From the best-selling author of Fatherland and Munich comes a WWII thriller about a German rocket engineer, a former actress turned British spy, and the Nazi rocket program.
It's November 1944--Willi Graf, a German rocket engineer, is launching Nazi Germany's V2 rockets at London from Occupied Holland. Kay Connolly, once an actress, now a young English Intelligence officer, ships out for Belgium to locate the launch sites and neutralize the threat. But when rumors of a defector circulate through the German ranks, Graf becomes a suspect. Unknown to each other, Graf and Connolly find themselves on opposite sides of the hunt for the saboteur.
Their twin stories play out against the background of the German missile campaign, one of the most epic and modern but least explored episodes of the Second World War. Their destinies are on a collision course.
ROBERT HARRIS is the author of nine best-selling novels: Fatherland, Enigma, Archangel, Pompeii, Imperium, The Ghost Writer, Conspirata, The Fear Index, and An Officer and a Spy. Several of his books have been adapted to film, most recently The Ghost Writer, directed by Roman Polanski. His work has been translated into thirty-seven languages. He lives in the village of Kintbury, England, with his wife, Gill Hornby.
Robert Harris blends fact and fiction to relate the history of the V2 ballistic rockets developed in Germany, in 1944 it becomes increasingly clear to Nazi Germany that events are turning against them. The V2 is Hitler's last throw of the dice in his efforts to try and change the course of the war. He orders ten thousand V2 rockets with their one ton warheads, travelling at three times the speed of sounds, the targets primarily London and Antwerp. The damage and loss of life in London is horrific, with the British scrabbling around desperately to find a way of stopping the rockets by locating the launch sites, a task made considerably more difficult as the launch sites change. The German manufacture of the rockets places high levels of stress and pressure on the slave labour callously deployed to make the V2, the shocking loss of life, technical issues and problems plague the V2, raising the levels of unreliability.
When her affair with a married Air Commodore becomes more widely known, Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) officer, an embarrassed 24 year old Kay Caton-Walsh, an intelligence officer in photo reconnaissance, becomes part of a contingent of women heading to Mechelen in Belgium. These are very bright women under the leadership of Flight Officer Sitwell, using mathematics, working out the co-ordinates of the trajectory of the rocket, extrapolating the parabolic curve back to the launch point. This is not a danger free role as Kay is to discover. Rocket engineer, Dr Rudi Graf, is a disillusioned man, he never planned to be part of the Nazi war machine, responsible for the deaths of so many. Through Graf, Harris tells the story of the development of the V2, starting from Graf's childhood friendship with Professor Von Braun, their obsession with rockets, Graf wanting to build a spacecraft but inadvertently ends up at the strategic forefront of the Nazi war machine. Graf becomes suspected of sabotage by the Nazis.
What stands out in Harris's WW2 historical novel is the level of detail he provides on the V2, from its failure strewn history, the processes and interactions that lay behind the German teams launching the rockets, the SS pressure they are under, trying to meet their impossible targets set, working all hours, moving sites to keep the allies confused and at bay. He provides the same level of detail when it comes to the nightmare impact of the V2, the deaths and wide scale destruction in London, all of which Kay sees first hand during her visit to London, all of which conspires to drive her decision to help bring the war to an end as soon as possible in her work in Belgium. This novel is for who love their WW2 historical fiction, it is likely to particularly appeal to those interested in learning about the V2 and its impact in the war. A fascinating and insightful read. Many thanks to Random House Cornerstone for an ARC.
Read just out of curiosity linked to the V2. The topic tackled a little superficially in my opinion but I suppose the idea was to present fictionalised history of von Braun. A short read that regrettably will not stay long with me.
”LIke a sprinter poised on her starting block a split second after the pistol was fired, the V2 at first appeared stalled, then abruptly she shot straight upwards, riding a fifteen-metre jet of fire. A thunderous boom rolled from the sky across the wood. Graf craned his neck to follow her, counting in his head, praying she would not explode. One second...two seconds...three seconds....At exactly four seconds into the flight, a time switch was activated in one of the control compartments and the V2, already two thousand metres high, began to tilt towards an angle of forty-seven degrees. He always regretted the necessity for that manoeuvre. In his dreams, she rose vertically towards the stars. He had a last glimpse of her red exhaust before she vanished into the low cloud towards London.”
The V-2 rocket program by Germany was really a last ditch effort by Adolf Hitler to have any hope of winning the war. By 1944, the writing was on the wall, and his only hope was to soften the will of the British people. A negotiated peace before total defeat would have been preferable. Germany sent over 3000 rockets into London, wiping out entire blocks in some places and did their best to inspire terror. The rocket carried a one ton warhead and was capable of travelling at three times the speed of sound. To be anywhere near the epicenter of one of these rockets was truly a chilling and dangerous experience that proved lethal for over 9,000 people.
Kay Caton-Walsh, a member of the WAAF, experiences the impact of one of these rockets first hand as she is blown off her feet in a hotel room near where one of these bombs hit. She actually feels the pressure of the air change just moments before the rocket buries itself in English soil. Her lover, a married man and a superior officer, is injured in the blast. She soon finds herself on her way to Belgium to help a group of women mathematicians calculate the trajectory of these missiles so they can direct the RAF to pound the crap out of these rocket launch sites. ”She looked down at her sheet of paper--at the pencilled figures representing the values of bearing, height, speed and position. The integers of death.”
”The first rocket will hit London in five minutes. You have six minutes to stop the second.”
