Helena Schrader's Historical Fiction

Dr. Helena P. Schrader is the winner of more than 20 literary accolades. For a complete list of her awards see: http://helenapschrader.com

For readers tired of clichés and cartoons, award-winning novelist Helena P. Schrader offers nuanced insight to historical events and figures based on sound research and an understanding of human nature. Her complex and engaging characters bring history back to life as a means to better understand ourselves.

Friday, February 26, 2021

One of the Greatest -- and Least Appreciated -- Commanders of WWII: Air Chief Marshal Dowding

 To the extent that we consider the Battle of Britain pivotal to Allied success in WWII, the mastermind behind the RAF's success deserves far more credit and fame than he has been given to date. Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding

ACM Dowding was not only the commanding officer of Fighter Command during the entire Battle of Britain, he was the man who had envisioned, created, shaped and molded Fighter Command into an instrument capable of withstanding the onslaught of the Luftwaffe in 1940. Dowding had been instrumental in Training Command in the inter-war years, and for six years headed the Supply and Research Office of the Air Ministry, in which capacity he was instrumental in fostering the development of radar. He was directly responsible for inviting private tenders for ‘the fastest machines they could build’ resulting in the design of the Hawker Hurricane and Supermarine Spitfire respectively. (Hurricanes are in the photo above; below the Spitfire.)

But technology and weapons are nearly worthless if they are improperly used or misused. Neither fighter nor radar would have saved England from invasion in 1940, if the institutional structures and fundamental strategy for the defense of Great Britain had not be evolved by Sir Hugh Dowding. In 1936, Dowding was appointed the first commander of the newly created Fighter Command. In this capacity, he ensured both the establishment of coastal radar stations (then known as RDF), and evolved the system of communications and control that linked that early warning system to the fighters that needed to respond. 

The complex yet efficient system in which radar stations were connected by telephone directly with Fighter Command HQ, where a Filter Room sifted through and made sense of the plethora of reports and this information was converted into comprehensible plots on a map, was Dowding’s invention. The segmentation of British airspace into sectors, each protected by designated squadrons controlled and directed from a Sector Airfield with its own Control Room, was Dowding’s concept.

All the technology in the world and the best fighters would have been worthless it the information was not brought together in a timely and coherent manner that enabled commanders to make intelligent and informed decisions. The RAF did not — anc could not build with the resources at hand — sufficient fighters to patrol the skies of the UK at all times. Without this system and the military doctrine behind it, Fighter Command would have been overwhelmed in 1940.

Dowding also demonstrated foresight in advocating the training of women on radar and employing them as plotters and filterers. Women (WAAF) proved to be extremely competent, reliable and unflappable.

Last but not least, Dowding must be given credit for withstanding the immense political pressure to send more and more RAF fighter squadrons to France as the German offensive systematically overwhelmed French defenses. Had Dowding not vehemently insisted on the need to retain sufficient squadrons in Britain to ensure the defense of the realm, too many British aircraft and pilots might have been squandered in the lost Battle of France.

For all these reasons, Dowding deserves to be remembered as one of the greatest military leaders of the 20th century along with Air Vice Marshal Park, who commanded 11 Group during the Battle — but that is a different story and would require a second entry. 

Dowding has only a cameo role in "Where Eagles Never Flew" which views the battle from the perspective of the frontline rather than HQ.

Friday, February 19, 2021

"All in a days' work" -- An Excerpt from "Where Eagles Never Flew"


The feeling of queasiness as he approached his Hurricane was familiar to Ginger now. It was his fourth patrol this week. So far, all had been uneventful, but after the fight yesterday, he was certain they were in for it now.

Ginger reached his Hurricane, and Sanders swung himself out of the cockpit and offered Ginger a hand as usual. Ginger took it gratefully with a nod and a smile of thanks. Sanders had kept his word, and “Q” had been sent back to a Maintenance Unit for a complete re-fit. Sanders was now assigned to Ginger’s new aircraft, “H,” along with the rigger, Tufnel.

Ginger no longer felt shy with either of them; they were both first-rate blokes. They seemed to like their work and were proud to keep their aircraft in the best possible condition. Sanders smiled as he helped Ginger pull the straps tight. “I hear Jerry’s getting cheeky. The blokes from 43 Squadron were telling us their pilots bagged a couple of Stukas that were going for a convoy right off the Needles.”

