‘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’
David Kynaston, author of Austerity Britain
‘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.’
David Fairhead, director of Spitfire
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 On 30 August 1940 all Defiant squadrons were withdrawn from the front line.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 aircrews 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.
But Verkaik has uncovered new records, including top-secret memos written by Hugh Dowding and his deputy Keith Park as well as correspondence with the Air Staff, combat and squadron reports, pilot logs and recordings of the last interviews with Defiant crews. He has also succeeded in tracing relatives of Defiant pilots and gunners to tell the story of the Battle of Britain as it has never been told before. He reveals how the myths which have grown up around the Defiant mask some inconvenient truths.
Times coverage of Defiant – the untold story of the Battle of Britain.