On the other side is Rudi Graf who was recruited by Wernher Von Braun to build rockets. They both dream of making rockets that will eventually take a man to the moon or Mars, but for the moment, they are trapped in the middle of a war building rockets to kill people rather than rockets to change the history of mankind. Von Braun is already making plans for after the war to work for the Americans. He wants Graf to come with him. The main struggle now is to survive the war, and their worst enemies aren’t the Allies, but the SS who expect results or death. The level of truth for working against the fatherland is a low bar, and if the SS suspect Von Braun’s plans, they will both be staring at the sky from the bottom of a ditch.
Robert Harris wrote this book in a very short span of time while under quarantine. These are unusual times that writers find themselves in, while trying to produce new works of fiction. Their job is a solitary one, and really, most writers are self-quarantined for most of their day as they try to turn pixels into words and words into books. I can see why he was attracted to the subject of the V2 rockets. In many ways, living under the threat of those rockets is similar to living under the threat of infection. The threat never leaves but hovers over all of us all the time. A positive test inspires the same kind of fear as an exploding rocket. How many people have I infected? How many people will die from each V2 rocket that hits London?
Robert Harris is one of the few best selling authors that I will read his book the minute it is released. The V2 rocket is an interesting subject, and there are moments of inspired dread, but I do think that the plot is more simplistic than what I’m used to seeing from him. I was expecting a big twist, and though the ending is satisfactory, it is not that surprising. If you don’t know much about the V2 rocket, he will certainly wet your appetite for exploring the subject in more detail. His writing style, as always, is a breeze to read, and I finished most of the book in one afternoon. Let's hope we are soon holding up the V sign for victory over COVID-19.
Robert Harris treats his readers to another fine thriller, & structures the novel perfectly. Each chapter alternates between those launching Germany's V2 rockets & those trying to locate & destroy them. Harris bases the story around real events that happened in November 1944, but creates some excellent fictional characters & situations that fit in neatly with the real world. As always the author has a marvellous sense of time & place. The reader easily empathises with the characters whether they are at a V2 launch site in Holland, witnessing a rocket strike on a London street or flying in a Dakota experiencing heavy turbulence over Belgium. Once again Robert Harris lives up to his reputation as one of Britain's finest writers.
Robert Harris is one of the very few authors whose books go on my 'to-read-without-fail' list, regardless of whatever they write. And they rarely disappoint.
But sadly, it was not true in this case. I had my doubts when I read that this book was about V2 rockets. I consider von Braun a Nazi war criminal, who was pardoned just because he could give the US an upper hand in the space (and weapons) race against the Soviets.
Thankfully, von Braun is not a major character in this book.
But even then, there's no excitement to the story which one expects from a Robert Harris book. The novel, unlike most of the V2s, never really takes off, and peters out with a tiny whoosh.
November, 1944, and, despite Germany’s inevitable defeat mere months away, the Nazis’ increasingly unhinged actions have led them to use their new ballistic missile, the V2, to daily shell London to kill as many civilians as possible in what they call “Operation Vengeance”. Wishing to remove the fear of randomly dying while sat in your own home, the British forces attempt to desperately pinpoint the hidden mobile launch sites in Holland for the RAF to bomb - but will the efforts of a small team of female mathematicians be up to the task?
Robert Harris returns to one of his favourite subjects - World War 2 - for his latest novel, V2, and I’m pleased to say it’s his best book in a decade. I always thought the Blitz was an early phase of the war and that, particularly after D-Day, the British Isles was relatively safe, so it was surprising to learn that even in late ‘44 London was still being bombarded with Nazi bombs (and would continue to be until SIX WEEKS before Germany’s surrender)! That’s one of the great things about Harris’ novels - you learn from them while you’re being entertained.
That said, the first part of the novel is a bit slow because there’s so much historical detail to wade through: the devastation caused by the V2s, how they operated, how they were launched, their production. A few of the early chapters focusing on Graf, one of the two main characters and the rocket engineer tasked with ensuring numerous V2s are launched daily, are repetitive as we see him grimly going through his routine, while despising the party sycophants and SS hanging around, again and again.
I liked the other main character, Kay, the British mathematician, and the story really kicks off once she arrives in Mechelen in Belgium. The alternating chapters work brilliantly so that we see one side with Graf as the Germans launch a missile, then we see the British team in Belgium rapidly doing the maths to pinpoint the launch site for the already airborne RAF Spitfires to bomb in 25 minutes - will they do it? It’s genuinely gripping stuff.
There are also more surprises in store for Kay as she explores the Belgian town - the Nazis’ evil still lingers - and Harris keeps you guessing as to Graf’s fate. Both characters are fictional (but are based on real people) and interact with many real people too - most notably Werner von Braun, the head rocket scientist - so, unlike the real “characters” like von Braun, you don’t know whether they’ll make it or not which adds another layer of intrigue and tension to the proceedings.
Harris brilliantly captures the atmosphere of the time so you get a good sense of what it must’ve been like to be in London in those dark days, as well as in mainland Europe, at that point utterly devastated by the conflict. He also brings to life von Braun so you believe in the man’s charisma and genius - Harris is such a skilful writer. And it’s still further tribute to Harris’ storytelling ability that, despite knowing that the V2s did nothing to turn the tide of the war, and the parts both Graf and Kay’s real-life counterparts played in this episode of the conflict were largely insignificant as to the result, the story is still really exciting to read. I felt that the stakes couldn’t have been higher.
