The best books about the Battle of Britain (from someone with a lifelong fascination for it)

The Books I Picked & Why

Tally-Ho! A Yankee in a Spitfire

By Arthur Donahue

Book cover of Tally-Ho! A Yankee in a Spitfire

Why this book?

Art Donahue is the inspiration for my character, Gerry Donaldson, in my book, and Tally-Ho! is the book he wrote about his life while the Battle of Britain was still raging around him. Art was one of many Americans who volunteered at the risk of losing US citizenship, but as a fully qualified flying instructor he jumped the queue and very quickly found himself in a Spitfire cockpit flying into hostile skies with 64 Squadron. Donahue went on to fight in other theatres and write further on his experiences. Sadly, he did not survive the war, but this unique and vibrant document serves as a memorial and a celebration of a true American pioneer.


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Eagle Day: The Battle of Britain

By Richard Collier

Book cover of Eagle Day: The Battle of Britain

Why this book?

It might be a venerable classic, but it’s still in print for a very good reason. Collier focusses on the six weeks of 1940’s English summer when Great Britain was in extreme peril of defeat and subjugation. He relates the history of this pivotal moment using a rich tapestry of personal accounts and eye-witness testimonies of the real people who were involved in this epic struggle. We hear the voices of pilots fighting for their lives in the air, their crews grafting on the ground to keep the aircraft serviceable and the civilians who daily watched the frenetic dogfights that swirled through the sky above their towns and villages, duels to the death upon which the very fate of the nation depended.


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The Battle of Britain: Five Months That Changed History; May-October 1940

By James Holland

Book cover of The Battle of Britain: Five Months That Changed History; May-October 1940

Why this book?

Historian James Holland is also a novelist, and it is that parallel writing talent that makes his history books as compelling to read as a thriller novel. In this history of the Battle of Britain he casts his net back to events in France, marking the beginning of the battle proper as early May 1940, two months before the officially recorded date. This presents the battle as a continuation of the wider events that caused it to be necessary. He widens his narrative beyond the desperate struggles of the fighter pilots to include the experiences of bomber command, the navy, the back-room boffins, and the politicians. The result is a highly readable and deeply satisfying account of one of history’s most important pivotal events.


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Spitfire

By John Nichol

Book cover of Spitfire

Why this book?

The book is well named. The Spitfire invokes a visceral response in most people, amplified in those that feel even the slightest cultural connection to the events that unfolded in the Kentish skies in 1940. Nichol centres his book on this emotional premise, conveying the feelings of the pilots who flew the Spitfire, including the ladies of the Air Transport Auxiliary, and the crews that maintained them. We learn about the development of this most beautiful of all warbirds and follow it into all the world’s theatres of war, a story expressed through the first-hand accounts of many veterans who flew and fought behind the roar of the Merlin. This is as close as most of us will come to being inside the cockpit of a Spitfire.


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Piece of Cake

By Derek Robinson

Book cover of Piece of Cake

Why this book?

Robinson’s evergreen work of fiction shines forever bright thanks to his gritty characterisation of the realities of life in a fighter squadron in France, and later in post-Dunkirk Britain, in 1940. You’ll not find any of the usual stereotypes in Hornet Squadron, yet the characters are quickly made real in the reader’s mind, familiar and grotesque in equal measure as they struggle to overcome the inertia of RAF combat doctrine, the frictions of class prejudice, the joys of impossible love and the clash of incompatible personalities, all while fighting for their lives in the cockpits of their near-obsolete Hurricane fighters against horrifying odds.


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