A Higher Call by Adam Makos with Larry Alexander
This is one of those books you will be reluctant to put down, and just hope that it will go on and on. It provides fascinating insights into the US and German airforces during the Second World War, especially the German airforce.
The vulnerability of the men and machines is clearly exposed, coupled with the courage of both sides. These men surfed on top of a quagmire of confusion, corruption, stupidity and downright evil. Yet many could rise above this mess, to reach admirable heights of valour, morality, chivalry, and concern for each other, including those labelled as the enemy.
In this book you will experience what it was like to fly a Messerschmitt, German Jet Fighter P262 and a B17 Flying Fortress. You are spared nothing, especially the fear and anguish, pride, disgust and despair. Above all you will come to understand why the humane common man, behaving with honour and integrity while adhering to his duty, towers above their leaders, especially politicians.
Charlie Brown and Franz Stigler represent such ordinary people forced to become warriors in an evil war.
This book should make us proud to be other-seeking rather than self-seeking. Finally you will be given insight into the truly grotesque Herman Goering with whom absolute power corrupted absolutely. The German fighter aces were highly respected and they rebelled against Goering and for this he resolved to eliminate them by assigning them to the highly unreliable jet fighter P262. They were that good that many even mastered that horror of an aircraft.
The Gallipoli Oak
Local members will remember that last May we had a talk by Martin Purdy on the subject of his doctoral thesis, Westfield Memorial Village. Martin's other specialism is Gallipoli and we had hoped to book him to talk about this in 2016. Unfortunately, this hasn't been possible but my disappointment was compensated a little by the book I came across in Lancaster library.
“The Gallipoli Oak”, which Martin co-authored with Ian Dawson, is a fascinating and moving account of the valiant men of Middleton, Todmorden and Rochdale who answered the call to arms at the beginning of August 1914 and signed up with the 1/6th Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers.
After less than a month of training the Battalion was heading overseas, across the Mediterranean to Egypt where they spent the winter months. For lads used to the cold and wet climate of Lancashire, this felt like heaven and the majority thrived; the quotes from letters home show how much they initially enjoyed this period. However after a while the novelty palled and as one of them wrote, “from the Colonel to the youngest bugler boy the daily prayer is that we may soon get out of this intolerable sand, sun and smell back to a bit of good honest Lancashire mud and rain.”
This was not to be - on 1st May the Lancashire men left Cairo and sailed from Alexandria bound for the Dardanelles. The book succinctly sums up why:
“The battalion was being sent to act as the second wave of an infantry attack on the Gallipoli Peninsula, a Turkish outpost bordered to the west by the Aegean Sea and to the east by the straits of the Dardanelles. These straits controlled the route to the Black Sea and the oil fields of the Middle East. If the Dardanelles were to fall into British hands, the Navy could be in the port of Constantinople within a day and in a position to deliver a potentially fatal blow to the Ottomans, while opening a route through to their allies in Russia.”
Using quotes from many letters, diaries and memoirs, the authors intimately involve us in the devastation of the Gallipoli campaign: on landing on the Peninsula the battalion was 1000-strong; after seven months more than one quarter were dead and as many as 800 wounded. The roll of honour lists 11 officers and 194 men who lost their lives, but taking the wounded into account it is clear that the battalion was almost completely wiped out.
So why 'The Gallipoli Oak'? One of the officers was 19 year-old 2nd Lieutenant Eric Duckworth from Rochdale who led his men in a catastrophic attack on 7th August 1915 in the Battle of Krithia Vineyard at Cape Helles. Eric was fatally wounded but he fell in an advanced position so recovery of his body was impossible. However, the chaplain Rev Dennis Fletcher wrote to Eric's parents that many of the men from the platoon knew exactly where he fell and could point it out on a map should they ever wish to visit.
Seven years later James and Mary Duckworth did just that, carrying with them on that long journey, in a bucket of water, a sapling English oak tree from their summer home at Coniston. This they planted, not on the spot where Eric died but in the Redoubt Cemetery alongside the bodies of many of his men.
The oak tree survives to this day: though not as large as its English counterparts due to the poor, dry soil, nevertheless the care it receives from the Turkish gardeners employed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission ensures that it is a living memorial to one brave young officer and a focus for pilgrimages to the site of one of the most bloody military campaigns of the Great War.
The Gallipoli Oak
Martin Purdy & Ian Dawson
Moonraker Publishing, 2013
The Churchill Factor by Boris Johnson
Small Wars, far away places, The Genesis of the Modern World 1945-65
by Michael Burleigh
Looking back there were only two subjects I enjoyed at school. Two influential teachers who managed to install a lifelong interest in me for their subject for which I must be eternally grateful.