Astonishingly, more people died producing the V2 missiles than from being directly killed by them, and Germany spent vastly more on the V2 technology than the Americans did on the Manhattan Project; and the V2s did nothing to change the war for Germany (not to mention were riddled with faults) while the atom bomb would give the Americans decisive victory and transform them into a superpower. Von Braun would also survive the war and, in exchange for his research, ended up working for the Americans and became the head of NASA - his V2 missiles would ultimately evolve into the rockets that took Neil Armstrong to the moon.
Anyhoodles: I really enjoyed V2 - a great historical thriller and Robert Harris’ best novel in years!
I am not a fan of historical fiction except for those books written by Robert Harris. He has a way of weaving a story into an actual historic event without changing anything about the history and adds depth to the event.
This book is not the strongest of his works but is still a great read. As the title indicates, the story centers around the development and use of the German "secret weapon", the V2 rocket which was developed by Werner von Braun and a fictional scientist who is one of two main characters. The other is a young WAAF who works in a secret British reconnaissance group attempting to locate the V2 bases, well hidden on the Dutch coast. The rockets are destroying buildings and taking lives in London, the main target. Even though the war is lost, the Germans are determined to do as much damage as possible.
There really isn't much of a fictional aspect to the story and the two main characters don't even meet until the last page as they pass in a hallway when the scientists are working out the deal to bring von Braun to the US. But the history of the V2 and Britain's attempts to find their hiding place, is more than enough to entertain the reader. I would recommend this book.
Em 1944, já com a derrota no horizonte, a Alemanha persiste em investir no volte-face da guerra. Algures numa floresta da Holanda ocupada reside a derradeira esperança de Hitler: o V2 (sigla em alemão para Vergeltungswaffe Zwei, Arma de Vingança 2), o primeiro míssil balístico concebido pela Alemanha Nazi. Só em Londres aterraram mais de mil. Eram “visitantes” silenciosos (ultrapassavam a velocidade do som) e inesperados que deixavam um rasto de destruição e morte…
Entrementes, nos bastidores da guerra, desenrolava-se um duelo de cérebros: Do lado alemão estavam os cientistas criadores do engenho mortífero, sempre a aperfeiçoá-lo, tornando-o mais e mais eficiente nos seus propósitos demolidores. Do lado dos aliados encontrava-se uma equipa de gente inteligente que, com o auxílio da matemática, procurava reconstituir as trajetórias dos projéteis enviados. O objetivo óbvio era detetar a misteriosa base dos lançamentos…
Numa leitura sem pontos mortos, onde a verdade se funde com a ficção, V2 informa e entretém. Gostei bastante 🌟🌟🌟🌟
Ladies and gentlemen: This is how historical fiction is done - by taking whatever meager facts are available and meticulously crafting them into a page turning adventure.
Mr. Harris has shaped what would otherwise be a very dry subject for most and made it readable.
Interspersed with some human relationships at entirely the right degree – not too much, not too little – just enough to prevent the reader from calling this an academic thesis on aerodynamics with a little bit of yum on the side.
Wernher von Braun did not set out to make weapons to kill people. His interest, as a young man, was in outer space and a fascination with science fiction. His dream was to one day fly a rocket to the moon.
I have no idea if von Braun was or was not a Nazi at heart but what is clear is that his passion in life was the idea of one way or another getting to the moon. Sometimes something with the best of intentions can turn into evil.
Page 99 – “The whole thing had an element of madness from the start.”
Any lover of mathematics will have fun with this book! Mathematics was my worst subject in school, but I LOVED this book!
Traveling faster than the speed of sound, V2 (a short name for Vergeltungswaffe Zwei (revenge weapon 2)), a deadly rocket launched by Nazi Germany, is crossing the air soundless and practically invisible. V2 is Hitler’s last hope to win the war, and, if possible, he would turn himself into one 😜. (Pity Kafka is no longer among us to write a tale about Hitler’s metamorphosis into one of these metallic killers 😜 On second thoughts, since Hitler was already a killer, it wouldn’t be a real metamorphosis. Maybe we should think of it as a change of outfit, like a Halloween costume 😜)
In the shadows of the continuous V2 launchings (over 3000) a duel of brains is happening: On the German side we’ll meet the creators of the metallic beast always changing this and that in order to turn the deadly rocket more and more effective in its destructive purposes On the Allies side there’s a team of clever people who aims to find the mysterious launching point by studying the trajectories of the missiles…
Blending facts and fiction, V2 informs and entertains. I truly enjoyed it 🌟🌟🌟🌟
P.S.: This was my first review of 2022. Happy new year everyone 🎉
The last time I was in the company of a V2 rocket in a novel was a certain Pynchon postmodern classic about erections. Robert Harris' V2 could down a box of viagra and it still wouldn't rise to the occasion when it comes to a decent WW2 thriller.
Nazis. Rockets. Spies. I'm all in. A female Auxiliary Air Force Officer to show that women played their part too, a nice touch, and yet the whole thing was just so dull. Harris wrote this during lockdown, so whether this effected him I do not know. Compared to Fatherland, which I quite liked, it just doesn't feel like the same Harris.
A gripping, swiftly paced thriller they say. Hmm .... a giant tortoise wouldn't have a problem keeping up with this. Not utterly terrible, as the real historical characters like Wernher von Braun that feature are handled well, but for the most part, despite the big BOOMS!, the explosions, and the blaring klaxons, I was just bored.
