Excerpt from Hornet Flight by Ken Follett, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Hornet Flight

by Ken Follett

Hornet Flight
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  • First Published:
    Dec 2002, 416 pages
    Paperback:
    Nov 2003, 416 pages

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As Digby turned to go, Charles said, "May I ask you a question?"

"Of course."

"On a raid like this one, the cost to us of replacing lost aircraft must be more than the cost to the enemy of repairing the damage done by our bombs."

"Undoubtedly."

"Then..." Charles spread his arms in a sign of incomprehension. "Why do we do it? What's the point of bombing?"

"Yes," Bart said. "I'd like to know that."

"What else can we do?" Digby said. "The Nazis control Europe: Austria, Czechoslovakia, Holland, Belgium, France, Denmark, Norway. Italy is an ally, Spain is sympathetic, Sweden is neutral, and they have a pact with the Soviet Union. We have no military forces on the Continent. We have no other way of fighting back."

Charles nodded. "So we're all you've got."

"Exactly," Digby said. "If the bombing stops, the war is over--and Hitler has won."


The Prime Minister was watching The Maltese Falcon. A private cinema had recently been built in the old kitchens of Admiralty House. It had fifty or sixty plush seats and a red velvet curtain, but it was usually used to show film of bombing raids and to screen propaganda pieces before they were shown to the public.

Late at night, after all the memoranda had been dictated, the cables sent, the reports annotated, and the minutes initialed, when he was too worried and angry and tense to sleep, Churchill would sit in one of the large VIP seats in the front row with a glass of brandy and lose himself in the latest enchantment from Hollywood.

As Digby walked in, Humphrey Bogart was explaining to Mary Astor that when a man's partner is killed he's supposed to do something about it. The air was thick with cigar smoke. Churchill pointed to a seat. Digby sat down and watched the last few minutes of the movie. As the credits appeared over the statuette of a black falcon, Digby told his boss that the Luftwaffe seemed to have advance notice when Bomber Command was coming.

When he had finished, Churchill stared at the screen for a few moments, as if he were waiting to find out who had played Bryan. There were times when he was charming, with an engaging smile and a twinkle in his blue eyes, but tonight he seemed sunk in gloom. At last he said, "What does the RAF think?"

"They blame poor formation flying. In theory, if the bombers fly in close formation, their armament should cover the entire sky, so any enemy fighter that appears should be shot down immediately."

"And what do you say to that?"

"Rubbish. Formation flying has never worked. Some new factor has entered the equation."

"I agree. But what?"

"My brother blames spies."

"All the spies we've caught have been amateurish--but that's why they were caught, of course. It may be that the competent ones have slipped through the net."

"Perhaps the Germans have made a technical breakthrough."

"The Secret Intelligence Service tell me the enemy are far behind us in the development of radar."

"Do you trust their judgment?"

"No." The ceiling lights came on. Churchill was in evening dress. He always looked dapper, but his face was lined with weariness. He took from his waistcoat pocket a folded sheet of flimsy paper. "Here's a clue," he said, and he handed it to Digby.

Digby studied the sheet. It appeared to be a decrypt of a Luftwaffe radio signal, in German and English. It said that the Luftwaffe's new strategy of dark night-fighting--Dunkle Nachtjagd--had scored a great triumph, thanks to the excellent information from Freya. Digby read the message in English then again in German. "Freya" was not a word in either language. "What does this mean?" he said.

"That's what I want you to find out." Churchill stood up and shrugged into his jacket. "Walk back with me," he said. As he left, he called out, "Thank you!"

Reprinted from Hornet's Flight by Ken Follett by permission of Dutton, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © 2002, Ken Follett. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

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