The first was a nun who taught music. How she managed to convince my ears to listen to Mozart, Brahms and Beethoven in the era of disco, glam rock and punk I will never know.
The second was a history teacher. He fitted the usual stereotype. Tall, he wore glasses, had a beard and long hair. A corduroy jacket with leather elbow patches and had a quiet manner.
The subject he took us for O-level was Social and Economic History of Britain 1745-1939. We were never taught about the Second World War. Some of us were fortunate to have had grandfathers who had come through that period and gave us first-hand accounts. There were plenty of war films at the cinema and on television we had Colditz, Secret Army and Dad’s Army.
In a way the first book leads conveniently to the second. How can you begin to fathom the geo-political system in the world today without understanding what happened between 1945-65? Fortunately Michael Burleigh has some very good answers. The bones are well and truly picked over the Suez Crisis. The author comments that our relationship with our neighbours across the Channel has suffered since. I believe our relationship with our neighbours has suffered since 1066.
I would recommend having a stiff drink in hand when reading the chapter 'To The Brink, The Missile Crisis'. I was still in nappies when this chess game between Kennedy and Khrushchev was being played out in the Caribbean. I will not spoil the read but I had not realised just how close we came to mutually-assured destruction. The twists and turns read better than any thriller by Le Carre, Deighton or Fleming.
The frightening thing about this book is that a future tome covering say 1965-2005 may not be possible. If the committee being formed to look at the Freedom Of Information Act recommends restrictions on material being available, then lessons from the mistakes of recent times will not be learnt by future generations. I think it was Freud who said the definition of madness is someone making the same mistake expecting a different result.
Both books are available to loan from Lancashire Library Services.
This a fascinating book of courage, intellectual application, innovation, attempted manipulation by authorities, dedication, recklessness, integration of multiple disciplines and much more. During WW1 the Army and RFC, later combined into the RAF, reached extraordinary heights in the development of cameras, especially lens and aerial reconnaissance. Lord Trenchard recognised its importance and placed Second Lieutenant John Moore-Brabazon in charge of this new means of acquiring intelligence. Unfortunately, by the mid-1930s, all the methods and skills had been lost because the RAF turned its back on it; they were not alone: so largely did the Germans who as a result were largely ignorant of the development of the D-Day Armada.
We have much to be grateful to the Australian, Sidney-Cotton (shown bottom left in photos), a natural flyer, imaginative airman and solo idea brain-stormer. His supreme confidence, refusing to obey orders which deflected him from chasing the truth and his innovative, daring exploits made him an enemy of those in authority even more so than the Germans. I loved the tale of his flying his reconnaissance machine to Berlin with its hidden cameras taking pictures of the Rhine and Siegfried Line right under very nose of a high-ranking German airman who was with him in the co-pilot's seat. Such exploits did not endear him to the Air Ministry.
The book takes the reader from these early beginnings to the development of the highly secret Central Photo Interpretation Unit at RAF Medmenham (see picture below bottom left) near Marlow, in a mock-Tudor mansion overlooking the River Thames, and the creation of a maze of interlinked Nissen huts. This place was kept at the same level of secrecy as Bletchley Park where the code breakers were established. So much so that, long after the unit had been moved away, when I spent 9 months working there in the early 1970s, and also visiting the unit many times wandering around the many corridors, its war-time role was never revealed or talked about. It was indeed a beautiful site on which to live and work, with walks down to the river and along.
The behaviour of the Air Ministry in those days beggars belief, and Bomber Harris does not come out of it too well. I have had my share of this type of Air Ministry opposition due to tram-line thinking, in-fighting and culpable ignorance. I too, like others, had to give up in frustration and leave them to them own devices. Fortunately for us there were a few more stubborn hearts who never gave in and won the day and contributed pricelessly to the winning of the war. Unlike the Bletchley Park heroes, these people did not receive their highly justified recognition. Aerial Reconnaissance still goes on at much more sophisticated levels backed by computer technology, micro-miniaturisation, satellites and drones. I often wonder, with the dumbing down of our education system and universities, whether we could muster such brilliant people for Bletchley Park, Y Service and Photo Interpretation today, and I doubt it.
There is a wealth of material to fascinate the reader: 400 German airfields just across the channel to be monitored daily, the building up of an invasion fleet of barges (see picture above bottom right) which could only cross the Channel in the calmest of weathers, the use of so many different disciplines, Sarah Churchill getting into hot water because she corrected her father with information obtained from her activities, and the reader will surely never forget the exploits of Adrian Warburton, and so much more. I could go on and on but I won't because it will spoil a thrilling read for the reader.
Wherever You Are by The Military Wives
“The world knows what happens to British troops overseas. But the women they leave at home have challenges of their own, which nobody hears about. Until now.
