HEAVEN HIGH OCEAN DEEP
Naval Fighter Wing at War
By Tim Hillier-Graves
Published by Casemate Books. ISBN 978-1-61200-755-7
The author is a retired naval officer, whose father was a Fleet Air Arm pilot during and after the Second World War. At his father’s funeral, his godfather, John Hawkins, passed to him four copies of wartime magazines carrying photographs and descriptions of Royal Naval aircraft operations in various theatres of war, including the activities of the British Pacific Fleet (BPF). Hawkins had flown Grumman Hellcat fighters from HMS Indomitable from March 1944 to May 1945. He mentioned his last Commanding Officer “Gammy” Godson, who had remained in the ship after Hawkins had returned home. John Winton’s book “The Forgotten Fleet” mentions the death of Godson on 12 May 1945. Talking to Hawkins about this and other episodes led the author into tracing the lives of the men who had fought in the Naval Fighter Wing of the BPF. This quest led to years of interviews with survivors and the accumulation of a huge variety of personal reminiscences of those days. This book is the result of this long and painstaking exercise, containing a truly epic accumulation of personal details as the Royal Navy and its Fleet Air Arm made the titanic effort (after four years of war) to assemble a fleet to carry the war to the Far East.
The book opens with details of flying training and the expansion of the RN’s aircraft carrier force. It also describes how US aircraft, such as the Vought Corsair and Grumman Hellcat and Avenger, came to equip these carriers. These formed the equipment of newly-forming squadrons, together with UK built Seafires and Fireflies. Two Hellcat squadrons, 1839 and 1844 were formed in late 1943 to join HMS Indomitable, one of the four carriers scheduled to form the BPF. The ship sailed to join the Eastern Fleet in early 1944 and the book follows the fortunes of both ship and Fighter Wing from then until the end of the War. Hillier-Graves provides a most compelling narrative, combining numerous first-hand descriptions of the fortunes of these young men, as their carriers with their accompanying battleships and numerous escorts transit first to Ceylon (modern Sri Lanka) and early discouraging results in initial attacks on Japanese-held land targets. He follows their fortunes through the more successful Operation MERIDIAN attacks on the Palembang oil facilities of Sumatra and thence across the Indian Ocean to Sydney in February 1945 and the incorporation of the BPF into the command structure of USN’s 5th Fleet under Admiral Ray Spruance.
Concerning the Palembang attacks, the author quotes the words of Admiral Philip Vian (who commanded the aircraft carriers) as follows “… our losses were heavy. 16 aircraft had been shot down and another 25 lost through other causes. 32 of our airmen were missing…” The author comments that Vian could have added the wounded and those rendered unfit to fly though what we would today call combat stress. Vian had lost 16% of his aircraft, with another 50 or so damaged. In all, 12 % of his aircrew were dead or captured. Even “Bomber” Harris, says Hillier-Graves, thought that 5% losses were unacceptable.
Once in Australia, reports of Japanese suicide-bomber tactics reached the ears of the men of the BPF. The author provides a thoughtful description of the evolution of the Japanese Navy: “a fearsome adversary” and the mindset of its people. By 1945, he remarks, their air arms were a dissipated force, unable to keep up with losses. The quality of aircrew had greatly diminished but the kamikaze offered a solution, so long as young men believed in sacrificing themselves for their emperor and country.
In January 1945, the BPF sailed to the immense anchorage at Manus, in the Admiralty Islands of Papua. Here they waited for two months in almost intolerable conditions for a decision to be made on their operational deployment. The next phase of USN’s operations was to be the invasion of Okinawa on 1 April, and the BPF was finally allocated the task of neutralising the Japanese held airfields of the Sakishima Gunto to the southwest. The airfields were a staging post for enemy reserve aircraft from Formosa (present day Taiwan) and the role of the BPF was to protect the periphery of the Okinawa operation. Task Force 57, as the BPF was now named, deployed nearly a quarter of Spruance’s air power and the author comments that its role was not the insignificant sideshow that Vian had feared it would be. Spruance and Admiral Bruce Fraser, the CinC of the BPF, soon established excellent working relationships and this was reflected in the posting of RN and USN liaison officers in each other’s ships. Godson befriended the American air intelligence officer, Lt Cdr John Ramsey USNR, who was attached to Indomitable. This relationship helped to provide invaluable support to young aircrew.
