In April 1944, learning from Enigma intercepts that Tirpitz was again nearing operational readiness, the Fleet Air Arm staged another attack, Operation Tungsten. A huge force of 80 planes – half bombers, and half fighter escorts – were launched from carriers in two waves. Right on cue, they arrived over their target just as tugs were towing Tirpitz towards the open sea. The damage inflicted was devastating. Holed above and below the waterline, Tirpitz was severely flooded and once again disabled.
After this, Tirpitz was incapable of offensive operations, but as a matter of morale, the decision was taken to repair her again. The British, meanwhile, were resolved to destroy Tirpitz once and for all. The Navy reluctantly handed the job over to the heavy Lancasters of RAF Bomber Command, flying from advanced bases in Russia, and using a new 12,000lb super bomb, the Tallboy, designed by Barnes Wallis, inventor of the bouncing bomb. The Tallboy had deep penetrative power, enabling it to pierce Tirpitz’s hull.
The final, fatal raid, Operation Catechism, carried out by the legendary 617 Dambusters Squadron, took place in October 1944 under the leadership of Wing Commander James “Willie” Tait, a man, says Bishop, of outstanding leadership qualities and modest courage. The Tallboys split the great ship, igniting a fire which triggered an enormous explosion, sending Tirpitz to the bottom and taking half her crewmen – around 1,000 men – to their deaths with her.
This is a great wartime story, gung-ho in its praise of the men who finally sank Tirpitz, yet compassionate towards her courageous crew. Already a bestselling war historian with his books on the RAF, Target Tirpitz proves that Bishop has sea legs, and this book should add another fleet of fans to his existing army of admirers.
Nigel Jones, The Sunday Telegraph - Full Review
A Good War
Fighting Gerry on two fronts
The Battle of Britain and the campaign by the French Resistance make ideal settings for fiction, since they are full of potential for conflict, romance, adventure, heroism and moral dilemmas. In this first novel, Patrick Bishop has exploited these rich possibilities to produce a gripping story. He has already proved himself a fine military historian, with two best-selling books on the second world war, the first about the fighter pilots who defeated the Luftwaffe in the summer of 1940, the second about the RAF’s bomber offensive over Germany.
Bishop has put his understanding of the period to good use in this tale, conjuring up the atmosphere and linguistic idioms of wartime. Inevitably, given the author’s previous work, there are powerful descriptions of the air battles and life on a RAF station, though he is equally good at capturing the mood in a rural pub, or a smoky, sweaty ballroom packed with uniformed personnel, where ‘the women stood out from the drab groups of men like flowers in a cornfield’.
The story centres on the experiences of a young airman, Adam Tomaszewski, who has joined the RAF after the fall of his native Poland. Quiet, often gloomy, with a highly developed sense of morality but without any vanity despite his blond good looks, he flies Hurricanes during the Battle of Britain. The risk of death is ever-present. In one particularly dramatic passage he is shot down over the sea, and, having suffered burns as his plane catches fire, he nearly drowns in the icy waters before he is rescued by a passing trawler.
The conflict in his life comes not just from the Germans but also from the British side in the form of an army officer, Gerry Cunningham, whose personality is the opposite of Adam’s. Cocky, roguish, loquacious and cynically charming, Irish-born Cunningham drags Adam into a web of romantic intrigue and betrayal, involving two attractive women, Moira and Pam. Having opened his heart for the first time in his life, Adam then finds it broken as a result of Cunningham’s egotism. Especially well-drawn in this anguishing episode is the character of Moira: brisk, clever, assertive, and self-assured about sex, she alternately terrifies and bewitches Adam.
The action moves to North Africa, where the paths of Adam and Gerry cross again. The final, most thrilling, part of the book takes place in the aftermath of the D-Day landings in 1944. By now Tomazewski is a bomber pilot, flying Halifaxes, while Cunningham is a high-ranking agent with Special Operations. In a cruel twist, Adam is ordered to take Gerry and his men on a mission over northern France, with the aim of dropping them by parachute behind enemy lines. But when the Halifax is attacked, Adam and his crew are forced to bale out along with Gerry’s group. They end up working together alongside the French Resistance in reconnaissance and raiding operations against German targets. In the midst of these dangerous adventures, Adam is embroiled in romantic heartache again, this time with a brave young woman from the Resistance, only for Gerry to commit another of his perceived acts of treachery.
The French saga reaches a bloody climax in a remote forest where the British are encamped, the sound of gunfire, shattering glass and screeching wheels echoing through the trees. It is only in the very final pages, at a military reunion 45 years later, that we find out what actually happened in this lethal denouement. It is a poignant end to an enthralling tale, and I hope not the last of Bishop’s wartime novels.
Leo McKinstry, The Spectator
‘Wonderfully compelling … Based on interviews with everyone from the commanding officer to privates, the book tells a fast-paced story of incredible bravery that at times reads like a thriller. I found it hard to put down.’
Christina Lamb, Sunday Times
‘The best reporting I have read on the war in Afghanistan is in Bishop’s 3 Para, a mortar-by-mortar account of the battle group’s six months in Helmand province last year.’
‘This is a terrific book, so riveting, exciting and moving that it must help bring back the Bomber Boys to their rightful place of honour. A true war memorial.’
Montagu Curzon, The Spectator.
‘Bishop narrates with the combination of cool curiosity and warm engagement common the to the best foreign correspondents ( a category to which he of course belongs.)’
Frederick Taylor, Literary Review.
‘I know of no more thoughtful nor yet more moving study of their achievment.’
Max Hastings, Sunday Telegraph.
‘Powerful yet restrained, at times almost unbearably touching.’
TJ Binyon, Evening Standard.
‘A living, breathing monument to the fighter boys.’
Craig Brown, Mail on Sunday.
Sir Alistair Horne, The Week.