by Richard North
London & New York: Bloomsbury USA, 2013. Pp. xvi, 436.
Illus., notes, biblio., index. $30.00. ISBN: 1620401002
A Revisionist View of the Battle of Britain
Political analyst and defense blogger North gives us a rather iconoclastic view of the Battle of Britain. His argument is that the image of a united Britain confronting the Hitlerian assault alone through the efforts of handful of brave young pilots is not only wrong, but largely fabricated. This is not exactly a revelation, as the received narrative has been challenged for some years now, in works such as Anthony J. Cumming’s The Royal Navy and the Battle of Britain, Fred Leander’s River Wide, Ocean Deep, or Peter Stansky’s The First Day of the Blitz.
North does, however, go more deeply into the subject than previous revisionist treatments. While he discusses the role of the RAF, and gives full credit to those brave young pilots, he also adds the warts papered over by wartime censorship, such as the initial lack of an air-sea rescue service, and he takes into account the Royal Navy, which held the sea lanes open and was prepared to contest an invasion, and the merchant marine, which sustained the flow of materiél and food.
North’s his great contribution, however, is to look at the role of the people of Britain in the fight; shipyard workers and longshore men, civil defense workers and fire fighters, factory hands and farmers, and just ordinary citizens, all of whom had a role to play. North includes a look at domestic politics, the forging of a unified front which mixed determination to win the war with a debate on the postwar world. And, of course, he discusses Churchill’s role not only in leading the fight, but also in the shaping of the traditional narrative, though he overlooks the effect of the fog of war on the development of the narrative.
The Many, Not the Few
is an important work for those interested in the Battle of Britain or the war in the aftermath of the Fall of France.