Wherever You Are contains 25 true accounts of life as a military wife. They tell of the loneliness and isolation of living on a military base, the difficulty of writing letters to men facing unimaginable horrors, and the overwhelming joy of seeing husbands and sons come home safe.
But these are no ordinary stories. The fortunes of these wives changed forever when they began singing together: not only did they find support, but their choir – the Military Wives Choir – captured the hearts of the nation.” (Cover notes)
If, like me, you do not have personal experience of life as a service wife (I didn't meet Bob until after he had left the RAF) or whether you saw the television series The Choir or not, you will find this a heartwarming and inspiring book.
Biggles Learns to Fly by Captain W. E. Johns
This may surprise you as it did me, as I read through this paperback which was a stocking filler for Christmas. Biggles, my boyhood hero, burst forth into the world scene as a flying duffer! “Take your foot off that wing before you burst the fabric!”, shouted the instructor from his seat. Biggles backed away hastily - too hastily; his foot caught in one of the many wires…… the next instant he had measured his length on the ground.” From these humbling and humiliating beginnings our hero learned the hard way to fly and just survive in the aerial combats in World War 1 and in the early years of the highly risky Royal Flying Corps.
In this period of remembering those who fought, suffered and died in World War 1, Captain Johns, who fought in that terrible war, brings out through Biggles, in vivid ways, what it was really like to be a “fully fledged pilot”, having completed a mere 9 hours solo and without any sort of combat training before joining a front line squadron.
Biggles on his first solo completely lost himself and on his last drop of fuel managed to find a suitable airfield and with difficulty landed safely only to be followed in by a very angry instructor who informed Biggles that he was not lost. The airfield was just on the other side of a nearby hedge and that he had criss crossed the airfield a number times during his period of being lost. At one stage in his training he was even questioned by his instructor whether he, Biggles, was trying to kill him?
So from so-called pitot training in a Maurier Farnan Shorthorn and under age, off to war in a squadron flying FEs to France he was sent. You will experience the bewilderment of a novice, surviving and hardening as a pilot during his first battles, early days of reconnaisance, escapes from behind enemy lines, night flying attacks, dawn patrols, special agent drops and gun battery directing. He faced great odds against the deadly German Albatross aircraft.
You will follow Biggles getting to know and fight, flying the Bristol Fighter and flying a Sopworh Camel, just surviving an attack by the famous Richtofen Circus. If you want a taste of aerial combat in those days with the spills, stress, failures and some successes whilst being a novice fighter pilot, you could do no better than to retrace your younger days with nostalgia, read a book you won’t put down until you finish it: “Jolly good show” as Biggles would say. However this remark hides a deeper recognition of the futility of wars. Finally if you get hooked, as I was, you will be filling your portable media with Biggles books, and why not?
(War in Britain Series)
Jon & Diane Sutherland
Lancashire libraries code 940.544341SUT
If you have served in the Royal Air Force, Fleet Air Arm or Army Air Corps and have been stationed on an airfield in Britain during your service career then this book is for you. If you spent your time at a Maintenance Unit, HQ or training establishment, then I hope a companion volume, along with one for overseas units is waiting to be written to keep you entertained.
From Abbots Bromley to Zeals and including that RAF station for insomniacs, Little Snoring. Lulsgate Bottom, for which I am sure you can get some cream for at Boots the Chemist, and RAF Hell’s Mouth, an unlikely posting for a Padre. They are all here in this concise volume.
It has been interesting to thumb through and read the history of the stations to which I had been posted throughout my career and others to which I would have liked a tour, but Innsworth never heeded my requests.
An interesting quiz could be arranged around the current use of closed stations. Which one is now a prison? How many have been handed over to the Army ? or are now a golf course ? (no the bunkers are not in use).
Any military aviation enthusiast should acquire a copy of this book.
Locally, the histories of Inskip, Millom and Windermere are included and you will not drive along the A591 between Windermere and Ambleside again without wishing a Sunderland flying boat was in circuit.
The only error I could find, which any ATC cadet who is proficient at aircraft recognition would have pointed out, is on page 305, where a photo of an Army Air Corps Lynx helicopter taking off from Middle Wallop is incorrectly labelled as a Puma.
Overall a good read. If the authors require some assistance in compiling an overseas volume I can have my case packed and passport ready at short notice to assist with the research.
Harrier by Jonathan Glancey
I was brought up in Kent. I remember being taken to an air show at Biggin Hill in the early 1970s. Amongst all the fast jets and helicopters a Harrier would have been on the flying programme. This aircraft, with the vertical take-off and landing, standing still in the air and other gravity defying manoeuvres would have amazed the crowd and had an impact on this young schoolboy. This was the era when we could still produce world beating aircraft. You could go and watch Concorde take off and land at Heathrow. Nothing looked or sounded like it. Tomorrow's World, hosted by the ex RAF and WW2 pilot Raymond Baxter was prime Thursday evening television prior to Top Of The Pops.
