The Eagle Has Landed is a book by Jack Higgins set during World War II. It first published in 1975 in literature|1975. It was made into a The Eagle Has Landed (film)|film of the same name in 1976 in film|1976 starring Michael Caine. The plot has some similarities with that of Went the Day Well?, a film made during World War Two itself.

Plot summary

The book makes use of the false document technique, and opens with Higgins describing his discovery of the grave of thirteen German paratroopers in an English graveyard. What follows was inspired by the real life rescue of Hitler's ally Benito Mussolini by Otto Skorzeny, a similar idea is considered by Hitler, with the strong support of Himmler. Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, head of the Abwehr (German military intelligence), is ordered to make a feasibility study of the seemingly impossible task of capturing Prime Minister Winston Churchill and returning him to the Reich.

Canaris considers the idea a joke, but realizes that although Hitler will soon forget the matter, Himmler will not. Fearing Himmler may try to discredit him, Canaris orders one of his officers, Oberst Radl to undertake the study, despite feeling that it is all just a waste of time.

An Unteroffizier on Radl's staff finds that one of their spies, code named Starling, has provided a tantalizing piece of intelligence. "At any other time, in any other place, this information would be useless", Radl said. "And then synchronicity rears its ugly head." Winston Churchill is scheduled to spend a weekend at a country house near the village of Studley Constable, Norfolk. There Joanna Grey, an Afrikaner woman and longtime Abwehr agent, lives. She detests England due to her torture and rape by British soldiers during the Anglo-Boer War. As a result of her reports, Radl comes up with a detailed plan to intercept Churchill and return him to Germany. Although he is certain the plan is foolproof, Admiral Canaris orders him to abandon it.

Himmler, however, has already learned of the scheme and summons Radl, ordering him to proceed, but without notifying Canaris. In response, Radl arranges for Liam Devlin, a member of the Anti-Treaty IRA, to be smuggled to Norfolk by way of Northern Ireland. Posing as a wounded veteran of the British Army, he contacts Mrs. Grey, who arranges a position for him as game warden to the estate of Studley Grange. While awaiting further developments, Devlin romances Molly Prior, a girl from the village.

Meanwhile, Radl selects of a team of commandos to carry out the operation, led by a disgraced Fallschirmjäger commander, Colonel Kurt Steiner. While returning from the Eastern Front, Steiner had intervened when SS soldiers were rounding up Jews at a railway station in Poland. To the outrage of the SS, he took one of their men hostage and helped a teenage Jewess to escape on a passing freight train. For this, he was court-martialed, along with his men, who assisted his actions. Too highly decorated to face a firing squad, Steiner and his men were allowed to transfer to a penal unit in the Channel Islands. There are forced to make suicidal attacks with manned torpedoes against British Channel convoys.

Radl travels to Alderney and recruits the disgraced Colonel and his surviving men. General Steiner, who is being tortured by the Gestapo for his ties to the German Resistance, serves as an additional incentive for the Colonel to accept the mission. The team will fly into the UK in a captured C-47 with Allied markings. The commandos outfit themselves as Free Polish troops, as few of them speak English; the plan is to infiltrate Studley Constable, complete their mission, rendezvous with an E-boat at the nearby coast and make their escape.

At first, the plan seems to go off without a hitch. Then, however, one of Steiner's men rescues two local children who have fallen in a water wheel. He is killed and his German uniform (worn under the Polish uniforms, as protection against being executed as spies) is seen by Fr. Verecker, the local Roman Catholic priest. Determined to continue the mission, Steiner arranges for the locals to be rounded up, but the sister of Father Vereker, escapes and alerts a local unit of US Army Rangers. Colonel Robert Shafto, an inexperienced but headstrong officer, rallies his forces to retake the hostages. The assault on the church fails, with many Americans killed in a foolhardy assault ordered by Shafto. After the Colonel is shot in the head by Mrs. Grey, however, Major Kane organizes a second, successful attack.

Steiner, his second-in-command Ritter Neumann, and Devlin manage to escape with the aid of a local girl, Molly Prior, who had become romantically involved with the Irishman. Determined to finish the mission, Steiner allows Devlin and Neumann to escape without him and decides to make one last attempt at Churchill. He succeeds in reaching Churchill, but hesitates and is shot and is supposedly killed. (However, Steiner reappears alive in The Eagle Has Flown, a sequel.) Radl has a heart attack, implied to be fatal, although at about the same time, Himmler, upon discovering that the mission has failed, orders Radl's arrest for high treason.

As in many novels of Higgins, this story is surrounded by a 'frame story' with a prologue and epilogue. The author, whilst doing historical research in Norfolk, supposedly meets various surviving characters. Some paperback editions have more historical backstory than others, including a meeting with a older Liam Devlin in a Belfast hotel. The final revelation comes from an aged and terminally ill Father Vereker: "Churchill" had been an impersonator and even if the mission had succeeded, it would not have mattered.


  • After the success of The Eagle Has Landed, Higgins wrote a quasi-sequel called The Eagle has Flown.


  • Liam Devlin seems to be a compilation of several IRA veterans who collaborated with the Abwehr, especially Frank Ryan. Like Devlin, Ryan was an IRA man who had fought on the Republican side during the Spanish Civil War, was captured by the Franco forces and afterwards recruited by the Nazis. The real Ryan did not, however, participate in any German commando raid, and his deteriorating health (he died in 1944 in a Dresden hospital) would have made this impossible. Devlin is also featured in a later Jack Higgins book, older and supporting British authorities in stopping an assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II.

External links

Release details

  • Unknown year, US, Bantam Books ISBN 0-553-02500-7, Publication date ? ? ?, Paperback Edition

de:Der Adler ist gelandet (Buch) ja:鷲は舞い降た sv:Örnen har landat (bok)