Image description

Night Raid

Little, Brown 2013


By 1941 the loss of British bombers over Occupied Europe had reached an alarming rate. Although some British scientists thought the Germans did not have radar, others argued that they were very advanced in this new science. So, could it be that the Germans were using a particularly sophisticated form of radar to direct their fighter planes and anti-aircraft guns at the British bombers with terrifying accuracy?


British aerial reconnaissance had uncovered what seemed to be a small rotating tower on a remote clifftop at Bruneval, near Le Havre. The lives of thousands of Allied aircrew depended on understanding how the German early warning system operated and how it could be jammed. But who would capture the German technology, dismantle it and bring it safely home? The small band of men picked for the daring task were an entirely new breed of soldier – the first British paratroopers. The parachute regiment had only been formed a year before on Churchill’s insistence. The planned airborne assault would be extremely risky. Every practice mission had ended in spectacular failure. The raid would test the men to the very limits of their abilities.


Taylor Downing draws on a wide range of contemporary sources to provide a truly gripping account of the mission, from the planning stages and the failed rehearsals to the night of the raid itself and the scientific secrets that were revealed thanks to the paratroopers’ precious cargo. Night Raid fills an important gap in the historiography of the war with this much-needed account of one of the key turning points in the Second World War.


Further Details about Night Raid from Taylor Downing:


 The Paratroop raid at Bruneval took place on the night of 27/28 February 1942, a desperately low point in the war. The Japanese were making dramatic progress in the Far East. Rommel was rolling back British forces in North Africa. Singapore fell - which Churchill called 'the greatest disaster our history records'. And two German warships made a dash up the Channel in broad daylight and got away with it. In the context of these national humiliations, the Para Raid on Bruneval to capture German radar technology was a huge success and a boost to the nation. In Night Raid I have had access to a range of new sources that show Bruneval to have been a turning point in many different ways.


British scientists started the war believing that the Germans did not have radar, that it was an exclusively British invention. But as RAF bomber losses increased through 1941 it was clear that not only did the Germans have radar but they had a particularly sophisticated version that was more advanced than anything we had. If we could capture the key elements of it intact and bring it back to Britain, not only could our scientists see how it worked but maybe they could find a way to jam it.


The Bruneval Raid was more than just a turning point in the scientific war. Its success marked an early example of brilliant news management by the armed forces trumpeting a British success story at a bleak time. New research in Night Raid shows that a Reuters journalist and a newsreel cameraman were embedded with the Paras during their training, and that an account of the Raid was released to BBC Radio before the Paras had even returned home. The news reports, on the radio and in the press, were a triumph for the newly formed Parachute Regiment who suddenly became heroes – at a time when heroes were in short supply. It was enough for a man just wearing Para wings to be bought drink after drink in pubs across Britain. Night Raid reveals for the first time that the key figure behind this media campaign was none other than Lord Louis Mountbatten, the head of Combined Operations. When other service chiefs were unhappy at embedding reporters with military units, Mountbatten had a far more modern and pioneering view of how to handle the media.


Night Raid relates that the discovery of how to jam the German radar shield was blocked for a year in case the Germans tried the same techniques on us. I estimate that as many as 11,000 British airmen were lost before jamming techniques were at last successfully applied in July 1943. What a dreadful waste.


But, of course, at heart Night Raid is about extraordinary individuals – brave Paras who landed behind enemy lines, underground French agents who risked everything to support the British, and brilliant boffins who worked behind the scenes to transform the war effort. Night Raid tells their highly charged and dramatic story.