Robert Harris tends to be an auto-buy author for me, and I was quite excited to start this book, given how much I enjoyed some of his previous ones. Unfortunately, it just never really hooked me. I felt there was no real climax, and though it was surely meticulously researched, I never really connected to the characters or the plot. Maybe I'm just not that into rockets... In any case, this wasn't bad, it just was not on par with Harris' best work (Munich, the Cicero books), and I will still be curious to read whatever he comes up with next:)
‘Do you think I’m joking?’ Von Braun sounded offended. ‘If I could convince Adolf Hitler to spend five billion marks building a rocket, do you think I couldn’t convince an American president to go to the moon?’
I actually started reading this when Artemis was about to be launched, so excited was I at America’s impending return to the stars. Well, the moon anyway. By means of Mars. I had recently discovered an interesting book about Wernher von Braun, but then ‘V2’ by Robert Harris popped onto my radar. Just the right balance of fiction, intrigue and make believe.
Harris would make a superb SF writer and goes to prove my theory that historic fiction is very similar to science fiction. Both require meticulous world building, speculation, suspension of disbelief, a sense of wonder and deft characterisation to make it all come alive.
What amazes me about Harris is that there is little to no info dumping. Which one can hardly say of many an SF tome. This means there is little to no fat in a typical Harris book; it races along like a well-oiled engine (and often towards a typically dark destination). In ‘V2’, for example, all the detail needed to evoke war-time Britain and Germany is built into the story itself.
For example, the following almost seems like a throwaway line, but it deepens the texture of the novel: “…the Woolworths department store had received a consignment of saucepans – a scarce item in wartime Britain. Word had spread and a long queue of housewives had formed.” Or the telling detail that there was a potato shortage in Germany because the entire crop had been commandeered to make rocket fuel.
There is really nothing new here. Harris trots out all the well-known facts of how there were more deaths in the slave labour force used to build the rockets than they ended up killing in London and Antwerp. The devastating impact on the infrastructure of the former ultimately resulted in a housing crisis that Harris describes in his ‘Acknowledgements’ as “the dominant social problem of the immediate post-war years.”
But the way that Harris brings this world alive is nothing short of miraculous and makes for thrilling reading. It is basically a two-strand plot that contrasts the experience of a rocket engineer (Graf) with a woman in the WAAF, part of a secret mission to figure out (literally) the V2 launch sites by triangulating backwards from their impact trajectory.
I actually thought this was the most fanciful part of the book, but Harris writes: “The genesis of this novel was an obituary in The Times on 5 September 2016 of ninety-five-year-old Eileen Younghusband, which described her work as a WAAF officer in Mechelen.” So, a significant part of Harris’s skill as a writer is being a bloody good investigative journalist and digging up historic nuggets of gold like that. And then spinning it into something quite fantastical.
Both Graf and Kay are fictitious characters, which some reviewers have grumbled about as detracting from the novel’s historic authenticity. But one must remember this is, first and foremost, a novel. It is a living and breathing thing, not a dry and dusty archive of facts. In terms of historic figures, the enigmatic von Braun does make an appearance in these pages, and is such a compelling character that, even though a bit player, looms over proceedings until the final page.
This was Harris’s lockdown novel, and it says a lot about him as both a writer and a mensch that ‘V2’ is a tale of resilience and defiance against seemingly overwhelming odds.
Robert Harris has a compelling writing style! Despite the fact that many details were about mathematics and physics the way Harris writes them isn't tedious nor boring!
I liked the two main characters and was disappointed that they met only in the last chapter, reminded me of Sleepless in Seattle but I'm not sure if it had the same outcome not that I would mind! Both characters weren't that lucky in their personal life!
The atmosphere of the WWII era as written by the author is well written from both sides, the British and German! I generally well written story and even though not action packed quite easy to read!
The inimitable Robert Harris returns with a WWII thriller about a German rocket engineer, a former actress turned British spy, and the Nazi rocket program. On the brink of defeat, Hitler commissioned 10,000 V2s - ballistic rockets that carried a one-ton warhead at three times the speed of sound, which he believed would win the war. It's November 1944 - Rudi Graf, a German rocket engineer, is launching Nazi Germany's V2 rockets at London from Occupied Holland. Kay Caton-Walsh, once an actress, now a young English Intelligence officer, ships out for newly-liberated Belgium to locate the launch sites and neutralize the threat when 160 Londoners, mostly women and children, are killed by a single missile, the government decides to send a team of WAAFs. But when rumors of a defector circulate through the German ranks, Graf becomes a suspect. Unknown to each other, Graf and Caton-Walsh find themselves on opposite sides in the hunt for the saboteur. Their twin stories play out against the background of the German missile campaign, one of the most epic and modern but least explored episodes of the Second World War. Their destinies are on a collision course.
Harris has penned one of the most accomplished and gripping thrillers I've read in a long time. Set against the backdrop of WWII he explores the Nazi V2 campaign which was waged as vengeance for the Allied bombings of German targets and killed over 9,000 civilians. Harris's writing draws you in from the very beginning and keeps you feverishly turning the pages right through until the end. The level of tension is difficult to describe adequately but it is certainly palpable and my heart was pounding throughout. This is a captivating, chilling and action-packed story with the customary twists and turns, most of which I didn't see coming. And how could I forget the characters involved? They are exceptionally drawn, so much so that you begin to care about their lives and what is about to happen to them. If you're looking for a well researched, suspenseful and superbly wrought espionage thriller then this is a must-read.
