Tuesday 15 April 2014

Review - New edition - "Fighter" by Len Deighton

While readers may not have the opportunity to read new books from Len, Harper Collins is doing its best to give readers the next best thing: new editions of old favourites.

Following the successful relaunch of all of Len's fiction works by Harper Collins' fiction team, the process of updating and reissuing his non-fiction historical works has been completed. The publisher's non-fiction team has recently published three new editions of Fighter, Blood, Tears & Folly and Blitzkrieg.

For each book, the content stays the same; however, each has a new introduction by Len and his son, Antoni, who has taken over the role from Arnold Schwartzman of designing the new covers for these three books. In reviewing these new books, that is what I'll focus on mainly.

Fighter: the true story of the Battle of Britain
The shortest of the three new books, this was originally published in hardback in 1977 by Jonathan Cape. It is a book in which Len draws on heavily his interested in the technology of war to give a new and, arguably, balanced perspective on the most famous air battle in history.

Back in 1977, this book touched many raw nerves, coming only 37 years after the battle at a time when many of the pilots who fought in it were still alive. Deighton seeks to explore the information and records from both sides, crucially, to puncture some of the stories and mythologies about the Battle that have grown up, and comes to the conclusion that the RAF survived as a fighting force largely because they made fewer mistakes than did the German Luftwaffe did!

Naturally, perhaps, this conclusion raised eyebrows with the aces who protected the memory o fthe pilots who fought in the battle. His allegations in the book that during the bombing of RAF Manston tmany RAF ground crew remained in their air raid shelters and refused to come out to carry out their duties, drew criticism. Surprisingly, as Len's normally a stickler for details, he did not provide any evidence for this.

What he does provide is page after page of technical information - none of it lacking in interest - which gives the background to the scale of the achievement by the RAF in keeping air superiority over the south coast. It makes one wish that at some point soon a publisher will push ahead with publishing his book on the history of the aero engine, written but still not picked up.

The new preface by Len Deighton
The book has a new six sided introduction by Len. He was a witness to air battles over London in 1940 and vividly describes how the battle stopped traffic in the streets as people watched. Equally moving is his description of the impact of the later bombing raids on the people and friends around him in London.

Deighton writes how this was a personal project for him, with his objective of writing an account that was as accurate as he could make it. A former RAF flyer in Mosquitos, he writes about his experiences in flying in the crew of a Heinkel bomber from the UK to Germany and paying for the fuel with his American Express card! From this trip he made contact with German and British flyers who gave him their perspectives on the battles: the book is shot through with Len's efforts to make sure that men and machine of both sides, and their bravery, is at the heart of the story told.

The new cover design by Antoni Deighton
There is a stylistic link with the designs used by Schwartzman for the reissued novels: Antoni Deighton adopting a montage of images to bring a human element to the fore alongside the aeroplane technology. As he writes in the cover designer's note, he sought to reflect how the war combined "tremendous technological changes combined with great human emotion".

He has made a deliberate point in all three designs of reflecting the women's angle to the Battle and the war in general. Drawing on personal experiences of his grandmother, who became a welder who made night flaps for fighters, the design seeks to reflect the female contribution behind the scenes without which machines like the Spitfire would not have been possible. The colouring, too, also reflects a military outlook for this book.

What do you think? Here are the front and back covers:


  1. Great stuff.

    Over the years I've owned several copies of Fighter. Therefore, I have little hesitation in suggesting Amazon as a way of reading Len's new introduction!


    Certainly worth a look to read Len's amusing anecdote regarding ferrying the Heinkel to Siegen. I must find out if it is still there.

  2. The cover is strong, I like the titles and the concept although I generally prefer artwork rather than photo on a book cover, the intent is successful. My father in law experienced the battle of Britain as a boy in London and relates the incongruity and shock of death in the streets yet the destruction providing the most amazing playground.

  3. Soon after completing my university degree in electronic engineering in early 1960s, I was hired by a German technical manager. I heard the rumour then that he was a Luftwaffe pilot who took part in the air battle confronting the RAF pilots. In an after-work relaxed chat, I took the courage to ask my boss about the rumour. He confirmed that he was in Luftwaffe and described his past as a fighter pilot and about the air battle. He added that what made the difference was the RAF pilots’ cause and the strong support they had from the nation, which he admired even decades after the battle. After 1945, he re-joined the discontinued engineering degree course, and became an excellent engineer. We were sorry when he left our company, but he kept in touch with me, even after my career took a different path. We had many memorable yearly meetings in his home in Stuttgart, when prompted, he would reminisce about his past particularly during the Second World War days.

  4. There is a stylistic link with the designs used by Schwartzman for the reissued novels: Antoni Deighton adopting a montage of images to bring a human element to the fore alongside the aeroplane technology.
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