The best books about the London Blitz and the bomber war

Who am I?

I lived in London for eighteen years and acquired an abiding affection for my nation’s capital. I wanted to write a sequel to Bluebirds and jumped at the chance of giving Bryan Hale an adventure where he could walk the streets that I knew and loved. The scars caused on the fair face of London by sticks of Nazi bombs landing in ragged lines across the streets and terraces may still be discerned from the incongruity of the buildings that have since risen to fill the gaps. London heals and thrives. Ultimately, I believe every English writer harbours an ambition to write a London novel. I did, and I did.


I wrote...

Blackbirds: A London Blitz Novel

By Melvyn Fickling,

Book cover of Blackbirds: A London Blitz Novel

What is my book about?

It's October 1940, the Battle of Britain reaches a stalemate and the Luftwaffe begins the bombing of Britain’s cities. Bryan Hale’s chance encounter in a London pub with Jenny, an acquaintance from school, starts a relationship that neither wants nor can afford. But the daily dangers of London’s Blitz ignite a passion that neither can resist.

Bluebird Squadron rotates out of the front line and Bryan transfers to night-fighters, partly to sate his desire for combat, but also to stay close to Jenny. Struggling with fledgling radar technology, Bryan and his operator, Tommy Scott, eventually become calculating hunters of the night, stalking and slaying Nazi raiders in a deadly game of cat-and-mouse in England’s pitch-black winter skies. This is the second book of the Bluebird Series.

The books I picked & why

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The Secret History of the Blitz

By Joshua Levine,

Book cover of The Secret History of the Blitz

Why this book?

Today, it is almost impossible to imagine aircraft roaming freely over British cities, disgorging bombs onto the streets below. So, it’s vital for us to have access to the personal, unvarnished stories and contemporary accounts from those that actually lived through this particular horror. In The Secret History of the Blitz Levine pulls no punches as he documents the behaviour of ordinary people faced with extreme experiences. Some reacted with fortitude, uniting in neighbourhood solidarity and extending charity to strangers. Others exploited the chaos, breaking legal and moral codes for their own personal enrichment. To this day, the British psyche collectively benefits from the social concept of a Blitz Spirit. But we should remember it was always a two-sided coin.

The Secret History of the Blitz

By Joshua Levine,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Secret History of the Blitz as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Blitz of 1940-41 is one of the most iconic periods in modern British history - and one of the most misunderstood. The 'Blitz spirit' is celebrated by some, whereas others dismiss it as a myth. Joshua Levine's thrilling biography rejects the tired arguments and reveals the human truth: the Blitz was a time of extremes of experience and behaviour. People werepulling together and helping strangers, but they were also breaking rules and exploiting each other. Life during wartime, the author reveals, was complex and messy and real.

From the first page readers will discover a different story to the…


Blitz: The British Under Attack

By Juliet Gardiner,

Book cover of Blitz: The British Under Attack

Why this book?

Juliet Gardiner blends memoirs, official accounts, and personal experiences, many derived from Mass Observation, to present a gripping and emotive history of the Blitz and illustrate the strength and resilience of the civilians whose lives were torn apart in its indiscriminate violence. She uses eyewitness accounts to throw the horrors of total war into sharp relief. Although London absorbed the brunt of the campaign, the reader is also taken to the smouldering bombsites of Coventry, Birmingham, the south coast ports, Belfast, and other cities that the Luftwaffe ranged across, where the voices of rescue squads and fire services shine an unwavering light on the harrowing consequences of aerial bombardment for civilian populations.

Blitz: The British Under Attack

By Juliet Gardiner,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Blitz as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the author of 'Wartime' comes an outstanding history of the most sustained onslaught ever endured by Britain's civilian population - the Blitz.

September 1940 marked the beginning of Nazi Germany's aerial attack on civilian Britain. Lasting eight months, the Blitz was the form of warfare that had been predicted throughout the 1930s, and that the British people had feared since Neville Chamberlain's declaration that Britain was at war. Images of Britain's devastated cities are among the most iconic of the Second World War.