A truly compelling and fascinating historical novel. The prose is excellent, the pacing relentless, the dialogue fully concise and in service to the action. The plot mainly serves as a superstructure for all the amazing information about the V2, the engineers and military, and the spies and victims of it's short reign during WW-2.
As usual with my reviews, please first read the publisher’s blurb/summary of the book. Thank you.
Beginning in September 1944, over 3,000 V2s were launched by the German Wehrmacht against Allied targets, first London and later Antwerp and Liège.
The story immediately explodes into action in the first pages with Kay, the young WAAF (Women's Auxiliary Air Force) in a hotel room with her lover, just as a V2 crashes into a neighbouring building and explodes.
The story of the incredible technology, planning and execution of its launch follows from Kay's curiosity and a desire to do more than endlessly scan aerial photos of the V2 launch areas. Harris' exposition is spare and compelling, and the story provides an excellent vision of the launch areas and nearby cities in Belgium at the end of the war.
We also experience the German side from a scientist-engineer, Graf, through whose eyes and thoughts we see the technological miracle, as well as the evil of Hitler and his minions.
The prose and exposition are quite wonderful, Harris is in top form here. The book certainly did not seem to be 320 pages, and every page was terrific right up to the climax and quite-satisfying, semi-historical resolution.
Note and quotes:
Truly extraordinary technology for the 1940s, a triumph and a curse. A genius, Von Braun, with no impediments to his personal goal of reaching the moon, no matter how many would die to get there.
Of particular note, the V2 that gets launched straight up in the story, and probably reaches 176 kilometres in altitude (109 miles), would be the first-ever man-made object to reach space.
Like a sprinter poised on her starting block a split second after the pistol was fired, the V2 at first appeared stalled, then abruptly she shot straight upwards, riding a fifteen-metre jet of fire. A thunderous boom rolled from the sky across the wood. Graf craned his neck to follow her, counting in his head, praying she would not explode. One second … two seconds … three seconds … At exactly four seconds into the flight, a time switch was activated in one of the control compartments and the V2, already two thousand metres high, began to tilt towards an angle of forty-seven degrees. He always regretted the necessity for that manoeuvre. In his dreams, she rose vertically towards the stars. He had a last glimpse of her red exhaust before she vanished into the low cloud towards London.
V2 in transport cradle with V2 just launched in background
Full size image here - SIXTY-FIVE SECONDS AFTER TAKE-OFF, AT an altitude of twenty-three miles and a velocity of 2,500 miles per hour, an on-board accelerometer simultaneously cut off the fuel supply to the V2’s engine and activated a switch that armed the warhead fuse. The unpowered rocket was now ballistic, following the same parabolic curve as a stone flung from a catapult. Its speed was still increasing. Its course was set on a compass bearing of 260 degrees west-south-west. Its aiming point was Charing Cross station, the notional dead centre of London; hitting anything within a five-mile radius of that would be considered on target. - A hundred miles to the east [of London], the V2 had reached its maximum altitude of fifty-eight miles–the edge of the earth’s atmosphere–and was hurtling at a velocity of 3,500 miles per hour beneath a hemisphere of stars when gravity at last began to reclaim it. Its nose slowly tilted and it started to fall towards the North Sea. Despite the buffeting of cross-winds and air turbulence during re-entry, a pair of gyroscopes mounted on a platform immediately below the warhead detected any deviations in its course or trajectory and corrected them by sending electrical messages to the four rudders in its tail fins. Just as Kay was fastening the second of her stockings, it crossed the English coast three miles north of Southend-on-Sea, and as she pulled her dress over her head, it flashed above Basildon and Dagenham. At 11.12 a.m., four minutes and fifty-one seconds after launching, travelling at nearly three times the speed of sound, too fast to be seen by anyone on the ground, the rocket plunged onto Warwick Court. - An object moving at supersonic speed compresses the atmosphere. In the infinitesimal fraction of a second before the tip of the nose cone touched the roof of the Victorian mansion block, and before the four-ton projectile crashed through all five floors, Kay registered–beyond thought, and far beyond any capacity to articulate it–some change in the air pressure, some presentiment of threat. Then the two metal contacts of the missile’s fuse, protected by a silica cap, were smashed together by the force of the impact, completing an electrical circuit that detonated a ton of amatol high explosive.
Early Graf and Von Braun and their club They raised money for the Society for Space Travel at a stall in the Wertheim department store. (‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ declared von Braun, ‘the man is already alive who will one day walk on the moon!’) - ‘In Germany now there are three choices,’ Kammler told them. ‘You are shot by the SS, you are imprisoned by the SS, or you work for the SS.’ - Incredible. The Germans killed 4x as many of their own people during construction and launch of the 3,000 V2s as eventually died from being actual targets.
Twenty thousand people had died at Nordhausen making the V2, four times as many as had been killed by it.
Interesting Acknowledgements and Historical notes from Robert Harris
THE BULK OF THIS NOVEL was written during the 2020 lockdown imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. For four hours every morning, seven days a week, for fourteen weeks, I retreated to my study and closed the door–a lockdown within a lockdown–and I would like to express my love and gratitude to my wife, Gill Hornby, and our two youngest children and fellow isolators, Matilda and Sam, for their good company and cheerful forbearance during this surreal interlude.
The genesis of this novel was an obituary in The Times on 5 September 2016 of ninety-five-year-old Eileen Younghusband, which described her work as a WAAF officer in Mechelen. I subsequently read her two volumes of memoirs, Not an Ordinary Life (2009) and One Woman’s War (2011). My fictional WAAF officer bears no resemblance to Mrs Younghusband,
Precisely what went on in Mechelen in the winter of 1944–5 is hard to establish, and I have had to rely on guesswork and some artistic licence.