Hillier-Graves supports his descriptions of the Task Force 57 operations with numerous eye-witness accounts and extracts from squadron diaries. He also quotes at length from the moving letters written by Godson to his family, in which he makes light of the tremendous stresses that he and his fellow airmen were suffering. In these turbulent times, John Hawkins was unusual in keeping a detailed record of daily events and this record is also quoted freely. During a brief respite at Leyte, many experienced aircrew left, although Godson remained. The author remarks that by now he must have been suffering severe mental strain. The intensity of air attacks on the fleet worsened as they returned to their patrol lines and there is a vivid description of the kamikaze attack on HMS Formidable, whose armoured deck undoubtedly contributed to its survival. Task Force 57 kept up its attacks on the islands, from where the Japanese maintained an intense anti-aircraft barrage. On 12 May, Godson’s aircraft was hit by ground fire. With flames pouring from the wing, the aircraft was seen to hit the ground and explode.
After a respite period in Sydney, the BPF was incorporated into the USN’s Third Fleet as TF 37 and took part in the final attacks on the Japanese mainland before the war was brought to an abrupt close by the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In a final, moving chapter, entitled “Murder at Changi”, Hillier-Graves describes the fate of aircrew who fell into Japanese hands. After brutal incarceration in solitary confinement, many of these were executed.
This book provides a detailed and compelling narrative of aircraft operations against a determined and ultimately suicidal enemy; but it is much more than this. Hillier-Graves puts the activities of the BPF into a broader historical context and also gives a rounded picture of the young men who fought and (many of them) died in the actions of what John Winton memorably named “The Forgotten Fleet”. The BPF continued to fight for months after most people in Britain were celebrating the end of war in Europe. Heaven High, Ocean Deep is a valuable addition to the historiography of that far-away conflict in the Pacific.
Reviewed by Malcolm Smith
HISTORY OF THE MEDITERRANEAN AIR WAR 1940-45
Volume 4, Sicily and Italy to the Fall of Rome.
By Christopher Shores and Giovanni Massimello et al.
Published by Grub Street, London, 2018.
This reviewer probably wears the mantle of a pedantic old buffer but it seems increasingly rare these days to see aviation books which are not lightweight and are too often poorly researched. The fourth volume in the “Mediterranean Air War 1940-45” series is definitely not lightweight, weighing in at over 2 kilograms (that’s 4.5 pounds in old money), and Grub Street are to be applauded for committing to two more volumes before the narrative comes to an end. The publishers are also to be applauded for maintaining a formula which began many years ago, (“Fledgling Eagles” about the 1940 Norwegian Campaign was, I believe, the earliest book to adopt this form) of a well written text supported by detailed research of sorties, victories and losses on a daily basis, from both sides of the conflict.
There is also a massive collection of photographs distributed throughout the text, most of which have not been seen before. The fact that the photos are embedded in the book at relevant points is also a massive bonus, instead of having the random melange of commonplace photos in a batch somewhere in the middle which most publishers choose to employ. That does place a demand on the quality of paper and printing and obviously has an impact on cost but for your £50 you do get 696 pages of a heavy semi-gloss paper. The result is excellent reproduction of the photographs and a rewardingly authoritative feel throughout, although you will lose the feeling in your fingers if you read for too long at any one session!
The lead author is SOFFAAM Council member Christopher Shores, supported by an international cast of thousands, who have contributed their own specialist knowledge to the various volumes in this series. Volume Four begins in May 1943 with the end of hostilities in North Africa, permitting a reorganization of Allied air units to support the offensive north across the Mediterranean that eventually led to the Fall of Rome in June 1944. The lead up to Operation Husky (the invasion of Sicily) and the operation itself begin the main body of the text, and it ends with the last sorties against the fleeing Germans and Italians before the capital city finally surrendered. In between these two key dates, the authors have researched and compiled a prodigious amount of information which, most importantly, is readable when you need to read, and well structured when you want to investigate the detail at the sortie and personnel level. The index alone occupies some 60 pages and makes the book an invaluable source of reference. It is easy to forget that, in addition to British and US air forces, there were also Free French and Italian co-belligerent airmen fighting on the side of the Allies for much of this period.
