteen-year-old Harald Olufsen takes a shortcut on the German-occupied Danish island of Sande an discovers an astonishing sight that will change the momentum of the war. He must get word to England-except that he has no way to get there. He has only an old derelict Hornet Moth biplane rusting away in a ruined church: a plane so decrepit that it is unlikely ever to get off the ground...even if Harald knew how to fly it.
Follett returns to WWII (Jackdaws, 2001, etc.), where his patriotic newsreel style may be an asset, setting the proper black-and-white tone for a tale about a schoolboy who sticks a spanner in the Germans' early warning system. Harald Olufson is the mechanically gifted pastor's son whose dream of studying under countryman Niels Bohr looks impossible after he's booted from school for an anti-fascist prank. Harald's hardshell father pulls the plug on university plans and apprentices the boy to a creepy haberdashery, where he is to ponder the error of his ways. But Harald ditches the handkerchiefs and speeds off on his peat-powered motorcycle to find work on a farm near the little castle where beautiful Jewish Karen Duchwitz, promising ballerina and twin sister of a schoolmate, lives with her very rich mum and dad. Karen has had a few flying sessions with Poul, a chum of Harald's pilot brother Arne, but neither Karen nor Harald is aware that Poul is a member of the Danish resistance, organized from England by Arne's fiancée Hermia. Hermia has been charged with finding out how the Germans have been able to render nearly useless the waves of bombers the English have been throwing against them. As it happens, Harald has the answer. He just doesn't know how important it is. Taking a shortcut through a secret German installation on the way home one dark and stormy night, he noted the interesting combination of three radar antennas and deduced correctly that the krauts had invented an efficient warning system. Getting the secret out of Denmark will cost several lives and involve the evil Peter Flemming, a man with adeep-seated grudge against the Olufsons and a deeper-seated admiration for the Germans. It will also require Harald's handyman skills to get the Duchwitz family's plane out of storage and into the air.
Old fashioned derring-do done right.
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Read an Excerpt
A man with a wooden leg walked along a hospital corridor.
He was a short, vigorous type with an athletic build, thirty years old, dressed in a plain charcoal gray suit and black toe-capped shoes. He walked briskly, but you could tell he was lame by the slight irregularity in his step: tap-tap, tap-tap. His face was fixed in a grim expression, as if he were suppressing some profound emotion.
He reached the end of the corridor and stopped at the nurse's desk. "Flight Lieutenant Hoare?" he said.
The nurse looked up from a register. She was a pretty girl with black hair, and she spoke with the soft accent of County Cork. "You'll be a relation, I'm thinking," she said with a friendly smile.
Her charm had no effect. "Brother," said the visitor. "Which bed?"
"Last on the left."
He turned on his heel and strode along the aisle to the end of the ward. In a chair beside the bed, a figure in a brown dressing gown sat with his back to the room, looking out of the window, smoking.
The visitor hesitated. "Bart?"
The man in the chair stood up and turned around. There was a bandage on his head and his left arm was in a sling, but he was smiling. He was younger and taller than the visitor. "Hello, Digby."
Digby put his arms around his brother and hugged him hard. "I thought you were dead," he said.
Then he began to cry.
"I was flying a Whitley," Bart said. The Armstrong Whitworth Whitley was a cumbersome long-tailed bomber that flew in an odd nose-down attitude. In the spring of 1941, Bomber Command had a hundred of them, out of a total strength of about seven hundred aircraft. "A Messerschmitt fired on us and we took several hits," Bartcontinued. "But he must have been running out of fuel, because he peeled off without finishing us. I thought it was my lucky day. Then we started to lose altitude. The Messerschmitt must have damaged both engines. We chucked out everything that wasn't bolted down, to reduce our weight, but it was no good, and I realized we'd have to ditch in the North Sea."
Digby sat on the edge of the hospital bed, dry-eyed now, watching his brother's face, seeing the thousand-yard-stare as Bart remembered.
"I told the crew to jettison the rear hatch then get into ditching position, braced against the bulkhead." The Whitley had a crew of five, Digby recalled. "When we reached zero altitude I heaved back on the stick and opened the throttles, but the aircraft refused to level out, and we hit the water with a terrific smash. I was knocked out."
They were step brothers, eight years apart. Digby's mother had died when he was thirteen, and his father had married a widow with a boy of her own. From the start, Digby had looked after his little brother, protecting him from bullies and helping him with his schoolwork. They had both been mad about airplanes, and dreamed of being pilots. Digby lost his right leg in a motorcycle accident, studied engineering, and went into aircraft design; but Bart lived the dream.
