The Darkest Hour: The Battle for Britain in 1940 by Tony Russo

Tony Russo contacted me recently about his upcoming novel, DARKEST HOUR which was  a semi-finalist in the 2013 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards for Young Adult fiction. He is also the author of ZAK CORBIN: MASTER OF MACHINES. Today he reminds us of the significance of the Battle for Britain which forms the basis for his new novel. Over to you, Tony.

Last year marked the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, a contest for supremacy between Germany’s Luftwaffe and Britain’s Royal Air Force over the skies of England in 1940. The occasion was noted by parades, flyovers of vintage aircraft and tributes from the royal family. It comes as no surprise, however, that a poll taken by a British newspaper found that young people have little knowledge about the battle or its significance. Four out of ten believed the Vikings were involved or didn’t know who the “Few” were. Here are some details about one of the decisive battles of the Second World War.

The Darkest Hour

The armies of Hitler’s Third Reich had been unstoppable since 1939. In June 1940 at Dunkirk, on the coast of France, what remained of Allied forces were evacuated by the British Navy and private vessels. France, despite having Europe’s largest army, surrendered. Nearly the entire continent of Europe had fallen to Germany.

His armies victorious, Hitler toured conquered Paris and France, but secretly planned for Operation Sea Lion—the invasion of Britain. Prime Minister Winston Churchill warned that, “…the battle for Britain was about to begin.” He dubbed this period, from the fall of France to the end of the threat of invasion in 1941, as “The Darkest Hour”.

The Combatants

Germany could never hope to land an invasion force unless the Royal Air Force, the RAF, was swept from the skies. In Britain, Air Vice Marshal H. Dowding’s air defense system relied upon a new technology—RADAR—to detect enemy aircraft. Collecting reports from radar and observers, sector controllers radioed squadrons of RAF fighters to intercept.

The German Luftwaffe outnumbered the RAF almost four-to-one. The most recognizable and feared German plane was the Ju. 88 Stuka, a dive bomber with sirens in its wings that screamed as the plane dove on targets. The Do. 17 “Flying Pencil” and the He. 111 medium bomber were built as “commercial airliners” to defeat limitations set by the Treaty of Versailles. The Messerschmitt Bf109 was considered one of the finest fighter planes of the entire war and was armed with cannons in some models.

RAF pilots scramble to get airborne at Biggin Hill (Photo Credit: Rex; from
RAF pilots scramble to get airborne at Biggin Hill (Photo Credit: Rex; from

The RAF relied upon the Hawker Hurricane and the Supermarine Spitfire fighter planes. Contrary to myth, the Hurricane was flown in much greater numbers than the legendary Spitfire. Both planes used the same Rolls-Royce Merlin engine and carried eight machineguns. Prime Minister Churchill referred to the brave young pilots who flew these planes and bombers as “The Few”.

Eagle Day and the Battle Begins

After weeks of German attacks on Channel shipping, Hitler gave orders to Reichsmarschall Hermann Goring to begin attacks on RAF airfields and critical industries on Eagle Day, August 13th 1940. Coastal squadrons were hit the hardest. A surprising number of Stukas were shot down—the planes were too slow and vulnerable against RAF fighters—and their squadrons were withdrawn.

The air battle seesawed for weeks. German intelligence was faulty. Hitler and his generals were convinced they were winning when in fact they were losing planes, experienced pilots and air crews. The RAF had enough airplanes, but pilots were in short supply. Soon Polish, Czech, Free French, several Americans and other Allied pilots joined squadrons with the RAF.

Hitler Loses His Own Battle

In September, a German bomber force attacked London. Churchill ordered an immediate reprisal and Berlin was bombed. Enraged, Hitler ordered a change in tactics—he would terrorize the British people into surrender. This was the Blitz, over two hundred days of raids against London and other cities that didn’t end until 1941. The bombings forced the evacuation of children to outlying areas while people hid in air raid shelters and in London’s Underground stations.

Heinkel He 111 bomber over the Surrey docks and Wapping in the East End of London on 7 September 1940 (Public domain image from the collections of the Imperial War Museums)
Heinkel He 111 bomber over the Surrey docks and Wapping in the East End of London on 7 September 1940 (Public domain image from the collections of the Imperial War Museums)

Hitler’s ego proved his undoing. The British people refused to cower to terror. The change in targets gave the RAF time to rebuild its fighter squadrons. The further distance to London pushed German planes to their limits. Fighter escorts had to leave the battle early or run out of fuel. Despite facing larger and larger formations, the RAF held on.

Battle of Britain Day

On September 15th 1940, Battle of Britain Day, massive German raids were intercepted and resulted in unsustainable losses for the Luftwaffe. All daylight bombing raids ended soon after and Operation Sea Lion was cancelled. Germany had lost its first battle in Europe.

Darkest Hour by Tony RussoDarkest Hour (Divertir Publishing, Ltd. Expected release date: Feb 8, 2016) is set in an alternate history where the long Great War leaves behind a shattered Europe without an entire generation of men. Britain permits women to serve their country as soldiers, sailors and especially pilots. After her older brother Mackinley is hurt in a plane crash, young Briley Bannatyne trains to become a pilot officer in the air service. A terrifying enemy conquers much of Europe before turning its sights on Britain. All that stands between this unstoppable enemy and invasion is Briley and a handful of brave pilots.

From now until February 17th, enter to win a signed copy of this book through Goodreads!

Many thanks for being on A Writer of History, Tony. And best wishes for success with Darkest Hour.

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M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE is set in WWI France and is available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. Her debut novel, UNRAVELLED: Two wars. Two affairs. One marriage. is also available from these retailers.

Mary can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.


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2 Responses

  1. Thanks for posting this. I didn’t know the Do. 17 and He. 111 were designed to circumvent the Versailles Treaty though I suppose it should not surprise anyone. All the best in getting young people more interested in this pivotal period of history.

  2. An interesting post.

    For a fictional twist on the Battle of Britain story I recommend and

    One of my current easy reads a factually miscellany on the subject by Sinclair McKay Good description of the shoddy treatment of Hugh Dowding and some other snippets of information which were new to me. The book quotes at length from other books on the subject.

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