Various naval actions are also covered, not least the sinking of the Italian battleship Roma by the Luftwaffe using a Fritz X radio-guided bomb as the Italian fleet attempted to make Algeria after its country’s surrender. There is very little of direct Fleet Air Arm interest though; the contribution of the Seafires of Force V at Salerno being given little space. This perhaps reflects their relative lack of effectiveness, but it was the first time in which the RN had operated five aircraft carriers together, controlled by Admiral Vian from a separate command ship (HMS Euryalus). The Admiral had been allocated an limited operating area that was too close inshore and he saw many of his aircraft end up in the barriers.
Because the authors have taken great pains to provide a concise but informative story of the ground war which the airmen were supporting, Volume 4, like its predecessors, can stand alone if you only want to know about this specific part of a long and complex campaign and is a very fine piece of research and writing.
Reviewed by Graham Mottram
AFTER JUTLAND – The Naval War in Northern European Waters, June 1916 – November 1918
By James Goldrick
Published by Pen & Sword
The Battle of Jutland was a climactic event in the life of the Royal Navy – a battle that had been eagerly anticipated by both sides and expected to settle the command of the seas once and for all. The results were inconclusive and gave the Service a great deal to consider: some of its ships had proved to be unexpectedly vulnerable and the Fleet’s freedom of manoeuvre had been significantly affected by the potential threat from torpedoes and mines. Worst of all, the Grand Fleet’s almost complete lack of ability in night-fighting had allowed the German High Sea Fleet, some of whose ships were almost near sinking from battle damage, to avoid further battle overnight and escape to its home ports. Even though the RN had invested in aircraft-carrying ships, which might have improved the reconnaissance information available to the Command, a muddle over signalling meant that the most capable vessel (HMS Campania) was left behind when the Grand Fleet deployed. One seaplane reconaissance sortie was flown from HMS Engadine, but the enemy sighting report from the pilot (Rutland of Jutland) did not reach the ears of his Flag Officer, Admiral Beatty.
It is against this disappointing background that James Goldrick, a retired Rear Admiral in the Royal Australian Navy, tells the post-Jutland story of the naval war in northern European waters. He describes a sortie by the High Sea Fleet in August 1916, aimed ostensibly at bombarding Sunderland,`but really intended to draw out the Grand Fleet. The German Admiral Scheer had designed a complex plan, involving the support of submarines and Zeppelins. In the event, the two fleets did not meet in strength, but the outcome was that two British fast destroyers were torpedoed and sunk, while a British submarine torpedoed and severely damaged a German battleship, the Westfalen, Even though none of the capital ships fired a shot, the encounter proved to be a turning point in naval strategy. The apparent invincibility of the Zeppelins led to urgent development of large British airships, such as the Coastal class, which were deployed in bases along the eastern coast of the UK. They began to work co-operatively with the British fleet; while seaplanes, now fitted with wireless, played a more active role from shore bases.
Scheer’s own plans for increasing co-operation of all three arms were frustrated by a lack of central direction of the German naval war effort. The Zeppelin force was commanded by KorvettenkapitÄn Peter Strasser, who believed his force would be better employed in strategic bombing than in routine patrols over the fleet. The German submarine force was also partly directed away from North Sea patrols by the decision of the German high Command to re-start unrestricted attacks on merchant shipping in January 1917. This fateful decision caused the United States to declare war on Germany in April 1917.
