Blog Tour for "Angels and Bandits"
Espionage Reigns During Hitler's War
The Battle of Britain rages and two young RAF pilots from very different stations in life must somehow find common ground—and stay alive.
On the eve of World War II, working-class Eddy Beane is a flight instructor in London. He successfully completes dangerous espionage missions for Air Commodore Keith Park and takes on society-girl June Stephenson as a student. Her ex-fiancé, Dudley Thane, is also a flyer, but upper-class and Cambridge-educated. When the German Luftwaffe attacks England in 1940, Eddy and Dudley end up serving in the same Spitfire squadron. Aerial combat is intense, and both men show their skills and courage, but can they set aside jealousy and class differences to become fighting brothers for the defence of Britain?
By October 1938, Britain and all of Europe were of course watching Hitler and the Nazis with a wary eye and a sense that war was inevitable. An agreement was signed at Munich in September that some politicians, like Neville Chamberlain, hoped would appease Hitler and prevent war. Military commanders like Hugh Dowding and Keith Park were undoubtedly far from convinced.
Dowding and Park were certain that the number of aircraft in Hitler’s Luftwaffe had grown steadily and likely in greater numbers than were commonly accepted. In fact, they were right: Germans employed in aircraft production rose from 4,000 in January 1933 to over 167,000 by October 1938, and Germany was spending a billion Reichsmarks a year on military aircraft.* Dowding believed that the RAF needed more fighter planes, not bombers, to defend Britain. Fighter Command’s plans for the defence of Britain included hundreds more of the innovative new Rolls-Royce engine-powered Spitfires. But funding requests to the Royal Exchequer for Spitfires, which cost a then-princely sum of 4,500 pounds plus another 1,000 for the guns and radio, were up against the demands of other military branches and endless civilian needs.
My second novel, ANGELS and BANDITS, imagines that Dowding and Park took matters into their own hands and gathered information to strengthen their case for more Spitfires. Eddy Beane is their tool, as he can’t say no when his aviation mentor Park asks him to photograph bombers at airbases in Germany to provide the evidence that the Luftwaffe has a threatening number of fast, light bombers. Dowding and Park will then make their case to the ministers that large numbers of Spitfire fighter planes are needed to repel them.
Imagine Eddy’s heart thumping like a bass drum as his RAF espionage comrade, Corporal Tinker, sees him off at an airfield in the Netherlands for his mission to photograph German Heinkel bombers over lower Saxony.
From Chapter 7 of ANGELS and BANDITS:
“Good. Now, off with you. I’ll radio Commodore Park to let him know you are in the air.” Tinker made a mighty pull on the Aeronca’s propeller, and the engine thrummed into action.
The Aeronca’s wheels lifted off the grass runway into the first light of morning. Eddy climbed to five thousand feet, leveled, and set his compass bearing. Dawn came gray and hazy behind thick clouds. He couldn’t yet make out much beyond his windscreen, as if he were flying in a vacuum where nothing else existed, forced to rely on compass and altimeter.
On Air Commodore Park’s advice, he and Tinker had waited several days for these conditions: An eight-eighths layer of stable stratocumulus clouds over northern Germany with a ceiling of a mile, at most. He leveled off just below the ceiling, as Park had advised.
Minute after minute, he flew east into visibility, and danger. Now he could make out landmarks: the Ems River, the moorland at Aschendorfer Obermoor, and then the town of Cloppenburg, recognizable by the Amtsgericht, a rectangular, red-roofed district courthouse, with vast grounds and tall, steepled belfry. Forty more minutes passed, and he was over the water of Steinhuder Meer, and knew he would be approaching Wunstorf.
Soon he could see military buildings in the distance ahead, grouped around runways, hangars and barracks, with the tiny shapes of soldiers patrolling outside.
But he couldn’t see any planes. Were they in the hangars, or was Air Commodore Park wrong about Wunstorf as a potential enemy air base? He remembered Park’s instruction: “You must fly as low as you can. Get me detailed pictures of those bombers.”
He let the airspeed drop and brought the Aeronca down to a thousand feet. Even so, it was some time before he spotted the evidence Park wanted. Brownish-green netting had been suspended across much of the perimeter of the airfield by thick ropes tied to trees several hundred yards from the runways, but he could make out the distinctive shapes of fuselages and wings beneath it. Several giant propellers protruded from the netting and here and there he could make out a glazed nose that matched those of Heinkel bombers in the photographs that Park had shown him.
Click. Click. Click. He aimed the Fairchild at the netting and snapped as many photographs as he could until he had passed completely over the airfield. Then he banked to take a second pass.
As he turned he saw that three planes, much smaller than the bombers beneath him, were being pushed out of a hangar and onto the runway. Fighter planes. Messerschmitts!
* The Build-up of the Luftwaffe II.” January 14, 2020. Weapons and Warfare. https://weaponsandwarfare.com/2020/01/14/the-build-up-of-the-luftwaffe-ii/
Raised in the Midwest, Brodie Curtis was educated as a lawyer and left the corporate world to embrace life in Colorado with his wife and two sons.
Curtis is the author of THE FOUR BELLS, a novel of The Great War, which is the product of extensive historical research, including long walks through the fields of Flanders, where much of the book's action is set. His second novel, ANGELS AND BANDITS, takes his protagonists into The Battle of Britain. Curtis is currently working on a novel set on a Mississippi Riverboat prior to the Civil War.
A lover of history, particularly American history and the World Wars, Curtis reviews historical fiction for the Historical Novels Review and more than 100 of his published reviews and short takes on historical novels can be found on his website.