Summer Bright and Terrible: Winston Churchill, Lord Dowding, Radar and the Impossible Triumph of the Battle of Britain

Overview

Lord Hugh Dowding, Air Chief Marshall of the Royal Air Force, Head of Fighter Command, First Baron of Bentley Priory, lived in the grip of unseen spirits. In thrall of the supernatural world, he talked to the ghosts of his dead pilots, proclaimed that Hitler was defeated only by the personal intervention of God, and believed in the existence of fairies. How could it be that such a man should be put in charge of evaluating technical developments for the British air ministry? Yet it was he, fighting the inertia of ...

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Overview

Lord Hugh Dowding, Air Chief Marshall of the Royal Air Force, Head of Fighter Command, First Baron of Bentley Priory, lived in the grip of unseen spirits. In thrall of the supernatural world, he talked to the ghosts of his dead pilots, proclaimed that Hitler was defeated only by the personal intervention of God, and believed in the existence of fairies. How could it be that such a man should be put in charge of evaluating technical developments for the British air ministry? Yet it was he, fighting the inertia of the bureaucrats who ruled the Air Force, who brought the modern multi-gunned fighter into existence. And he insisted that his scientists investigate the mysterious invisible rays that would prove to be the salvation of Britain: radar.

Dowding, who provided the organization and training that led to victory, has been all but ignored by U. S. biographers of Churchill and historians of the Battle of Britain. Yet his story is vital, both for its importance to the defense of Britain-indeed the entire free world—and for the intriguing character study that emerges from his ongoing conflict with Churchill and the British government during the crisis years of the empire.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Fisher's book about a lesser-known aspect of the Battle of Britain, the "Dowding System," using radar for air defense, crackles with energy when describing the science behind the fledgling radar and the maneuvers of reckless pilots. Fisher (cosmochemistry & environmental sciences, Univ. of Miami; A Race on the Edge of Time) also brings about real drama in describing the back-room political struggles between Churchill and Dowding's Royal Air Force (he was head of Fighter Command) in implementing the new and misunderstood tool of war. The author follows the progression of Lord Dowding from a committed, brilliant, yet vague air force commander to his loss of the post in late 1940 and transformation into a man more interested in paranormal phenomena and communing with his dead wife. Dowding's evolution should have been a riveting thread in the narrative, but instead the reader's sense of him never gains any momentum. Not recommended. Freelance journalist Mortimer's compelling narrative of one terrible, deadly night of the London Blitz intertwines multiple eyewitness accounts throughout the intense raid by the German Luftwaffe. Mortimer (Shackleton) supplies enough of the military facts to set the stage but allows the personal stories to be the main focus of the book. With perspectives from pilots (on both sides), firefighters, teenagers, and everyday families, his composite uniquely follows these people through several hours that changed their lives. Recommended for public libraries. A prolific author of military fiction (e.g., Goshawk Squadron) and some previous nonfiction, Robinson authoritatively takes on the myths surrounding the threat of a German invasion of Britain by sea in 1940. He has a wide command of the historical facts behind much of the perpetuated conventional wisdom and systematically lays out a case for how overblown the invasion scare was. Instead of the Spitfire pilots of the RAF, heroes of the Battle of Britain, preventing Hitler from launching an attack, Robinson argues that it was always British naval power that was standing by to defend and overwhelm an invasion. His arguments are compelling, but the writing and arrangement of topics is rather choppy. For military history collections only.-Elizabeth Morris, Illinois Fire Svc. Inst. Lib., Champaign Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of the hyperrational Sherlock Holmes, believed in fairies and ghosts. Why should a pioneer of radar defense systems not have done the same? His contemporaries, writes science historian and novelist Fisher (Hard Evidence, 1995, etc.), had trouble linking RAF commander-in-chief Hugh Caswall Tremenheere Dowding to the curious little man who lectured on spiritualism, talked to the long-dead inhabitants of Atlantis and believed in flying saucers. "Is this Lord Dowding any relation to Sir Hugh Dowding who fought the Battle of Britain?" asked a disbelieving attendee of one such lecture; when his friend replied that Dowding's son must have been the hero, the man added, "I wonder what a smart guy like him would think of his old man going off the rails that way." Though unconventional, Dowding, as Fisher shows, was a careful reader of the skies, a gifted strategist of the air whose interest in "invisible rays" led to the establishment of ground-based radar defenses around southern England just in time to help ward off a Nazi invasion, and whose nimble command of the RAF, though not without its controversies, saved the day at the Battle of Britain. For instance, Fisher notes, Dowding had a much-discussed habit of hoarding his fighters, "sending them up a few at a time into overwhelming odds so that he might have a few ready for tomorrow"; his pilots may not have enjoyed those odds, but when the Luftwaffe made its last desperate attempt to clear the way for that invasion, Dowding had the wherewithal to fight them off-and the radar to indicate just where the Luftwaffe would be found on that fateful day. All the same, Dowding does not often figure in surveys of WWII history,at least in some measure because Churchill fired him not long after the great British victory and wrote him out of his History of the Second World War. Given Dowding's extracurricular activities, one can understand why Churchill canned him. Still, Fisher's portrait of the dotty Dowding is a pleasure to read.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781593760472
  • Publisher: Counterpoint Press
  • Publication date: 11/9/2005
  • Pages: 287
  • Product dimensions: 6.18 (w) x 9.02 (h) x 1.11 (d)

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