The author focuses on the battles in the Dover Strait in 1917, involving combined attacks by German torpedo boats and submarines on the defensive barrage in this important waterway. The presence of the powerful new torpedo boats of the German Sixth Flotilla in Flanders led to sustained air attacks by the RNAS on Bruges and other locations.Spasmodic attempts by Admiral Bacon to attack the Bruges lock gates with surface forces revealed a lack of cohesion in the Admiralty’s strategic planning. The need for re-organisation was partly resolved by the efforts of the Convoy Committee, which led to the general introduction of convoys later in the year, supported by an effective submarine tracking room in the Admiralty.
!918 saw the continuing difficulties experienced by the RN in countering German light forces and submarines. This led to the plans to attack the German bases at Zeebrugge and Ostend. After several false starts, the Zeebrugge attack, intended to completely block the exit channel from the port, went ahead on 22 April. This was an audacious plan and great bravery was shown by the forces involved. Although it was only partly successful, it ensured a huge increase in morale, both in the RN and generally in the country and allied nations.
In a chapter entitled “End Game in the North Sea” Admiral Goldrick describes the deterioration in the High Sea fleet, faced with increasingly effective joint operations by the RN and USN; weakened also by fuel shortages and worsening material condition of its ships. Both of the allied navies were improving their anti-submarine effectiveness and the RN was making ambitious efforts to employ aircraft offensively. The Harwich Force acquired a new capability in the form of lighters, each carrying a single flying boat, which could be towed at high speed by destroyers. The intention was to launch them in mid-channel to provide a deterrent to Zeppelin patrols. However, once floated off from their lighters, the seaplanes often failed to get into the air because of wind and sea conditions. In June, a Sopwith Camel was launched from the cruiser Sydney and intercepted a German seaplane, “the first engagement by a ship-launched aircraft of another heavier-than-air machine”.
HMS Furious, in her latest embodiment of the aircraft carrier concept, was capable of deploying a sizeable force of fighter-bomber aircraft, while having the speed and endurance to keep up with the fleet. Additionally, many more ships, including light cruisers, carried a fighter aircraft. On 19 July, Furious launched a strike of seven Sopwith Camels, each armed with two 50-lb bombs, against the airship hangars at Tondern. The raid was successful; leaving two Zeppelins destroyed and another hangar damaged. The raid showed the way ahead for British carrier capability, concurrently with the conversion of a liner into the first true aircraft carrier, HMS Argus. Regrettably this revolutionary design appeared just too late to take part in the War. A final wartime aviation innovation was the conversion of lighters to carry wheeled fighters, leading to the successful interception on 10 August of the Zepellin L53 by Lieutenant Stuart Culley, who had been launched from a lighter towed by the destroyer HMS Redoubt.
Admiral Goldrick concludes this well-researched book by asking how effectively the Germans employed the navy it had created. He answers his own question: not well. The High Sea Fleet was always limited in fuel and material, but it was not employed as aggresively as it might have been. He levels many criticisms of the RN’s leadership and slowness to bring together an experienced staff to manage strategic planning. He recognises the difficulties faced by those developing ship-borne aviation, but states that the widespread embarked deployment of fighters and reconnaissance aircraft by the end of the war “represented a formidable capability”. He disproves the popular misconception that the Battle of Jutland signalled the end of offensive operations by the High Sea Fleet, whilst demonstrating that it did initiate widespread improvements in the operational capability of the Royal Navy.
This is a scholarly book, with copious notes, extensive bibliography and a full index.
Reviewed by Malcolm Smith
ROYAL NAVY LYNX
By Larry Jeram-Croft
Published by Pen and Sword
Retired Fleet Air Arm pilot Larry Jeram-Croft, who flew the Lynx operationally in the Falklands War, has provided a comprehensive study of this remarkably capable naval aircraft, based primarily on the words of those who flew and maintained it. Those of our Society who attended his talk at the Fleet Air Arm Museum will recall a comprehensive overview of the Lynx, ranging from its design and development to its deployment in many roles. The book defines the military need that was satisfied so effectively by the Lynx, defined initially as a replacement for the Wasp, primarily in the anti-submarine role. The event that dramatically affected this requirement was the sinking of the Israeli destroyer Eilat in October 1967 by a Russian-built Styx missile, fired from an Egyptian patrol boat. This caused the MoD to quickly amend the specification to include the ability to deploy a credible missile system, capable of attacking corvette-sized surface vessels. The requirement was satisfied by the Sea Skua, a radar homing sea-skimming missile. The combination of aircraft and missile would prove to be a deadly weapon system.