“I guess it had to come sometime. France surrendered a month ago,” Ginger answered stoically. Somehow when he’d joined the RAF, all he’d thought about was flying – not killing and dying.

“Good luck then, sir!” Sanders flashed him a last smile and jumped down off the wing.

“Thanks!” Ginger called after him, and then turned and waved to Tufnel to pull the chocks away. Tufnel was looking tired. He’d been up half the night helping the CO’s rigger repair the CO’s kite.

Click here to see a video teaser of Where Eagles Never Flew


Friday, February 12, 2021

The Battle of Britain - The Unsung Heroes: "Erks"

 It was not the pilots alone who won the Battle of Britain. The RAF worked hard to ensure that its pilots were supported by some of the best trained ground crews in the world.

With an ‘apprentice’ program, the RAF had attracted technically minded young men early and provided them with extensive training throughout the inter-war years. In some ways, ground crews were better educated than many pilots.

Under the circumstances and given the fact that many pilots came up from the ranks themselves, it is hardly surprising that the relations between pilots and crews were on the whole excellent. The RAF had a notoriously relaxed attitude towards discipline in any case, and this further worked to break down barriers.

Last but not least, at this stage of the war, individual crews looked after individual aircraft and so specific pilots. The ground crews identified strongly with their unit – and ‘their’ pilots. After the bombing of the airfields started in mid-August, the ground crews were themselves under attack, suffering casualties and working under deplorable conditions – often without hot food, dry beds, adequate sleep and no leave. The ground crews never failed their squadrons. Aircraft were turned around – rearmed, re-fuelled, and thoroughly checked – in just minutes. 

Click here to see a video teaser of Where Eagles Never Flew


Friday, February 5, 2021

Women on the Frontlines -- An Excerpt from "Where Eagles Never Flew"


Setting: RAF Tangmere, 16 August 1940
Sector Control Room

As the earth stopped its convulsive shudders and the sound of explosions faded, Bridges picked himself up off the floor and looked down over the balcony at the scene below. Plaster dust covered all of them to various degrees, and the markers on the table had been knocked over and shaken into meaningless heaps. One of the large lights had burst, shattering glass everywhere, and Corporal Winters was already applying first aid to a girl who had been badly cut in the hand. Although she was still wearing her steel helmet, so he couldn’t see her face, Bridges thought it was ACW Hadley. Whoever it was, she hadn’t let out so much as a shout when she’d been hit by the glass.

“Are there any other casualties down there, Winters?” Bridges called.

The WAAF Corporal glanced up at him, her face white with plaster dust, and shook her head. “No, sir.”

Around her the other WAAF were crawling out from under the table, dusting off their knees and removing their steel helmets. As he watched, they started replacing the displaced markers, talking among themselves in low voices about where things had been and also pulling their head-phones back on. Even Bridges, who had always expected they would do well under fire, was impressed. This wasn’t just an absence of hysteria; it was professionalism of the highest order.

“Sir.” His attention was drawn by ACW Roberts, on the balcony beside him. He had reassigned her as his clerk so she could keep the transcript of combat transmissions that Allars had asked for. She also manned the switchboard.

“Yes, Roberts?”

“The telephone lines to Uxbridge are out of order, sir.”

“Right. See if you can reach Kenley or Middle Wallop and have them relay messages to and from Uxbridge.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Robinson,” he addressed the Warrant Officer, “see if you can find out exactly what damage has been done so we can report it to Uxbridge as soon as possible.”

“Yes, sir.”

Bridges leaned over the gallery. “Winters?”


“Anything else coming in?”

“Ventor’s down again, sir. We’re blind unless they come in east or west of here and then turn.”

“Understood.” That explained how it had happened.

Behind him Robinson was reporting. “Two hangars collapsed in direct hits, sir, and the motor pool has been obliterated under the collapsed garage roof.”

The sound of sirens wailed through the walls, and the deeper-throated hooting of the fire engines penetrated, too. The door was wrenched open, and a man in steel helmet and Flight Sergeant’s stripes stuck his head in. “I need volunteers to come out and mark a runway for our aircraft to get down between the bomb-craters and the unexploded bombs!”

“Go on, any of you who want to go.” Bridges released them all. If RDF and the lines to Uxbridge were down, there wasn’t a lot they could do here.


Click here to see a video teaser of Where Eagles Never Flew