"When I came to, I could smell smoke. The aircraft was floating and the starboard wing was on fire. The night was dark as the grave, but I could see by the light of the flames. I crawled along the fuselage and found the dinghy pack. I bunged it through the hatch and jumped. Jesus, that water was cold."
His voice was low and calm, but he took hard pulls on his cigarette, drawing the smoke deep into his lungs and blowing it out between tight-pursed lips in a long jet. "I was wearing a life jacket and I came to the surface like a cork. There was quite a swell, and I was going up and down like a tart's knickers. Luckily, the dinghy pack was in front of my nose. I pulled the string and it inflated itself, but I couldn't get in. I didn't have the strength to heave myself out of the water. I couldn't understand it-didn't realize I had a dislocated shoulder and a broken wrist and three cracked ribs and all that. So I just stayed there, holding on, freezing to death."
There had been a time, Digby recalled, when he thought Bart had been the lucky one.
"Eventually Jones and Croft appeared. They'd held on to the tail until it went down. Neither could swim, but their Mae Wests saved them, and they managed to scramble into the dinghy and pull me in." He lit a fresh cigarette. "I never saw Pickering. I don't know what happened to him, but I assume he's at the bottom of the sea."
He fell silent. There was one crew member unaccounted for, Digby realized. After a pause, he said, "What about the fifth man?"
"John Rowley, the bomb-aimer, was alive. We heard him call out. I was in a bit of a daze, but Jones and Croft tried to row toward the voice." He shook his head in a gesture of hopelessness. "You can't imagine how difficult it was. The swell must have been three or four feet, the flames were dying down so we couldn't see much, and the wind was howling like a bloody banshee. Jones yelled, and he's got a strong voice. Rowley would shout back, then the dinghy would go up one side of a wave and down the other and spin around at the same time, and when he called out again his voice seemed to come from a completely different direction. I don't know how long it went on. Rowley kept shouting, but his voice became weaker as the cold got to him." Bart's face stiffened. "He started to sound a bit pathetic, calling to God and his mother and that sort of rot. Eventually he went quiet."
Digby found he was holding his breath, as if the mere sound of breathing would be an intrusion on such a dreadful memory.
"We were found soon after dawn, by a destroyer on U-boat patrol. They dropped a cutter and hauled us in." Bart looked out of the window, blind to the green Hertfordshire landscape, seeing a different scene, far away. "Bloody lucky, really," he said.
They sat in silence for a while, then Bart said, "Was the raid a success? No one will tell me how many came home."
"Disastrous," Digby said.
"What about my squadron?"
"Sergeant Jenkins and his crew got back safely." Digby drew a slip of paper from his pocket. "So did Pilot Officer Arasaratnam. Where's he from?"
"And Sergeant Riley's aircraft took a hit but made it back."
"Luck of the Irish," said Bart. "What about the rest?"
Digby just shook his head.
"But there were six aircraft from my squadron on that raid!" Bart protested.
"I know. As well as you, two more were shot down. No apparent survivors."
"So Creighton-Smith is dead. And Billy Shaw. And...Oh, God." He turned away.
Bart's mood changed from despair to anger. "It's not enough to be sorry," he said. "We're being sent out there to die!"
"For Christ's sake, Digby, you're part of the bloody government."
"I work for the Prime Minister, yes." Churchill liked to bring people from private industry into the government and Digby, a successful aircraft designer before the war, was one of his troubleshooters.
"Then this is your fault as much as anyone's. You shouldn't be wasting your time visiting the sick. Get the hell out of here and do something about it."
"I am doing something," Digby said calmly. "I've been given the task of finding out why this is happening. We lost fifty percent of the aircraft on that raid."
"Bloody treachery at the top, I suspect. Or some fool air marshal boasting in his club about tomorrow's raid, and a Nazi barman taking notes behind the beer pumps."
"That's one possibility."
Bart sighed. "I'm sorry, Diggers," he said, using a childhood nickname. "It's not your fault, I'm just blowing my top."
"Seriously, have you any idea why so many are being shot down? You've flown more than a dozen missions. What's your hunch?"
Bart looked thoughtful. "I wasn't just sounding off about spies. When we get to Germany, they're ready for us. They know we're coming."
"What makes you say that?"