Larry first describes the significant features of the design, including the monobloc rotor head and conformal gearbox, the compact modular Rolls Royce Gem engine and the innovative deck lock (universally called “harpoon”) that enables the pilot to secure the aircraft quickly to the heaving deck of suitably-equipped ships in stormy seas. He goes on to describe the various avionic sensors and the weapons, including the anti-submarine homing torpedo and depth charge, as well as the anti-surface-vessel Sea Skua. He points out that, in the anti-submarine role, the Lynx has no localisation capability, so that it relies on other more capable platforms, such as surface vessels or sonar-equipped aircraft like the Sea King.
After briefly covering the entry into service of the aircraft and the inevitable teething troubles encountered, Larry says that by early 1982, the Lynx fleet was steadily expanding, Sea Skua was about to be released to service and a steady programme of maturity was underway. Then everything changed – Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands. “The Falklands War was a wake-up call for the whole Royal Navy”, says our author, ships would have to operate in a landlocked environment, thousands of miles away from any support. About a third of the book is taken up by anecdotes from Lynx flights deployed to the South Atlantic for that unexpected but ultimately victorious conflict. These are fascinating first-hand accounts from those involved, brought together for the first time in this volume, “arguably” as Larry drily comments, over thirty five years too late. It would be impossible in this short review to summarise the many detailed and often enthralling accounts written by individual Flights. Some of the highlights include the successful attacks on Argentinian patrol vessels with Sea Skua and machine gun, the crippling of the submarine Santa Fe by Lynx (and also the Wasp from HMS Endurance) and several unsung sorties to insert (and sometimes rescue) units from the Special Forces. What emerges most clearly from these reports is the sheer adaptability of the aircraft and its rapid evolution into a true multi-role platform. However, the capability of the aircraft was only realised by the quality of its aircrew and the small maintenance teams who kept it going at an extraordinarily high usage rate.
The author concludes the section on the Falklands war by commenting that it seems strange now that all the Lynx Flights were not called together to compare notes immediately after they returned to the country. He accepts that there was little opportunity to do this, but perhaps forgets that all returning units were required to submit “lessons learned” reports. As one of the staff officers responsible for collating and analysing these reports, I can confirm that they were certainly taken seriously.
For all its success in 1982, it was apparent that the Lynx was capable of much more development both in weight-lifting capability and improved weapon systems. Larry describes the evolution of the Mk 3 version, with the introduction of a stronger gearbox, uprated engines, improved flotation gear and a host of improvements in the cockpit, including the introduction of a Centralised Tactical System and secure speech. With the introduction of the Mk 3, the RN was better equipped to take part in the next conflict, which was the first Gulf War. “This was a phenomenal success for the Lynx” says Larry, in which two aircraft effectively neutralised the Iraqi Navy. Sadly, involvement in the Gulf extended into ”a long slow burn, lasting thirty-five years and still ongoing”. The first Gulf War receives excellent coverage, describing with the contrast between the Falklands, where the RN operated almost entirely on its own; to the Gulf, where numerous NATO forces were involved.
The final version of the Lynx was the Mk 8, which (along with many other improvements) introduced a Passive Identification Device (PID) which for the first time gave aircrew an optical picture of targets. The observer was provided with a large screen called the Tactical Situation Display, which showed information from an integrated tactical system. The Mk 8 had a lengthy and gradual introduction into service, with variants being evaluated up until 2009. The last one was recently retired, to make way for its replacement: the Lynx Wildcat.
