Len Deighton's "SS-GB" (open spoilers!)

Just re-read this favorite alternate-history novel, a police procedural set in Nazi-occupied Britain in late 1941. Operation Sea Lion succeeded (we’re never quite told how), Churchill’s been shot by a German firing squad, King George VI is under SS guard in the Tower of London, the Queen Mum and the two princesses are safely overseas, and the Wehrmacht is tinkering with A-bomb research in a British seaside resort town. A Scotland Yard detective wrestles with his conscience, as his patriotism and his commitment to law enforcement collide during what *seems * to be a routine black-market-related murder.

Any other fans of the book out there?

Any WW2-expert Dopers know whose signatures appear on the “Instrument of Surrender” at the front of the book?

Don’t have a copy handy - can you list them?

I’m betting the Duke of Halifax’s name is on it, as well as Oswald Moseley.

Haven’t read the book in years, but one part that never rang true for me was at one point when the suggestion of establishing a British government in exile in Canada under King George came up. The American commando (? - can’t remember exactly who the character was) involved in the discussion said that the Canadian government would never stand for it, “because the Canadians had just recently achieved their sovereignty and wouldn’t want to let the Brits back in.” True, Canadian sovereignty had been recognised about 10 years earlier, but it was an evolutionary process, with goodwill on both sides, and our PM at the time, Mackenzie King, was an anglophile who also appreciated political realities. Hosting the British government could only have increased his international standing, not diminished it. (And we were already hosting the Dutch royal family as well.)

Of course, it could be that the American character was spreading disinformation on instructions, to further the ultimate result in the book.

Thanks - hadn’t known that about the Canadian political situation at the time; I suspect your explanation re: the American spy’s statement is correct.

I don’t know whose signatures appear on the Instrument of Surrender - no typewritten names appear, just the scrawled signatures.

Anyone want to spoil the book for me?

Okay … send me your copy and I’ll spill coffee on it. :slight_smile:

If you liked SS-GB, two others I’d recommend would be Fatherland by Robert Harris and Resurrection Day by Brendan Dubois.

I saw it when it was published, a young person working in a library. I couldn’t read it. Len Deighton should have Horrible Harry Palmer, (I know I’m quoting the movie) and not some analogue of the guy in Gorky Park. :rolleyes:
I’ll try, dammit. Hell, I read Mickey Mouse.

I actually re-read it a couple of months ago. I had fond memories of reading it when it came out, but I realized it was dated. Ithas a prose that was popular during the 70s and a love story with pointless sex scenes that spoiled theexperience for me. Many writers did thatback then, titilating.
The premise is good, though, and not an unlikely scenario, had Germany succeded.

Huh. I just reread it and don’t remember any “pointless sex scenes.” Or any sex scenes at all, actually. Could you be more specific?

Here you go:

Archer, the British homicide detective, figures out that the Nazis have an A-bomb research station in a coastal town. He falls in with the British Resistance, which wants to free the King from German custody and get him out of the country to the U.S., where he can rally American opposition to the Germans. Turns out the King is practically catatonic (perhaps from the bomb which hit Buckingham Palace), however. The top British Resistance guy decides it would be better for the King to be “die valiantly” (in the crossfire of an American commando raid on the A-bomb research station) than to be pitied in America, so he permits the King and his commando escort to be ambushed as the Germans counterattack.

The young SS guy who had been Archer’s temporary boss is tried and quickly executed as a scapegoat for the raid, while Archer’s earlier SS boss, who came across as a fuddy-duddy, turns out to be a shrewd survivor who remains in charge at the end. The raid is a success, making off with bomb experts and many papers, and the Germans decide to shut down their program. The implication is that the Americans will declare war on Germany when they have their own A-bomb in a few years, and the Germans will, in time, be defeated.

I left some stuff out, but that’s the gist of it.


I just saw the 2017 BBC miniseries based on the book, and it’s pretty good.


There are some significant differences between the book and the show. Although it’s been a few years since I last read the book, off the top of my head:

[spoiler]The show, unlike the book, opens with the murder by a British Resistance member of a Luftwaffe ace who lands a captured Spitfire on the Mall in front of the bombed-out Buckingham Palace.

