V: Miscellaneous Books

There were dozens of general books about WW2 littering my office throughout the writing of The Separation but I read only three of them all the way through.

57. Bomber Command by the Air Ministry (“text by The Cornwall Press Ltd”, published by His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1941; first edition).

58. Front Line 1940-1941 by Ministry of Information, published by HMSO, 1942; first edition).

These two books are still relatively easy to find in good condition in secondhand shops. Thousands of them were printed in their day. They are large-size paperbacks, printed on semi-glossy stock, using what used to be called the photogravure process for the many photographs. In one of his books, John Keegan describes these government publications as exemplary propaganda. They are factually accurate throughout and contain not a single deliberate untruth, but they tell only one side of a complicated story. At the same time they contain nothing that would be of any strategic use to the enemy. Although they deliberately do not exploit the ‘Blitz spirit’ of those distant days, at the same time they contain nothing that might undermine morale. All those are past concerns, of course. From the point of view of a present-day literary researcher both books were mines of information and telling detail.

The Air Ministry’s version of the air warThe book on Bomber Command was of particular interest to me, because it describes what was happening from the outbreak of war until the end of 1941, the period of The Separation. It was only from the beginning of 1942 that the ‘legend’ of Bomber Command began, after Arthur Harris took control. In these pre-Harris years, Bomber Command was a largely ineffectual force, using outdated and unsuitable aircraft, suffering terrible losses from the German defenders, and more often than not bombing so incompetently that they almost never hit their targets. In the autumn of 1941 the civil service carried out a survey of bombing results (using flash-lit photographs of the ground, taken by the crews considered to be the best). Even from this selective sample the investigators found that only one in four aircraft was within five miles of the chosen target, and on better-defended targets (like the Ruhr industrial area) only one in ten aircraft were able to hit within that range. In November 1941, the government called a halt to all but the most limited bombing operations. None of this is even hinted at in the Air Ministry book, which within the constraints of truth and by concentrating on a few of the more ‘successful’ raids, presents an image of gallantry, persistence and the wreaking of devastating damage on Germany.

59. If Britain Had Fallen by Norman Longmate (Arrow, 1975; first published by British Broadcasting Corporation and Hutchinson, 1972)

This non-fiction book, tied in with a long-forgotten TV programme about what would have happened if Germany ‘won’, was on my bookshelf for many years, long before I thought it might come in handy. Once The Separation was in progress I realized its theme was not dissimilar to Longmate’s book, and so I felt I couldn’t afford to skip it.

It’s not a good book: it shows signs of sensationalism and speculation, painting a lurid picture Nazi hordes looting, pillaging and raping their way through South-East England in the autumn of 1940. Maybe those events would have been every bit as lurid as Longmate depicts them, but I felt there was a certain lip-smacking quality to his choice of images and words. At the same time, some of the facts he turned up were interesting and I hadn’t seen them anywhere else, which justifies its entry in this bibliography. However, Peter Fleming’s more responsible book of speculation (Invasion 1940; see no. 6 in this list) covered much the same ground. In addition, two other books that I referred to, but haven’t listed here, taken in conjunction with the Fleming, give a much more chilling idea than Longmate’s catchpenny book of what an invasion might have meant to this country: When Nazi Dreams Come True by Robert Edwin Herzstein (Abacus, 1982), an academic’s survey of Nazi strategy, and (same title as Fleming’s) Invasion 1940 by SS-General Walter Schellenberg (St Ermin’s Press, 2000), the real plans drawn up by the Wehrmacht of what the Germans actually intended to do once they had landed. These plans include a long list of names and addresses of people for whom they would have been hunting. In all, more disturbing than television sensationalism. However, I did read Longmate’s book, so here it is on the list.