Larry concludes this comprehensive survey of Lynx operations with brief chapters, of which the most entertaining is entitled “There but for the grace of God go I”. This recounts various hair-raising episodes in which the aircraft behaves in unexpected ways, giving its operators serious problems and providing plenty of material for later retailing in the bar. The involvement of the Lynx, in common with other rotary-wing types, in rescue operations and Aid to the Civil Power is well recounted. Larry concludes with a brief autobiographical note; with a reminder that much of the Lynx Mk 8 has been incorporated in the Wildcat, so that, when a Wildcat flies past, not only will you be seeing the design legacy of its predecessor, but some of its anatomy as well.
Reviewed by Malcolm Smith
DEATH WAS THEIR CO-PILOT
By Michael Dörflinger. Published by Pen and Sword
Notwithstanding its somewhat macabre title, this book, sub-titled “Aces of the Skies”, is a wide-ranging study of the fighter aircrew on both the allied and German sides in the First World War. Written in German and capably translated by Geoffrey Brooks, it uses as its theme the concept of an “ace”. After a brief summary of the beginnings of military aviation and the first pilots to become known by their exploits, the author asks: “What is an Ace?” He comments that, for the British, public fame for an airman was a great exception and adds that the Royal Flying Corps did everything to play down personal recognition. However, it was generally accepted on the Entente side that every pilot or observer who was credited with at least five aircraft shot down was counted as an ace. On the German side, the author comments that “…crediting aerial victories was a great administrative exercise”. For this reason, it appears that the British had many more aces although the actual number of German victories was much higher. The German authorities initially recognised eight confirmed victories by the award of the Pour le Mérite, generally known as the “Blue Max”, but this award became harder to achieve as the war progressed; so that in 1918 it was only awarded to pilots who were credited with 30 victories.
In a chapter entitled “Heroes of the Nation”, the author selects some of the prominent fliers from all the combatant nations. On the German side, he describes the stars of Manfred von Richtofen’s unit Jasta 11, including Werner Voss, Karl Schäfer and Kurt Wolff. Of Hermann Göring, he says “What Göring did after the war is well known. As the successor to Richtofen he was a man of importance. The Nazis owed much to his popularity as an ace. That is another topic altogether however.” Other German aces described include Erich Löwenhardt and Ernst Udet. “The idol of the French”, Georges Guynemer, is described, as is the less popular Rene Fonck. The British ace, Albert Ball, is well covered, as is the Canadian Billy Bishop.
Other chapters explore the concept of chivalry in the air and the mutual respect felt (although not invariably) by aircrew for their enemies; “fighter pilots on all fronts”; also the differing approaches of Hunters and Fighters. The latter chapter covers the career of Rudolph Berthold, one of the Hunters, who continued to fly with an un-healed wound in his right arm. He survived the war with an almost un-beaten record and with his arm paralysed. The caption to his photograph (opposite) reads “If the zeal to serve needed a face it would probably look like this”.
The Englishman Edward “Mick” Mannock appears in this chapter, descibed as “the pilot filled with rage”. This is alleged to have been caused by his internment and ill-treatment by the Turks at the outbreak of the war. Admired by all on the Allied side, he composed a set of practical rules for aerial warfare on the Western Front. He had no forgiveness for the enemy and, when he heard that his squadron proposed a toast to Richhofen on the latter’s death, he left the mess in disgust.
In a chapter entitled “Those of whom too much was asked” the author comments that half of all fliers who fell as members of the fighting forces died not in battle but as a result of accidents. Mid-air collisions occurred often and many aircrew were injured or died as a result of heavy landings in damaged machines. Dörflinger briefly describes the development of fighter aircraft and concludes with comparative tables of the various awards and the rankings of aces by different nationalities.
This is an unusual book, giving sometimes surprising insights into those violent and heroic days. Proof-reading is generally good, although one photograph of an SE5a appears twice, incorrectly captioned in both cases. There is no index.