Nevertheless, I would never have written V2 were it not for her disclosure of the existence of the Mechelen operation. I will always be grateful for her inspiration.
Nothing at all happens in this book, there is no suspense and, by the author’s own admission, very little in this book was factual. Switching back and forth between Kay Connolly and Willi Graf makes the book disjointed. This was a disappointment.
Harris says this is the book he wrote during the pandemic lockdown. An impressive feat. Harris does here what he's done in other books: take historical events and weave a story around them. The V2 rockets the Nazis attacked London with were blindly destructive, destroying blocks of flats and killing dozens or hundreds of people at a time. The V2 was the precursor to the modern day truck-bomb-terrorist-one can only hope it doesn't happen here. Harris has put together a compelling story, focused on a WAAF officer helping to locate and destroy V2 launchers, and a German scientist, forced into the role of helping kill London civilians by Nazi fanatics. An interesting and worthy micro-view of WWII.
Fascinating and fast moving novel surrounding the development and use in anger of the A4 rocket, known as the V2 (the 'v' standing for vergeltungswaffen – revenge weapon). Told from the viewpoint of two main characters: one is a German rocket scientist (who is not a keen Nazi) working with the Wehrmacht to fire the rockets – and repair them when they don't work; the other is a British WAAF officer working to try to locate the firing sites so the RAF can bomb them.
The story is well written, as you would expect from Mr Harris, and rolls along at a good pace. the story is totally believable and a rollicking good read. What makes it so fascinating is that Harris conducted a huge amount of research into the V2 and its deployment, so this is also a kind of history book. He goes into a good deal of detail regarding the launch, trajectory and effects of the missile. This is not technical or boring but fascinating, simply put and easily understood, and gives the reader a good idea of how powerful and effective a weapon it was. It had the same size warhead as the V1 'Doodlebug' but caused far more damage, hitting its target at about 3,000 mph.
While the two main protagonists are fictional, other characters are real people – Werner von Braun being the main one.
For those of you who don't know – and as I recall, we Brits were never taught about him in school, although most Americans seem familiar with him – von Braun was the main rocket scientist and 'father' of the V2, the man who drove the project forward and made it work. Incredibly, despite having worked on this, and being an SS officer (possibly for his own survival in a hostile Third Reich), von Braun joined the Americans at the end of the war, and developed the V2 technology to its ultimate extent, in that it became the Saturn V rocket that took the Apollo missions into space and to the moon. I also read somewhere that the Iraqi Scud missile used in GW1 was based on an uprated and improved V2, so von Braun's influence lasted a long time.
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and whizzed through it. Now I can't wait to read another of Mr Harris' novels, Munich. bring it on!
Enjoyable and plausible story concerning the German V2 rocket launches from near the Hague at Britain in November 1944.
In short our two main characters, German engineer Rudi Graf and Angelique (Kay) Caton-Walsh of the Women's Auxiliary Air Force, RAF, are in a race: one, Graf, to launch these ballistic missiles, and Kay, to help detect the launch sites. Each is shown doing their jobs with the wishes, worries and concerns young men and women at war have. Likewise, they are both conscious of the death and destruction the V2s bring and both are driven by their side's needs in war.
The story, as I say is plausible because Mr Harris uses real events, characters, military units and locations to bring the story to the reader. His understanding of how V2 rockets were designed, tested, built and then launched is excellent, as is his knowledge of the RAF's work to detect aircraft and mission launch sites. None of which is technical or dry in the book.
There is a place in the story for Wernher von Braun, the lead engineer who helped Germany create the V2 and later the USA's Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programmes. This angle is useful as it allows Graf and Von Braun to bring the early days before the war and the wish to create a moon rocket.
Historical fiction at it's finest: what we know, expect and is delivered from Robert Harris. In this book Harris has taken all the known documentation of the WW11 V2 German rockets that were made and delivered to London. Alongside he has taken the UK team who tracked the rockets. On both sides he has developed wonderful fiction characters to breathe life into the facts. Unputdownable
How can a World War II spy novel about ballistic rockets be so boring? I like Robert Harris a lot and ever since his brilliant Cicero trilogy I tend to read every book as soon as it comes out, but this was rather a waste of time.
There is an interesting story at the basis: the V2-rockets the Germans fired from my beloved The Hague to London towards the end of the war. I knew nothing about this and it was interesting to learn about it.
It seems Harris had the idea to construct a spy plot around that basic fact, but it is maybe a thin and the plot is a bit simplistic.
In the Acknowledgements, he confirms he worked 14 weeks on the book - maybe he should have dedicated a bit more time...
Ein Buch, dass mich tief betroffen zurück lässt......mit einem aktuellen Fazit: Im Krieg gibt es keine Sieger ...!
Das 1000jährige deutsche Reich unter Hitler liegt 1944 in den letzten Zügen.... Die legendäre V2 Rakete soll die Wende bringen, obwohl den meisten Deutschen klar ist, dass der Krieg bereits verloren ist. Rudi Graf ist in Belgien stationiert....Als Raketen Ingenieur startet er tagsüber ununterbrochen V2 Raketen in Richtung London. Dort schlägt eine dieser Raketen in ein Wohnhaus ein....und die Flugoffizierin Kay entgeht nur knapp dem Tod. Die Brieten ersinnen eine Methode, den todbringenden Raketen auf die Spur zu kommen....
