Friday, August 7, 2015

Review of Target London: Under Attack From V-Weapons During WWII by Christy Campbell (Abacus, 2012)

Between mid-1944 and the end of the war, Christy Campbell documents that 10,492 V1 flying bombs were launched, of which 2,419 reached London killing 6,184 and injuring 17,981, and 1,402 V2 rockets reached the UK killing 2,754 and injuring 6,500.  107,000 houses were destroyed in the city and 1.5 million damaged.  While the flying bombs could be intercepted and shot down and gave a brief indication of its arrival via its noisy jet engine, the V2 arrived unexpectedly at six times the speed of sound.  Hitler’s terror weapons were indeed terrifying, but they were nowhere near as effective as the German leader hoped and stood little chance of turning the tide of the war. 

Target London tells the story of the V1 and V2, focusing for the main part on how the British came to learn of their development and set about trying to gather intelligence, formulate a response in advance of them being used, and cope with them while in operation.  As such, while the book does cover their development and rollout in Germany and their deployment in France and the Netherlands, in the main the narrative concentrates on machinations in Whitehall and the Armed Services, and the various scheming and in-fighting between departments, politicians, officers, intelligence operatives, scientists and allies.  Far from being a united and coordinated effort various factions manoeuvred  to claim authority over the intelligence and response to V-weapons. 

Campbell tells this story by weaving together the biographies of key individuals and documenting the work of various committees and the policies and actions they produced.  It gets off to a somewhat rocky start, with a timeline that jumps around, moving from Germany 1943, then 1929, then Britain in 1958, followed by 1939 and 1942.  Then it settles into a set timeline moving from 1943 to 1945, with each chapter covering one or two months.  It would have been better to have had a linear timeline throughout and the 1958 chapter could have been a postscript or dropped altogether.  Once it becomes linear, the story is more coherent and there’s a wealth of detail, though it’s a little confusing to follow the various spats and threads at times.  Nonetheless it makes for fascinating reading.  Overall, an interesting book that could have done with an edit to strengthen its narrative flow and clarity. 

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