Long before Adolf Hitler launched World War II in Europe, he started the push to develop the superweapons he believed would make Germany invincible. As early as 1936 his minions began construction of the Peenemünde Army Research Centre. There, German scientists and engineers pioneered in the development of guided missiles, the most famous of which were the V-1 and V-2 Vergeltungswaffen (“vengeance weapons”) directed against London and Antwerp in the closing months of the war. The missiles represented the Nazis’ plan to exact revenge for the strategic bombing of German cities. And there were a great many other advanced weapons systems developed by the Germans, including jet fighter aircraft and radar more efficient than the Allies’.
V-2 by Robert Harris (2020) 320 pages @@@@ (4 out of 5)
Unfortunately, the Allies were slow to believe reports trickling out of Germany about the so-called vengeance weapons. And even when the British and American leadership finally bowed to the overwhelming evidence, they encountered seemingly insurmountable problems both in striking back and in defending their cities. Now, bestselling British thriller author Robert Harris weaves a fictional tale in V-2 of one of the more inventive operations the British mounted to frustrate the Nazis.
The most terrifying of the Nazi vengeance weapons
Harris tells his tale in alternating chapters. One line of the plot follows the German engineers and soldiers launching the V-2 on London from a site in coastal Holland. The other portrays the British women who staffed the facility a hundred miles away in Belgium using mathematics to track the missiles to their source. The women were what in that era were called “computers.” Using slide rules, logarithmic tables, and timely reports from radar sightings, they calculated the parabolic trajectory of the missiles and thus identified the precise location of their launching site.
Robert Harris knows well how to bring a story to life, and that talent is abundantly on display in V-2. He centers the tale on two engaging characters, an anti-Nazi German rocket engineer, Dr. Rudi Graf, and a bright young British woman named Kay Caton-Walsh. Graf is Wernher von Braun‘s (1912-77) fictional right-hand man. Caton-Walsh is a junior officer in the WAAF, the British Women’s Auxiliary Air Force; she is one of a team of mathematically talented young women shipped to Belgium to locate the launch site of the vengeance weapons in time for dive-bombers to destroy it. V-2 is an engaging tale, and it all comes together in a surprise ending readers have come to expect from this master of the thriller.
About the author
A former journalist, Robert Harris is the author of fourteen works of historical fiction, virtually all of which have been bestsellers.. His success as a novelist began in 1992 with the publication of Fatherland, an alternative history in which Germany won the Second World War. His trilogy on Cicero’s Rome was also hugely successful. But his most memorable novels have centered on World War II. He lives in Berkshire with his wife Gill Hornby, herself a writer and sister of best-selling novelist Nick Hornby. They have four children.
For further reading
I’ve read most of the author’s books. They’re all listed, with links to my reviews, in The spellbinding thrillers of Robert Harris.
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