"Their fighters are in the air, waiting for us. You know how difficult it is for defensive forces to time that right. The fighter squadron has to be scrambled at just the right moment; they must navigate from their airfield to the area where they think we might be, then they have to climb above our ceiling, and when they've done all that they have to find us in the moonlight. The whole process takes so much time that we should be able to drop our ordnance and get clear before they catch us. But it isn't happening that way."
Digby nodded. Bart's experience matched that of other pilots he had questioned. He was about to say so when Bart looked up and smiled over Digby's shoulder. Digby turned to see a Negro in the uniform of a squadron leader. Like Bart, he was young for his rank, and Digby guessed he had received the automatic promotions that came with combat experience-flight lieutenant after twelve sorties, squadron leader after fifteen.
Bart said, "Hello, Charles."
"You had us all worried, Bartlett. How are you?" The newcomer's accent was Caribbean overlaid with an Oxbridge drawl.
"I may live, they say."
With a fingertip, Charles touched the back of Bart's hand where it emerged from his sling. It was a curiously affectionate gesture, Digby thought. "I'm jolly glad to hear it," Charles said.
"Charles, meet my brother Digby. Digby, this is Charles Ford. We were together at Trinity until we left to join the air force."
"It was the only way to avoid taking our exams," Charles said, shaking Digby's hand.
Bart said, "How are the Africans treating you?"
Charles smiled and explained to Digby, "There's a squadron of Rhodesians at our airfield. First class flyers, but they find it difficult to deal with an officer of my color. We call them the Africans, which seems to irritate them slightly. I can't think why."
Digby said, "Obviously you're not letting it get you down."
"I believe that with patience and improved education we may eventually be able to civilize such people, primitive though they seem now." Charles looked away, and Digby caught a glimpse of the anger beneath his good humor.
"I was just asking Bart why he thinks we're losing so many bombers," Digby said. "What's your opinion?"
"I wasn't on this raid," Charles said. "By all accounts, I was lucky to miss it. But other recent operations have been pretty bad. I get the feeling the Luftwaffe can follow us through cloud. Might they have some kind of equipment on board that enables them to locate us even when we're not visible?"
Digby shook his head. "Every crashed enemy aircraft is minutely examined, and we've never seen anything like what you're talking about. We're working hard to invent that kind of device, and I'm sure the enemy are, too, but we're a long way from success, and we're pretty sure they're well behind us. I don't think that's it."
"Well, that's what it feels like."
"I still think there are spies," Bart said.
"Interesting." Digby stood up. "I have to get back to Whitehall. Thanks for your opinions. It helps to talk to the men at the sharp end." He shook hands with Charles and squeezed Bart's uninjured shoulder. "Sit still and get well."
"They say I'll be flying again in a few weeks."
"I can't say I'm glad."
As Digby turned to go, Charles said, "May I ask you a question?"
"On a raid like this one, the cost to us of replacing lost aircraft must be more than the cost to the enemy of repairing the damage done by our bombs."
"Then..." Charles spread his arms in a sign of incomprehension. "Why do we do it? What's the point of bombing?"
"Yes," Bart said. "I'd like to know that."
"What else can we do?" Digby said. "The Nazis control Europe: Austria, Czechoslovakia, Holland, Belgium, France, Denmark, Norway. Italy is an ally, Spain is sympathetic, Sweden is neutral, and they have a pact with the Soviet Union. We have no military forces on the Continent. We have no other way of fighting back."
Charles nodded. "So we're all you've got."
"Exactly," Digby said. "If the bombing stops, the war is over-and Hitler has won."
The Prime Minister was watching The Maltese Falcon. A private cinema had recently been built in the old kitchens of Admiralty House. It had fifty or sixty plush seats and a red velvet curtain, but it was usually used to show film of bombing raids and to screen propaganda pieces before they were shown to the public.
Late at night, after all the memoranda had been dictated, the cables sent, the reports annotated, and the minutes initialed, when he was too worried and angry and tense to sleep, Churchill would sit in one of the large VIP seats in the front row with a glass of brandy and lose himself in the latest enchantment from Hollywood.
As Digby walked in, Humphrey Bogart was explaining to Mary Astor that when a man's partner is killed he's supposed to do something about it. The air was thick with cigar smoke. Churchill pointed to a seat. Digby sat down and watched the last few minutes of the movie. As the credits appeared over the statuette of a black falcon, Digby told his boss that the Luftwaffe seemed to have advance notice when Bomber Command was coming.
