I seem to be receiving a bumper crop of aviation books at the present time and this latest effort from Andy Saunders is absolutely top-drawer stuff. He tells a range of stories related to flights made to the UK by German aircraft; the majority with warlike intent; but some arrived in Britain for wholly different reasons.
At first glance the book may seem a little flimsy because it is by definition episodic. But don’t be fooled. A massive amount of research has been refined to make this a genuinely entertaining and quite enthralling read. It’s the sort of book journalists plunder for easy Sunday supplement features when there isn’t enough showbiz gossip or trivia to go round. I always like books like this because they are pleasure to dip in and out of and I profess I did not read this one in a strict order of chapters.
So what do we get? There are tales of crashed bombers and fighters; bizarre landings by lost pilots; defections; escapes and even the background of a wild scheme to kidnap Hitler. One of my favourite tales is that of a plane that flew unmanned across the channel to England after the crew had baled out, causing no end of confusion for the British authorities searching for escaped airmen who were not even in the country. A similar saga reveals how a Dornier flew unmanned across the breadth of England after the crew had abandoned it in the west of the country only for it to come down on the Suffolk coast. Here again the confusion of local police and army units looking for the evading crew who were already in captivity hundreds of miles away makes for interesting reading.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this book concerns the planes the Brits were able to air test and there is much to be learned here about the employment and fate of a number of machines wearing RAF colours. You will see some of them in the RAF Museum at Hendon. The one that got away is the Ju87 Stuka. Only one landed in anything like a usable condition on British soil. It was ravaged by souvenir-hunters before it could be properly secured. What a shame! The book departs ever so slightly to tell us how a Fiat Cr42 came to crash land in England at a time when Mussolini was sending his airmen to join in the Nazi aerial assault on the UK. Quite what these biplanes were supposed to do against Hurricanes and Spitfires is a moot point.
The still bizarre case of the arrival of Rudolf Hess in Scotland takes up some of the book. I was at the IWM Duxford recently and there you can see a large section of the Bf110 he arrived in. Getting your head round Hess’ intentions is never easy but the mechanics of his adventure are much easier to follow.
So, this is a book with a lot to enjoy. The photography is superb and the appendices give a great deal of information. All in all this makes it a very useful package. The text is easy to read and well up to the usual standard we expect from a historian of Andy Saunders’ calibre. Military history can be fun and the author proves it with this sterling piece of work. Top marks.
Reviewed by Mark Barnes for War History Online.
ARRIVAL OF EAGLES
Luftwaffe Landings in Britain 1939-1945
By Andy Saunders
ISBN: 978 1 90980 812 6