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

“FIGHTERS OVER THE FLEET, NAVAL AIR DEFENCE FROM BIPLANES TO THE COLD WAR”

By Norman Friedman. Published by Seaforth Publishing

Maintaining Seaforth Publishing’s tradition of high quality, large-format volumes, this is a marvellous, scholarly book, by an eminent military historian. The author combines a deep understanding of his subject with a most readable style and, as the title indicates, leads us through a chronological survey of naval air defence from the early days of embarked aviation up to and including the Cold War. The author follows the three main strands of this complex subject – illustrating the development of aircraft carriers and of their embarked aircraft; the need to detect and track incoming enemy aircraft; and finally (in some ways the most difficult problem) how to assimilate data on incoming threats and present a usable picture to enable the command to direct the defensive battle.

The book opens with a survey of pre-war aircraft carrier development in the UK, Japan and USA, followed by a study of the development of fighter aircraft throughout the period. The chapter on “fighters without radar” reviews the differing concepts followed by naval staffs as they attempted to resolve the challenges of their potential operating environments. As the navies developed their carrier tactics, aircraft defensive roles were envisaged as long range “spotters” to detect the enemy’s fleet and attack it, supported by fighters capable of breaking up enemy air attack. Fighters could conduct standing patrols over the fleet (later known as Combat Air Patrols) or be kept in readiness on deck. The difficulties of positioning fighters so that they had a reasonable chance of seeing enemy aircraft as they approached, but also be in a position for a favourable attack, were not satisfactorily resolved. While both the western navies concentrated great effort on defensive strategy; efforts that later bore fruit; the Japanese, with their emphasis on the offensive, never developed a satisfactory means of fighter control,

The Second World War saw the rapid development of ship-borne (and later airborne) radars, in which British scientists played a notable part. In the RN, radar was initially seen as a way of alerting the carrier to incoming attacks, so that information could be passed to an airborne flight leader to organise defensive action. Early long wavelength radars had a very broad beam, so that while approaching targets could be located in azimuth, height finding was a much more intractable problem. The most significant British radar development was the cavity magnetron, which enabled operation at much shorter wavelengths. Freely given to the USA by Winston Churchill, the device helped to enable the development of increasingly sophisticated radars on both sides of the Atlantic. In the USA, the Radiation Laboratory of MIT developed several radars important in naval fighter control. Friedman emphasises the importance of Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) and describes the development of this essential supplement to detection.

Pre-war British experience led to recognition of the need for a “filter room”, to analyse and track incoming attacks. Known as plotting, this provided the means to visualise the developing tactical situation. This filtering process proved highly successful in the Battle of Britain and it was subsequently developed independently (initially on a trial basis) in the RN. Experience of fighter direction in the Mediterranean in 1940 led the RN to establish a Fighter Direction school; an initiative that was quickly followed by the USN.

In discussing “fighters under radar control” Friedman reviews successful RN experience in Operation “Pedestal” in August 1942. The performance of RN aircraft was inferior to that of the German attackers, but this was more than balanced by superior tactics based on radar fighter direction. So long as the carriers stayed with the convoy, most of the heavy enemy attacks were broken up and no merchant ships were sunk. The author describes the fighter direction room and the displays used by the directors to organise a structured, layered defence.

The USN enjoyed similar initial success in encounters with Japanese attackers in the Pacific. The author describes the rapid advance in radar technology and the ever-increasing industrial advantage of the USA in bringing forward more sophisticated radars and the ships in which they were deployed. By 1944, USN carriers deployed surface and air search radars, homing beacons, IFF and AA gunnery control radars. The Battle of the Philippine Sea, which resulted in the “Great Marianas Turkey Shoot”, was the triumph of USN fighter control says Friedman, just as Pedestal was a triumph for the British. In the later attack on Okinawa, however, USN radar control broke down under the concentrated weight of suicide attacks. This stimulated initiatives to improve fighter performance and expand radar coverage, including early experiments in Airborne Early Warning (AEW).

Post-war threats to naval air defence were that concentrated attacks would saturate the defence and the rapid development of fast jet aircraft would lead to much shorter times in which to identify attackers and co-ordinate the defence. Emerging weapons such as stand-off missiles also had to be countered. The chapter on “the jet age begins” provides a detailed review of US and UK naval fighter development, describing the earlier interim aircraft types before the arrival of the Sea Vixen in the RN. This is a masterly summary, covering not only aircraft development but also such UK innovations as the angled deck, steam catapult and mirror landing sight (all adopted by the USN). Friedman comments that the Korean War probably saved USN carrier aviation, demonstrating that reliance on nuclear deterrence alone was not sufficient for a global power. The USN deployed a variety of interim jet aircraft in this conflict, the experience leading to the introduction of the F8U Crusader.

In “the computer age in air defence”, Friedman describes the work of the British scientist Doctor Ralph Benjamin in developing the Combat Data System (CDS) and associated three-dimensional radar Type 984. In this chapter Friedman discusses the rapid advances in computer technology and the ultimately abortive efforts in the UK to pursue rocket-powered fighters (the SR177) and supersonic VSTOL aircraft (P1154). Ultimately, the RN benefited from USN experience and procured a limited number of F4 Phantoms, modified for RN use with after-burning Spey engines.

In the chapter on the Falklands campaign, Friedman describes the evolution of the various Harrier developments and the RN’s interest in retaining some fixed-wing capability following the demise of the last fixed wing carrier, HMS Ark Royal. Development of the Sea Harrier variant was greatly helped by parallel interest in VSTOL by the USMC. Originally intended to fill the role of probe and reconnaissance, the aircraft was not expected to play a part in fleet area air defence. This policy was dramatically amended by the aircraft’s performance in the Falklands conflict, helped by the supply of the latest AIM9L version of the Sidewinder missile.

The profuse illustrations throughout the volume are well-chosen and supported by captions that often amount to small essays in their own right. The volume concludes with a tabular comparison of all the operational aircraft mentioned within. Proof reading throughout is to a very high standard and the author provides a full bibliography.

Reviewed by Malcolm Smith