When he had finished, Churchill stared at the screen for a few moments, as if he were waiting to find out who had played Bryan. There were times when he was charming, with an engaging smile and a twinkle in his blue eyes, but tonight he seemed sunk in gloom. At last he said, "What does the RAF think?"
"They blame poor formation flying. In theory, if the bombers fly in close formation, their armament should cover the entire sky, so any enemy fighter that appears should be shot down immediately."
"And what do you say to that?"
"Rubbish. Formation flying has never worked. Some new factor has entered the equation."
"I agree. But what?"
"My brother blames spies."
"All the spies we've caught have been amateurish-but that's why they were caught, of course. It may be that the competent ones have slipped through the net."
"Perhaps the Germans have made a technical breakthrough."
"The Secret Intelligence Service tell me the enemy are far behind us in the development of radar."
"Do you trust their judgment?"
"No." The ceiling lights came on. Churchill was in evening dress. He always looked dapper, but his face was lined with weariness. He took from his waistcoat pocket a folded sheet of flimsy paper. "Here's a clue," he said, and he handed it to Digby.
Digby studied the sheet. It appeared to be a decrypt of a Luftwaffe radio signal, in German and English. It said that the Luftwaffe's new strategy of dark night-fighting-Dunkle Nachtjagd-had scored a great triumph, thanks to the excellent information from Freya. Digby read the message in English then again in German. "Freya" was not a word in either language. "What does this mean?" he said.
"That's what I want you to find out." Churchill stood up and shrugged into his jacket. "Walk back with me," he said. As he left, he called out, "Thank you!"
A voice from the projectionist's booth replied, "My pleasure, sir."
As they passed through the building, two men fell in behind them: Inspector Thompson from Scotland Yard, and Churchill's private bodyguard. They emerged on the parade ground, passed a team operating a barrage balloon, and went through a gate in the barbed-wire fence to the street. London was blacked out, but a crescent moon gave enough light for them to find their way.
They walked side by side a few yards along Horse Guards Parade to Number One, Storey's Gate. A bomb had damaged the rear of Number Ten, Downing Street, the traditional residence of the Prime Minister, so Churchill was living at the nearby annex over the Cabinet War Rooms. The entrance was protected by a bombproof wall. The barrel of a machine gun poked through a hole in the wall.
Digby said, "Good night, sir."
"It can't go on," said Churchill. "At this rate, Bomber Command will be finished by Christmas. I need to know who or what Freya is."
"I'll find out."
"Do so with the utmost dispatch."
"Good night," said the Prime Minister, and he went inside.
from Hornet Flight by Ken Follett, Copyright © December 2002, Dutton, a member of Penguin Putnam, Inc., used by permission.
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Meet the Author
Ken Follett is the international bestselling author of suspense thrillers and the nonfiction title On Wings of Eagles. He lives in England. Visit his official website at: ken-follett.com.
- Hertfordshire, England
- Date of Birth:
- June 5, 1949
- Place of Birth:
- Cardiff, Wales
- B.A. in Philosophy, University College, London, 1970
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Good book. I read this immediately after finishing his Jackdaws, and I wish I had reversed that order. This book takes place at the start of WWII (Jackdaws takes place a couple years later) and has good empathetic characters. A quick weekend read.
Set against the backdrop of WWII, the story follows a cat and mouse pursuit between the police and the Danish resistance. The story moves fast, and, from the first chapter, it is hard to put down.
This was my first Ken Follet book and I admit, I did enjoy this book. I think it was a well researched plot with a good cast of characters. Like many other books I've read though, it lulls in quite a few places but that has almost become an expectation as it seems to be extremely difficult to find that perfect plot that keeps the reader wide-eyed throughout the book. I almost felt like this book should have been 100 pages longer as well. It seems to rush in certain places when I felt like it was appropriate to slow down and bring the reader in close. And the last thing I noticed is that detective in the story seemed to know exactly what was going on despite everything being just a feeling or a hunch. He always went down the right path and hardly ever made a mistake. It really gave me the feeling that he was reading the book along with me. However, this book is certainly a worthy read. Set in World War II, it follows a cast of characters that are extremely diverse with a variety of quirks. One of the final action sequences towards the end of the book is certainly worth the wait as I found myself wanting to yell along with the characters as they progressed. So in conclusion, not the best book I've read but most definitely one I enjoyed and would reccomend.
I enjoyed this one tremendously. It was a simple yet thrilling WWII story that was both interesting and entertaining. I always enjoy Ken Follett.