Sehr informativ, tief in die Materie blinkend und spannend lässt Robert Harris ein tiefgründiges Bild des Krieges entstehen. Dieser Roman könnte nicht aktueller sein...
This is a curious hybrid. The star of the story is the eponymous German V2 rocket/long distance bomb. This is a fascinating bit part of the German war effort between 1943-4. Its one that (pun intended) flies under the radar in the teaching of English history at school. There are bombs galore in WW2, and the London Blitz; even the ‘doodlebugs’, but rarely the V2. Harris’s storytelling revolves around Kay Caron- Walsh, a doughty WAAF gifted with mathematical and geometrical skills providing the British with dollops of derring-do; and for the Germans, Rudi Graf, a scientist and specialist in rocket propulsion. An occasional appearance comes in the shape of the true life Wernher von Braun. Even with a small cameo role, von Braun dominates every scene in which he appears. The V2 itself was a staggering technological achievement for its time. Their manufacture (in Nordhausen, prior to transportation to Peenemunde Holland) was truly ghastly. Jewish prisoners were enslaved to produce these beasts underground. The V2 travelled at 3,500 miles per hour, and crossed the 23 miles over the English Channel in 65 seconds. A V2 landed in Holborn 4 minutes 51 seconds after take off. In addition to the true life Von Braun, Harris also includes the true life Kammler (a madman) who ran the V2 facility (Heidelager) in Poland.
Subject Matter. The V2 (Vengeance) bomb/rocket. This is why I read this book; and Harris does get down and dirty in the forests of Holland to convey the scale, and menace, and danger of this weapon. There are some great internet sources on the V2, but as ever with Wikipedia and straight historical fact, this can be rather dour. Harris does a good job Book structure. The book is not a straight linear telling (from Peenemunde in 1932 through to the war end in Scheveningen in 1945). The reflective Graf, and the insight into his consciousness as he looks back to teenage years, his brushes with the Gestapo and his friendship with Von Braun, is well done and elevates the storytelling in a way that a more sequential account might not.
The human interest that centres on Kay to add a bit of human interest is standard fare that could be overlaid onto any historical fiction novel. Kay and her flighty (new) friend, Barbara; Kay and the local lad; Kay and the bigwigs of the MOD in London. Graf is a much more reflective person, and better; but he seemingly acts on his free will at times in circumstances that beggar belief and ultimately render him an unconvincing characterisation of a German soldier. I haven’t read other Harris novels but I hope this isn’t just another rendering of the renegade good guy who finds himself on the wrong side?
Historical & Literary context
• Danesfield house Marlowe. I was particularly delighted that Danesfield House (aka RAF Medmenham appears in the book (where the RAF Intelligence was based during WW2 studying pictures/ photography brought home from aerial surveillance). I stayed over at the House for a company Christmas party two years ago and it hasn’t changed too much in the interim. The great wood panelled rooms are exactly what you imagine as the setting for wartime plotting.
• There is a complete, undamaged (a rarity) V2 rocket at London’s Imperial war Museum Imperial War Museum in the main entrance hall.
• Two wonderful books on the V2 bomb are Michael Chabon’s Moonglow , in which Von Braun again features strongly in a fictional familiy biography. Then there's the incomparable Thomas Pynchon Gravity’s Rainbow
Author background & Reviews
Harris hardly matches the standard profile of author. He is politically active and was fulsome in support of Tony Blair until a falling out between them. Controversially he has been a defender of, and film collaborator with, Roman Polanski, the disgraced Hollywood film director. Harris has also lashed out at the publishing industry, and the famed “literary” Booker Prize “I think the Booker sucks the oxygen out of the air“ (An appropriate description for the moments before a V2 bomb landed)!
Harris can afford to sound off. He is commercially very successful. He has been writing published novels since 1992, some of which have been filmed. His chosen area of specialisation- Germany and the Nazis, and ancient Rome. Are sensible choices for a historical fiction writer since the subject matter never seems to see any loss of public interest. Harris’s most renowned work include: Fatherland (1992); Enigma (1995); Archangel (1998) Pompeii (2003) and an acclaimed trilogy about the life of Cicero
As a Harris one - off I would certainly recommend V2. I don’t think his female characters are especially well written, and there are acts of defiance that beggar belief; but overall it is a decent enough (if not Booker worthy!!) novel.
Like his novel Munich which I read recently, V2 is set over the course of just a few days. However, this time it’s 1944 at the height of the German onslaught on London with deadly V2 rockets, the devastating effects of which are vividly described. The book alternates between the stories of two main characters – German engineer, Dr. Rudi Graf, and British WAAF Officer, Kay Caton-Walsh. Despite being on different sides, their lives will intertwine in a number of ways.
The book contains many powerful scenes including the intricate and highly risky process involved in launching the V2 rockets and the resulting scenes of devastation on the streets of London caused by their impact. Most memorable for me was Graf’s recollection of his visit to witness the construction using slave labour of the vast subterranean factory at Nordhausen where the rockets are to be manufactured. “The stench of it. And the noise of it – the rumble of cement mixers, the ring of pickaxes, the muffled boom of explosions…the clank of railway trucks moving up and down the line… And the sight of it, wherever one looked in the eerie dim yellow light: the moving sea of striped uniforms, an undifferentiated mass unless one made an effort to fix one’s eyes on one of the pale, emaciated figures that were hurrying everywhere.”
