Helena Schrader's Historical Fiction

Dr. Helena P. Schrader is the author of 24 historical fiction and non-fiction works and the winner of more than 53 literary accolades. More than 34,000 copies of her books have been sold. For a complete list of her books and awards see: http://helenapschrader.com

For readers tired of clichés and cartoons, award-winning novelist Helena P. Schrader offers nuanced insight into 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, March 11, 2022

Some Battles are Decisive - Remembering the Battle of Britain

 Watching Ukraine fighting alone against a brutal, autocratic aggressor reminds me viscerally of the Battle of Britain. I cannot help but imagine Ukrainian pilots "scrambling" and fighting desperate battles, while their bases -- and their homes -- are bombed around them.  

Although very different, the parallels to the Battle of Britain are nevertheless striking. In 1940 it was Britain, now it is Ukraine that stands alone. Again the United States is on the sidelines -- if for very different reasons.

 As a historian, I firmly believe that remembering the past helps us understand the present. Studying the past can help us see options, remember hazards, and draw strength from examples of courage and endurance in adversity. However, in this and future posts, I will speak only about historical events. I leave it to the reader to consider parallels to the present and note differences of significance -- which may alter the outcome.


The Battle of Britain did not win or end the war against Nazi Germany. It would take five more grim and grueling years of conflict before Hitler was finally defeated. The Second World War first spread across the entire northern hemisphere and consumed millions of lives before it was finally over. Yet the Battle of Britain was the imperative first step toward Allied victory. It brought Hitler’s aggression to a halt for the first time since he had come to power in Germany in 1933. 

For Hitler, the failure to defeat the Royal Air Force in the summer of 1940 was viewed more as an annoyance rather than as a major strategic set-back. He had long declared his preference to have Great Britain as an ally. He had hoped the British would not ‘interfere’ with his invasion of Poland. He had expected the British government to sue for peace after the fall of France. When the Luftwaffe proved incapable of creating the conditions for an invasion, Hitler turned his attention back to his long-held goal of invading the Soviet Union. The war against the Soviet Union was Hitler’s passion; the war against the British Empire was an irritating complication about which he lost little sleep. To this day, most Germans have never even heard of the Battle of Britain, and if they have, they attribute to it no major significance.

Yet for Britain, the United States, Occupied Europe, and later even the Soviet Union, the significance of the Battle of Britain can hardly be over-stated.

Although Hitler had not expected it would be necessary to invade England, he had been prepared to do so. Likewise, while neither the German Navy nor Army were keen about a cross-channel invasion, they dutifully made (or pretended to make) the necessary preparations. Their reluctance would not have stopped Hitler from ordering the invasion of England had he chosen to do so. However, it was agreed within the German High Command that the Luftwaffe would pave the way for an invasion by establishing air superiority over Britain. It was hoped — and perhaps assumed — that the air attacks would drive the British government to the negotiating table.

It was only as the costs of the air fighting mounted and the British government remained intransigent that Hitler made the decision to postpone the invasion indefinitely. This decision was taken on September 17, mainly as a result of the air fighting on September 15. The furious and tenacious defense of English airspace on September 15, 1940 proved that the RAF was far from defeated.

The victory was not immediately apparent. The Luftwaffe continued to attack Britain on a smaller scale by day and neither German troops nor barges were withdrawn from the channel ports until the spring of 1941. Furthermore, the night “Blitz” of London continued savagely throughout the winter. The British people did not feel safe from invasion until the Wehrmacht had turned its attention to the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941.

Yet the RAF had failed to discourage Hitler from his plans to invade Britain, the course of the war would inevitably have been different. A German invasion would have been launched. Whether the Royal Navy, seriously weakened by the losses incurred at Dunkirk and dangerously over-stretched trying to protect the Atlantic lifeline, could have stopped it remains debatable. Certainly, the British ground forces lacked tanks and artillery for fighting the heavily mechanized Wehrmacht, if it successfully came ashore. Churchill was not only being rhetorical when he spoke about fighting a guerrilla war against the invaders!

Thus, in retrospect, we know that the Battle of Britain is what saved the British Isles from a Nazi invasion and very likely from Nazi occupation. What is often forgotten nowadays is that it was a very near-run thing. The outcome teetered in the balance day after day. It was also a victory won by an extraordinarily limited number of combatants — Winston’s Churchill’s “Few.” Yet they were not entirely alone in this vital struggle. They were supported by ground crews and controllers, by medical, clerical and catering staff -- and by the women they loved.

Where Eagles Never Flew is a tribute to the men and women who were engaged in this crucial conflict. Based on first-hand accounts by pilots and other participants as well as retrospective historical analysis, this novel recreates the tense atmosphere of this dramatic summer. It allows the reader to see unfolding events through the eyes of characters involved both in the air and on the ground and on both sides of the Channel. 

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