BOOK REVIEWS

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 zeal to serve”. Rudolph Berthold as Commander of JG2. He wears the insignia of the Iron Cross and the Pour le Merite

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.

Mountain troops wait to be airlifted to Crete to reinforce the Fallschirmjager on 21 May 1941. Just one of the profuse illustrations in the bok

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