Absorbing day-by-day account of the dark time when Britain seemed certain to go down in defeat to Nazi Germany.
“The period can be dated precisely,” writes English journalist Moss. It began with the blitzkrieg assault on France, Belgium, and Holland on May 10, 1940—the day, as it happens, that Winston Churchill became prime minister of Great Britain—and ended on September 15, when the Royal Air Force, aided by the Ultra code-breaking effort, drove away an armada of Luftwaffe bombers in the last major episode of the Battle of Britain, a victory that for the first time halted the seemingly unstoppable “onward march of Nazi power.” Bracketed by these two great battles, Moss’s account touches on any number of little-explored incidents, such as Hitler’s condition-laden offer of peace in July, and ventures many a revisionist take on them. For instance, he suggests that it might have been better indeed for Britain if it had made peace with Hitler in 1940: “It might have kept its empire. It would not have sacrificed lives and money in the exhausting struggle. It would not have been bankrupt.” Of course, he adds, “the world would have been worse off.” Moss adds nuance to his discussions of now-disregarded figures such as Neville Chamberlain, who labored hard to enlist Franklin Roosevelt’s aid in the fight against Nazism in a time when his fellow parliamentarians were wondering aloud whether the problem wasn’t the Nazi ideology per se but that awful fellow Hitler. He does a good job of explaining the isolationist opposition that kept Roosevelt from acting immediately, the product of heartland sentiments that didn’t see much problem with Hitler to begin with. And he revisits turning-point moments such as Churchill’s celebrated “We shall fight on the beaches” speech, which, Moss writes, “energized people in Britain in a way that seems to have been almost palpable.”
Historians will take issue with some of the interpretations, but general readers will find this a lucid introduction to the days before the tide was turned.