Review by Malcolm Smith
HITLER’S SKY WARRIORS
German Paratroopers in Action 1939-45
By Christopher Ailsby. Published by Pen and Sword
Originally published in 2011, this book provides a well-researched and comprehensive survey of Germany’s formidable fallschirmjäger, the elite airborne forces who served in almost every theatre of WW2 where German troops were involved. The author describes the emergence of the two types of airborne forces: the parachutists themselves, who after the usual quarrel between senior officers (including Göring) were formed as part of the Luftwaffe; and the airlanding troops, who, although also initially trained parachutists, were delivered to the battlefield in transport aircraft, usually after the landing grounds had been secured by the initial parachute envelopment. The latter were formed as Army battalions.
The book opens with the customary statement that Germany’s armed forces were trained and equipped for the concept of Blizkrieg – not a term that was much used in Germany at the time. It covers all the major battlefronts and pays particular attention to the occasions when airborne troops were used in their primary role of vertical envelopment. The surprise attack on Holland in 1940 is described as “an outstanding success for Hitler’s sky warriors” and included the almost bloodless capture of the fortress of Eben Emael. The conquest of the island of Crete was a triumphant vindication of the concept; with the fast-moving but lightly armed paratroops supported and re-supplied by a steady stream of airlanding reinforcements brought in byJu52 aircraft.
However, says Ailsby, Hitler was so shocked by the scale of the losses that he forbade any more large scale airborne operations. Thereafter, airborne troops were mostly used as elite infantry, to be found wherever the fighting was most ferocious. On the Eastern Front, they earned a reputation for courage and steadfastness, but the sub-title to this chapter is headed “Russia – A force bled white.” The daring rescue of Mussolini by an airborne unit headed by Otto Skorzeny is described as an operation that was such a success that not a shot was fired by either side.
“Hitler’s Sky Warriors” is most profusely illustrated, showing airborne troops in every location where they fought. Many of the photographs, it is claimed, are previously unpublished, although no sources are attributed. Paratroopers’ uniforms and equipment are shown in great detail, as are their distinguishing badges. The book concludes with a somewhat inadequate index, details of orders of battle and a list of fallschirmjäger Knight’s Cross holders.
Review by Malcolm Smith
IMAGES OF WAR – EARLY JET FIGHTERS
British and American 1944 – 1954
By Leo Marriott. Published by Pen & Sword Aviation
The title is accurate – this book is crammed with around 200 images of early jet fighters, some of them from wartime archives. However, it is far more than just a photograph album; the pictures are accompanied by well-researched text, opening with a potted history of jet engine development. This gives full credit to the genius of Air Commodore Sir Frank Whittle, describing how he had to turn to private investors to fund his early work on jet propulsion because of the complete indifference of the Air Ministry. Perhaps not so well known is the interest shown in 1941 by General “Hap” Arnold, Chief of the US Army Air Corps, in the Gloster prototype E28/39 aircraft and its Whittle W1.X engine. Arnold was instrumental in sending the W1.X engine and drawings of a more advanced successor, the W2.B, to the USA to be given to the General Electric Company. The American company was not slow in developing its own designs, culminating in the highly successful J47, which powered the F86 Sabre and the B47 bomber. Other US companies used British designs to develop their own variants, with Pratt and Whitney producing its J42, based on the Rolls Royce Nene; while Curtiss Wright produced the Wright J65, a variant of the Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire. The author comments that, by the mid 1950s, Britain was still a world leader in jet engine development, with the Rolls Royce Nene and its smaller stable mate, the Welland, in full production, while de Havilland was producing its own Goblin and Ghost engines. However, American companies were “flexing their muscles” and were soon to pull ahead.
British jet fighters receive comprehensive coverage, with the author describing the extraordinarily rapid developments in both aircraft and engines in the decade from 1944. Early marks of Meteor, equipped with engines from Whittle, Rolls Royce and de Havilland are illustrated, while the de Havilland Vampire and Venom soon make their appearance. Eric “Winkle” Brown’s exploit in landing the first jet (the second prototype Vampire in October 1945) on the aircraft carrier HMS Ocean is illustrated; there is also a rare picture of a single-engined Gloster prototype, to meet specification E1/44. The Supermarine Attacker, with its antecedents in the piston-engined Spiteful, formed the first operational naval jet squadron in August 1951, although it is described as an interim type that only saw a brief period in front line service. A more successful aircraft was its Hawker contemporary – the Nene-powered Sea Hawk. This graceful little aircraft served in 13 front line squadrons and also proved to be a significant export success.