The tension builds as an exciting but deadly cat-and-mouse game takes place in which Kay and her colleagues – slide rules and logarithm tables at the ready – race against time to locate the launch sites of the V2 rockets so that bombing raids can be launched by the RAF.
War is never straightforward and Kay, in particular, lets her feelings override her judgment resulting in unintended consequences for others. I found Graf an especially interesting character. He becomes increasingly appalled by the use to which the technology he helped develop is being put and the motivations of those higher up in the command chain. “He felt himself to be like one of the rockets – a human machine, launched on a fixed trajectory, impossible to recall, hurtling to a point that was preordained.” The end of the book sees him faced with a similarly difficult moral choice.
In V2 Robert Harris once again blends historical fact and fiction to produce a fascinating and utterly gripping story.
Robert Harris always chooses imaginative and fascinating topics for his novels. Where these work out well in the plots, such as in the Cicero novels, An Officer and a Spy or Fatherland, then the novels are a treat for the reader; when he is less successful (in my opinion), for example in resolutions of Conclave or The Second Sleep, the novels still remain intriguing and thought-provoking.
I worried V2 might fall into the second category when I began to read, but far from it. The story of the deployment of the Germans’ last secret weapon and the attempts by the British to thwart the attacks is told at a breakneck speed over the period of four or five days and nights. The two protagonists, WAAF officer Kay and German engineer Graf only meet in the final pages, but their stories are exhilarating and moving throughout. The roles of women in the British war effort and scientists in the German hold the interest and the twin tales are gripping, even if the resolutions come swiftly. I have sometimes enjoyed a Robert Harris novel but have felt let down by the ending (Conclave is a case in point), but I am so pleased that this one ended exactly as it did. Wholly satisfying.
“V2” is a truly wonderful book! The author weaves an impressive tale about human spirit and how when good is collaborating with good can defeat evil intentions. In this case, the Nazi’s ultimate weapon—the V2 rocket.
It is packed with strong emotions and tense moments that draw the reader into the heart of the story.
The setting of Mechelen, Belgium is one that I am very familiar with from my studies in that area. Harris described this area perfectly
It was a very fast read for me. I could not put it down.
Surprisingly, an entertaining read of fact and fiction surrounding V2 rockets. I liked how Harris blended the actual history with fiction. 2700 people were killed by V2 rockets in London. I never knew the rockets were launched from near the Hague.
The story of Braun and Graf was well crafted as was the development of the V2. After the war Braun went to the USA and was involved in the development of spacecraft. The love story was farfetched but the description of the rockets exploding and the tracking of their parabolic curve fascinating. Kay was a one dimensional character and her affairs lacked believability. Saying that I plan to read more of Harris historical fiction.
Τέταρτο βιβλίο του Ρόμπερτ Χάρις που διαβάζω, μετά τα πεντάστερα "Fatherland", "Μόναχο" και "Ο Γερμανός κατάσκοπος", και αυτή τη φορά μπορεί για μικρές λεπτομέρειες να μη βάζω πέντε αστεράκια σε ακόμα ένα βιβλίο του (έτσι θα αδικούσα κάπως τα προηγούμενα τρία), όμως και πάλι έχω να δηλώσω εξαιρετικά ικανοποιημένος, τόσο από την ιστορία και τους χαρακτήρες, όσο και από τη γραφή και τη γενικότερη ατμόσφαιρα. Ρε παιδάκι μου, αυτός ο συγγραφέας έχει τη μοναδική ικανότητα με τις περιγραφές του να μεταφέρει τον αναγνώστη πίσω στον χρόνο, να αναδεικνύει κάθε φορά την εποχή με την οποία ασχολείται, και παράλληλα να βάζει στην τσίτα τους αναγν��στες με τις πινελιές θρίλερ που διαθέτουν οι ιστορίες του. Και η γραφή του είναι σταθερά καλής ποιότητας, οξυδερκής, ζωντανή και γλαφυρή, πάντα ευκολοδιάβαστη και εθιστική, με ωραίες περιγραφές και φυσικούς διαλόγους. Επίσης η ατμόσφαιρα είναι πολύ καλή, αντάξια ενός δυνατού ιστορικού θρίλερ που βασίζεται γενικά σε αληθινά γεγονότα, αν και φυσικά υπάρχουν χαρακτήρες και σκηνικά που είναι αμιγώς προϊόντα της (πλούσιας) φαντασίας του συγγραφέα. Όπως έγραψα στην αρχή, δεν βάζω πέντε αστεράκια και σε αυτό το βιβλίο του Χάρις, γιατί η πλοκή του δεν με εντυπωσίασε δα και τόσο πολύ, αν και βέβαια σαν αναγνωστική εμπειρία αξίζει και πέντε και δέκα αστεράκια, τόσο ωραία που πέρασα την ώρα μου. Για μένα ο Ρόμπερτ Χάρις είναι μια σίγουρη λύση για αναγνωστική απόλαυση, πάντα οι ιστορίες του με κρατάνε, με ιντριγκάρουν, με μεταφέρουν σε άλλες εποχές και άλλα μέρη. Ευτυχώς έχω τρία βιβλία του στη συλλογή μου που με περιμένουν για να τα διαβάσω ("Κωδικός: Αίνιγμα", "Το μυστικό του Αρχάγγελου" και "Παρασκήνια εξουσίας), ενώ ακόμα αναζητώ το "Πομπηία" και τα άλλα δυο με τον Κικέρωνα. Πού θα μου πάνε όμως, θα τα βρω κι αυτά κάποια στιγμή!