I found Hornet Flight very disappointing, and since it has been a while since I've read any of Ken Follet, not the Follet I remembered. Although the characters kept my interest, I expected a lot more from the story and plot itself. A reveiw on the cover of the book read something to the effect of 'a blitzkreig like read'...hardly. I found myself wondering if Follet even wrote this book because of several repetitive mistakes that usually new authors make. Reading Hornet Flight puts my purchase of Jackdaws in doubt. Think I'll find someone who already has it.
I didn't want the story to end, the ending was good I didn't want to put the book down.
This is a deep and detailed story set during WWII in occupied Denmark. The back drop and historical references are interwoven into a vey interesting and exciting story of how the lives of several young people come together to define both the early stage resistance movement as well as the collaborators of the German occupants. Rich in detail about the many sites within Denmark, the people and the occupation of their country by the German Army. Combined with the necessary intrigue, sub-plots and fast paced excitement with and very good ending.
In typical Follett fashion, Hornet Flight keeps you in suspense.Difficult to put it down before the end.Some of the action stretched one's imagination. But after all, it's fiction.
I usually like Ken Follett but wasn't particularly excited by this one. If you like war stories, this is a different take in that its Brits and Danish involved, and no Americans.
This was the first Follett book I'd ever read. As an author myself ('Snides', published December 2004), I have a deep interest in the history of WWII. Follett writes well and held my interest to the end. I will be looking out for his other books, which I hope will be as enjoyable as 'Hornet Flight'. Tony Walker
I bought the hardcover for five dollars on the bargain rack. Having never read Follett I was interested to see what I might get. I picked up the book off my bookshelf in my library(bathroom) and sat on the couch to begin reading. I finished early the next morning. The book just wouldnt leave my hands all night. I loved the details of life during WWII and the cowardice of many Danish and French leaders while their people were so brave. Its a great read!
If Jackdaws was outstanding, this one is better!!
This book is Follett at his best-fleshing out his characters so that you can picture them-like Peter Flemming who you grow to hate with a vengance. Best I've read since EYE OF THE NEEDLE for sheer suspense.
Ken Follett's research has turned what could have been a very implausible plot into a daring possibility, and he has achieved it with ordinary people who, under unimaginable circumstances, discover the resources within themselves to do extraordinary things. Every detail reflects realism, for I too researched this era and the Danish Resistance for my novel and recognize the truth behind Follett's characters, setting, time and plot. I trained on an aircraft very similar to the Hornet Moth in 1965--a fabric and wood Canuck made in the 1930s that could not be insured and flew with just a joystick and rudders between me and destiny. People who have never flown a plane like this don't realize how remarkable they are--they fly in spite of you--and so all the flight sequences and the rebuilding of the Hornet ring absolutely true. Someone like Harold who had good reflexes and instincts could fly a Hornet as easily as he did in the escape to England, and Karen's understanding of flying, the structure and the mechanics of the aircraft is normal for a women who takes up flying because she really wants to do it, not because she has to do it like so many roles women have to play simply because they are female. In telling this tale, Follett has captured why the Danish Resistance was so successful with very few captures where others in Occupied Europe were so corrupted that betrayal became a chronic cancer crippling their operations. Even the king displayed stoic courage while retaining dignity for himself and his country's citizens. This is a true thriller and a spectacular read!
'Hornet Flight' is a ripping good tale: full of suspense, populated with well-developed characters, and written in Follett's typically elegant style. I am delighted to report that - after tepid efforts in his last few novels - the REAL Ken Follett is back....
I really enjoy the way K. Follett writes, from page one he gets you into a thrilling adventure
Alright, I've been waiting patiently for Mr. Follett to follow-up on what I think is one of the greatest thrillers ever written: Eye of the Needle. I slogged through many mediocre titles, with Jackdaws only the most recent attempt. In Hornet Flight, I will say, "Mr. Follett is back." The characters are beleivable, flawed...in short--human. The story is fresh and the pace torrid and the setting (Denmark) untouched. Moreover, Mr. Follett's writing is terse and immaginiative. If you have a chance, pick up this title. Great for an airplane ride over the holidays (you'll get the humor after you've read the book)!
Engrossing from the start
Have read most of Ken Follett's book. This is a fast read. As with all of Follett's books, well written, researched and presented. Another great WW II resistance story. Good read
I loved this book, although it was not my favorite from Follet. I highly recommend it though. It was really fun to read and was very action packed.
Well told and very to the point hard to lay down