Duel of Eagles – Peter Townsend

Duel of Eagles is a book about the Battle of Britain, the first major air campaign in WWII.  Written by one of the participants and a leader of one of the squadrons in the battle, it not only covers the battle, but also the history of the RAF and Luftwaffe from birth to the battle.

The history of the interwar political fights over air services in both camps has its interesting moments.  One odd moment was when the Germans wanted to impress England with her advanced aircraft, they carefully did not mention that they were all using purchased English Rolls Royce engines!

Another interesting part of this section is that he follows the stories of how flyers on both sides got into piloting in the first place.  Most of the participants in the battle were in the air forces before the war when the role of air forces was a lot less clear.  German pilots did some training in secret bases in Russia, because of the restrictions of the Versailles Treaty that ended WWI.  English pilots were hampered by funding issues and being dispersed all over the Empire.

After the Fall of France, the Germans were in an odd position. They could not reach the English because of the Royal Navy, and the plans for an invasion were extremely sketchy.  When you compare the plans for Sealion to those of D-Day, you can see that realistically the invasion was not going to happen.  But as a first step, the Germans tried to gain air superiority over England to either support the invasion or later as an attempt to ‘break the will’ of the nation.  Good luck with that second one.  As the Allies themselves found out with their massive air offensives later in the war, you might do damage but you won’t end the war by air power alone.

But no matter how feckless the goal, it is the fellows on the front lines that have to do the hard part.  The book really shines here, following both sides with personal stories.  While the English had the advantage of the home field, so that pilots who bailed out could return rapidly to fight, as the weeks went on the pressure and losses built up.

The final relaxation of pressure when the bombing of London started put a quick end to the German campaign, as the rebounding fighter forces tore into the bombers that could only be poorly protected by Me-109 fighters at their extreme range.  This led to the formal cancellation of Sealion and end of the attempt to destroy the RAF.

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