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Defiant: The Untold Story of the Battle of Britain

Robert Verkaik

13 Reviews

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Military history

'Robert Verkaik makes a revisionist case for an unsung aircraft, the Boulton Paul Defiant. This two-seat gun-turret fighter is, argues Verkaik, the forgotten fighter of Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain; the effectiveness as well as the courage of its crews is overlooked in standard accounts. To advance his case, he notes that a Defiant squadron still holds the record for the number of enemy aircraft shot down in a single day, with a claimed figure of 38'

'Robert Verkaik tells the story of the Battle of Britain's unlikeliest hero with verve and phenomenal grasp of detail. He brings the Defiant fighter back into focus as an important part of the victorious RAF in the hour of its greatest trial'
Mark Urban

In this startling new perspective on the Battle of Britain, Robert Verkaik reveals the surprising truth about the battle's forgotten fighter, the Boulton Paul Defiant.

The crucial role played by the Spitfire and the Hurricane has been exhaustively recorded, but, to date, next to nothing has been written about the third British fighter which took part in the battle. By writing from the unique perspective of the pilots who flew the Defiant and their air-gunners, Verkaik helps to set the record straight.

The Air Staff regarded the Defiant as a state-of-the-art bomber destroyer and wanted to equip a third of all Fighter Command squadrons with this new plane. But the head of Fighter Command, Hugh Dowding, had other ideas and went to war with Whitehall over its plan to saddle him with hundreds of 'obsolete' turret fighters. Then at Dunkirk, a Defiant squadron scored a huge success against the Luftwaffe by shooting down more German planes in one day than any other RAF unit before or since. Fighter Command, enthusiastically urged on by the Air Ministry, now committed its third fighter to the coming air battle over southern England. In the desperate dogfights of the battle, Defiants shot down both German bombers and fighters but suffered heavy losses too - one squadron was almost wiped out when it was ambushed by a superior force of Messerschmitt 109s. On 30 August 1940 all Defiant squadrons were withdrawn from the front line.

The families of the Defiant air crews believed that their husbands, brothers and sons had died in vain, but the truth is that their vital contribution to the battle over Dunkirk and their role in the Battle of Britain has been all but erased from the official history. The story of the Defiant has not been allowed to mar the glorious victory won by the Spitfire and the Hurricane.

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Praise for Defiant: The Untold Story of the Battle of Britain

  • From the corridors of the Air Ministry to the skies over Dunkirk, Robert Verkaik tells the story of the Battle of Britain's unlikeliest hero with verve and phenomenal grasp of detail. He brings the Defiant fighter back into focus as an important part of the victorious RAF in the hour of its greatest trial.

  • Meticulously researched and rich in human and social as well as military interest, Defiant fills a crucial gap in our understanding of that most perilous time.

  • In Defiant, Robert Verkaik has achieved the impossible - resurrecting the reputation of one of World War Two's worst remembered fighter planes. Unwanted, unloved and rushed into service, the Defiant nevertheless turns out to have achieved far more success in combat than has been previously acknowledged. This is mainly down to the brilliance of the officers who commanded the two operational squadrons and whose record Verkaik rightly praises. This book firmly establishes the aircraft's role in those crucial aerial battles of 1940 and elevates the brave aircrews who fought and died in their forgotten Defiants, to rank alongside their comrades in the better remembered Hurricanes and Spitfires.

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  • Verkaik comprehensively demolishes [public school] claims. - New Statesman

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  • The latest in the series of powerful books on the divisions in modern Britain, and will take its place on many bookshelves beside Reni Eddo-Lodge's Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race and Owen Jones's Chavs. - Sunday Times

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  • Does a fine job of reminding us how powerful a hold the elite schools have over public life. - Times

  • Praise for Posh Boys:

  • An illuminating and hugely enjoyable read, packed full of eye-opening facts . . . At a time when the gap between rich and poor is widening, we need to talk seriously about the role of public schools in our society. Posh Boys is a welcome catalyst for that debate. - Sunday Herald

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  • In his fascinating, enraging polemic, Verkaik touches on one of the strangest aspects of the elite schools and their product's domination of public life for two-and-a-half centuries: the acquiescence of everyone else. - Observer

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Robert Verkaik

ROBERT VERKAIK is the former security editor of the Mail on Sunday who now writes for the Guardian, Independent, i, Tortoise, Observer, Times, Sunday Telegraph and Sunday Times. He is the author of Jihadi John: The Making of a Terrorist and Posh Boys: How English Public Schools Ruin Britain, published by Oneworld in 2016 and 2018. His reporting has been long-listed for both the Orwell Prize and the Paul Foot Awards. He was a runner-up in the specialist journalist category at the 2013 National Press Awards. Robert lives in Surrey.

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