Supt. Archer and his lover and coworker Sylvia have an assignation in a Nazi luxury suite. Sylvia’s role is much bigger than I remember from the book, including her direct involvement in taking the ailing King George VI to the German atomic research base at Bringle Sands for evacuation.

Archer’s colleague Harry isn’t secretly working with SS-Gruppenfuhrer Kellerman to protect Archer.

There’s much more focus on the risks Archer takes in being targeted by the Resistance as a collaborator, including a murder attempt against him in the Underground.

SS-Standartenfuhrer Huth is younger and a bit more aggressive than I recall him being in the book. (His name is pronounced “Hoot,” which I didn’t realize before hearing it spoken; it sounds a little funny to my American ears for such a serious character).

Barbara Barga, the American reporter who has an affair with Archer, is directly threatened by Kellerman with torture, but is released to U.S. Embassy staff and survives at the end.

The King is killed by German machine-gun fire in a car in Bringle Sands along with Sylvia, not while being carried by U.S. soldiers on a stretcher towards an evacuation point.

Harry is last seen in Resistance hands, recovering from a bullet wound in the leg he suffered during the attempt to get the King out of the country.

Archer is not still working for Kellerman at Scotland Yard at the end, but is last seen on the run with (maybe) the invaluable microfilm of A-bomb research.
I was reminded anew of just how unlikely Huth would be to make Archer his confidante and aide, as Archer was a Brit who had lost his wife during the Blitz, and his loyalty would naturally be suspect.

Still an interesting tale.

The same thing was done with the female leads in the TV adaptations of Enigma, Archangel, and Fatherland, IIRC. The male *never *gets to resolve the plot entirely by himself anymore! :mad:

Yes to the first, no to the second.

Yes, I enjoyed SS-GB. Very believable characterizations, even tho Sea Lion could never have worked ( and likely was never intended to be launched)

The Germans didn’t have transport, naval command of the channel or air superiority, but I thought Hitler wanted Sea Lion to be successful.

Many experts (many of whom disagree) think that Sea Lion was a bluff to get GB to come to the bargaining table.

That might make sense before the Battle of Britain. But Hitler never made an offer.

Uhm, yes he did, in a speech to the Reichstag at the Kroll Opera House on 19 July 1940, though it was, in the words of Ian Kershaw, “a brief but imprecise offer, indicating that it was the last word, and leaving the choice to London.” Hitler’s “appeal to reason” was categorically rejected by the British within the hour, and by Lord Halifax officially in a broadcast on 22 July.

The Germans came very close to winning air superiority during the Battle of Britain. They would have succeeded in wearing down the RAF if they hadn’t switched tactics and started bombing cities instead of airfields. Even so, they had neither the experience nor the resources to mount a cross-channel invasion.

The signatures are illegible, but the text reads as a military rather than political surrender, so one has to assume they’re meant to be nameless generals (as with the French armistice in 1940).

As to whether Halifax (Earl of, rather than Duke) would have agreed or been in a position to take a political responsibility in such a situation, who knows? Or Mosley, for that matter, who always said (but he would, wouldn’t he?) that if it came to invasion he’d resist - and in any case, Hitler never rated him much, any more than he did the self-appointed leaders of fascist groups in other occupied countries (Quisling, Mussert, any of the squabbling French factions; the one exception being the Belgian Degrelle, who at least went into combat in Russia).

If I might add a well-after-2005 book to a 2005 post: would recommend Dominion by C.J Sansom (published 2013) – another Britain-post-German-WWII-victory alt-hist. I’m a big fan of Sansom’s (usually not alternative-) historical thrillers set at assorted dates.

Yes, *Dominion *is pretty good. In it, Churchill doesn’t become PM, and Halifax works out a deal with the Nazis which ends the war, establishes a Quisling government, demilitarizes the UK and spares most of the country from occupation (although the Isle of Wight becomes a German base).

Thanks for posting that image, PatrickLondon. I thought the top left signature might be Doenitz’s, and the top right one might be Rommel’s, but they don’t look like the signatures in the Wiki articles on each.