Even before the Seahawk entered service, the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy were both considering faster and heavier twin-engined fighters. For the RN, the culmination of this procurement activity resulted in the Supermarine Scimitar. This aircraft entered service in 1958 – outside the timescale of this book, but the author describes and illustrates the various prototypes that took part in its lengthy development. Early precursors included the Vee-tailed Type 508 (seen later by this writer in sad condition at the School of Aircraft Handling at RNAS Culdrose) and the Type 525. Moving away from naval aircraft, the author describes how (in the same timescale) Supermarine developed the Attacker into the swept-wing 510 and then into the 535, which became the Swift in RAF service. The Swift was fated to enjoy only limited front-line service, but Hawker had more success with its development of the Seahawk via the 1052 and 1081 into the legendary Hunter. “The Hunter was enormously successful and much loved by its pilots”, comments the author. The chapter on British fighters concludes with a succinct description of the development of de Havilland’s twin-boom Vampires and Venoms into successful day and night fighters, followed by the mighty DH110, which after many tribulations later became the naval Sea Vixen. For the RAF, Gloster’s submission for the twin-engined day and night fighter was the Javelin, the first delta-winged aircraft to enter service in the UK. In a tailpiece to this chapter, the author reminds us that the English ElectricP1A, the precursor to the Lightning, made its first flight in August 1954.
Moving on to United States Air Force jets, we meet the first example – the Bell XP-59 Airacomet, Powered by two modified Whittle engines, this made its first flight in October 1942, several months before the prototype Meteor. It never entered operational service and the first really practical jet fighter was the Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star. This was developed into a truly successful fighter, of which 1,731 were produced. It was used in the ground attack role in the Korean War, and the trainer version, the T33, served in huge numbers in the US and many other air forces. Jets produced by Republic are described, starting with the P-84 Thunderjet. This successful design was developed through several variants, culminating in the F-84G, which was equipped to carry nuclear weapons (the first single-seat fighter-bomber to have this capacity). Using the results of German research into swept wings, Republic developed the F-84 into the F-84F Thunderstreak, powered by a licence-built version of the Armstrong-Siddeley Sapphire.
Designers at North American Aviation were also interested in the potential of swept wings and developed the world’s first swept wing single-engined fighter jet. This was the F-86, soon to be named Sabre, of which the prototype made its first flight on 1 October 1947, only two months ahead of what was to be its great rival – the Russian MiG-15. The author describes the many developments of this superb fighter, culminating in the radar-equipped F-86D. The worsening Cold War in the late 50s and the increasing threat to US and NATO forces in Europe, led the US to realise the need for radar-equipped all-weather fighters. Several are described, including the Northrop F-89 Scorpion and a much-modified T-33 – the F-94 Starfire.
Several naval aircraft are described, including the troubled F3H Demon, whose engine problems almost led to its cancellation; also the fast-climbing Douglas Skyray. The accident-prone Vought F7U Cutlass makes a brief appearance and the final navy fighter of the era, the F11F-1 Tiger, is described. Although an advanced design, with a slim area-ruled fuselage, the Tiger had only a limited service career, although it equipped the US Navy’s Blue Angels aerobatic team from 1957 to 1968.
A final chapter – entitled “A Good Idea at the Time” describes some excursions into novel design concepts, such as mixed jet and propeller powered aircraft and the XP-85 “parasite fighter” designed to be carried beneath a modified B-29. The Saunders-Roe SRA1 flying boat fighter is illustrated, as is the waterborne Convair delta-winged XF2Y Seadart.
In softback format and reasonably priced, this book provides a fascinating insight into a period of unparalleled aircraft development. The author provides a fulsome tribute to British ingenuity and the debt owed by the USA to early UK designs. It would have benefited from the inclusion of an index, but this is a minor criticism of an excellent volume, which would make a most acceptable Christmas present!
Reviewed by Malcolm Smith