Yet compared with other great moments of that war - Dunkirk, the North African campaign, D-Day…


Blitz Families: The Children Who Stayed Behind

By Penny Starns,

Book cover of Blitz Families: The Children Who Stayed Behind

Why this book?

We’re all familiar with wartime images of young evacuees gathered together on railway stations. But over fifty percent of children were not evacuated from British cities, and it is they that Penny Starns has studied. Once we get past the mothers’ ‘keep or send’ moral dilemma, there are the issues of discipline, education, health, food, and psychological development to consider. Starns takes these subjects chapter by chapter, relating stories of disease, poverty, criminality, and terror (including one child who spent the night in a shelter within reach of an unexploded bomb). These tales she counterpoints with examples of unexpectedly increasing emotional and physical wellbeing amongst some of the stay-behinds. This is an important record of the experiences of a demographic that war histories often ignore.

Blitz Families: The Children Who Stayed Behind

By Penny Starns,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Blitz Families as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The mass evacuation of children and new and expectant mothers during the Second World War is well documented. But over fifty per cent of children were not evacuated during the War, and it is these young people who offer an unrivalled view of what life was like during the bombing raids in Britain's cities. In Blitz Families Penny Starns takes a new look at the children whose parents refused to bow to official pressure and kept their beloved children with them throughout the War. As she documents family after family which made this difficult decision, she uncovers tales of the…


Instruments of Darkness: The History of Electronic Warfare, 1939-1945

By Alfred Price,

Book cover of Instruments of Darkness: The History of Electronic Warfare, 1939-1945

Why this book?

British Radio Direction Finding stations (RDF), later to be dubbed Radar, with their iconic arrays of masts along England’s south coast, contributed greatly to the RAF’s success in the Battle of Britain by detecting approaching raids and giving early warning. Both sides in the European war possessed similar technologies operated from ground stations. The race to miniaturise RDF sets for airborne interception, once realised, would have devastating consequences for intruding bomber crews facing A.I. equipped night fighters over Britain and Germany. Price takes an even-handed approach in relating the development of these technologies in Britain, Germany, the US, and Japan, making this an absorbing and enjoyable read that demystifies an aspect of the war that is usually only mentioned in passing.

Instruments of Darkness: The History of Electronic Warfare, 1939-1945

By Alfred Price,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Instruments of Darkness as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The rapid evolution of radio and radar systems for military use during World War II, and devices to counter them, led to a technological battle that neither the Axis nor the Allied powers could afford to lose. The result was a continual series of thrusts, parries, and counter-thrusts, as first one side then the other sought to wrest the initiative in the struggle to control the ether. This was a battle fought with strange-sounding weapons-"Freya," "Mandrel," "Boozer," and "Window"-and characterized by the bravery, self-sacrifice, and skill of those who took part in it. During the war, however, and for many…


Bomber

By Len Deighton,

Book cover of Bomber

Why this book?

It is June 1943 and the RAF are mounting another bombing raid on Fortress Europe, part of the whirlwind that Arthur Harris had promised Germans would reap following the night blitz they waged against Britain. Deighton’s fictional account follows a single crew on a mission that would go horribly wrong, mixing their narrative with the stories of their adversaries in the air and their victims on the ground. Deighton writes with forensic clarity and at key points delivers events in a kind of literary slow-motion that drills the harrowing details into his reader. Set over a single twenty-four-hour period, and played out mostly in darkness, the drama is tense and exhausting. This is indeed a modern classic that illuminates the biggest contradictory moral dilemma of the war.

Bomber

By Len Deighton,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Bomber as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The classic novel of the Second World War that relates in devastating detail the 24-hour story of an allied bombing raid.

Bomber is a novel of war. There are no victors, no vanquished. There are simply those who remain alive, and those who die.

Bomber follows the progress of an Allied air raid through a period of twenty-four hours in the summer of 1943. It portrays all the participants in a terrifying drama, both in the air and on the ground, in Britain and in Germany.

In its documentary style, it is unique. In its emotional power it is overwhelming.…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in World War 2, the London Blitz, and London?

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