Joining the RAF, and being posted to RAF Lincolnshire as it was known, you could scan the skyline north of Peterborough for Harriers on the approach to Wittering, as the Deltic locomotive-hauled train headed north up the East Coast mainline.
Jonathan Glancey writes a jargon-free account of the history of this great aircraft. From its inception and the rival designs from America and France, through the trials and setbacks which nearly saw the project scrapped. The early years and the US Marine Corps who saw an aircraft which had unique capabilities. The wars, from the Falklands to Afghanistan, no other aircraft has been such a loyal servant to the Royal Air Force in the Cold War and post-Cold War days. He pulls no punches as he lays into the politicians who know the cost of everything and the value of nothing as the Harrier was withdrawn from service and sold off to the US Marine Corps for 'spares' for their AV8Bs after costly upgrades.
This copy of the book will be going back the library shortly. If you want a roller coaster ride of emotion of an aviation subject this book is for you. Prepare to shed a tear or two.
My own personal memories are of the GR3 Harriers in Belize. It saddens me that I cannot take my young nephews and nieces to an air show and watch an aircraft stand still in the air and bow to the crowd.
Thank you Hawker and thank you Jonathan for such a good read.
My Bonnie by John Suchet
John and Bonnie Suchet had both had unhappy first marriages and when they met it was a meeting of minds and souls. In 2006 this was shattered when Bonnie was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease.
John was recommended to keep a diary which, after initial reluctance, he did and this book is based on that. It is a "warts and all" account of how Bonnie's condition deteriorated and how John coped with seeing the love of his life become a stranger. It is moving and funny by turns, and pulls no punches. John is very honest about his feelings, his frustration and anger when Bonnie said or did things that were out of character or didn't make sense - and his remorse after he had lost his temper with her. He is full of praise for the Admiral nurses who supported and guided him, and has made it his mission to publicise their work. For three years, John cared for Bonnie at home but ultimately this became too much and again he is honest about how he felt when after 26 years together she had to go into full-time residential care.
Today, this distressing and puzzling disease has touched most people's lives. If you are a carer, then this book will support you, remind you that you are not alone and perhaps give you some ideas to assist you in your struggle. It will also help those less directly involved to understand and suppor the carers.
Slide Rule by Nevil Shute
It was when we went to the Yorkshire Air Museum that my misconception that Nevil Shute Norway was only a good author was dispelled; he was also a famous aircraft development manager and engineer. I decided to make up for this by searching second-hand bookshops for his writings. I now have a nearly complete set of his books and am starting to work through them. Nevil had a keen observing eye of human character and his books contain that gentleness yet rapid movement, cleanliness and excitement missing from our books today.
Slde Rule takes us back to the pre- and in-between World War years when flying was highly experimental and very risky. Nevil lost his elder brother who was badly injured in Flanders and susequently died from his wounds. Nevil developed a love of aircraft from his earliest days and envied the Flying Corps pilots even though their average life on the Western Front was a mere three weeks. Nevil suffered from a severe stammer and eventually was dismissed to re-enter civilian life just before being commissioned for the newly-formed RAF. He ignored his old school tie and became a private soldier within the Suffolk Regiment. He knew of no life then or since so restful as that of a private soldier who was considered incapable of any rational thought and because of this he enjoyed the pursuit of mental leisure and reflection and never regretted his experience. He never saw combat and yet found a way of spending hours within a grounded Sopwith Camel while still in the army.
After the war he attended Oxford University from which he obtained a third class degree in engineering which was not a promising start for an outstanding aircraft development manager. He adopted writing as a means of relaxation and stress-relieving therapy.
We are taken through the development of the R100 airship under Sir Barnes Wallis which competed against the ill-fated government-sponsored and managed R101. It is noteworthy that power is not an abstract thing but has to be owned by somebody on whom rests responsibility. In the case of R100. there was a clear structure and allocation of responsibility, whilst with R101 power was dissipated among a wide range of power blocs and this led to disaster. Those responsible for the development of a previous R38 airship, which broke in two, catching fire and killing 44 people, were also involved in R101. The building, modifying and flying of a massisve airship structure makes a fascinating story. Those interested in human-system failures could do well to study the R101 which had all the pre-conditions for disaster embedded within it.
Nevil goes on to descrbe the anxious and nail-biting years - with hire and fire and desperate depression - from 1930 to the beginning of World War II; how he formed a small company, "Airspeed", which had to survive in impossible circumstances; how he culled investment from others, and eventually how he found key people and welded them into a winning team.
In eight years, Airspeed never made a profit, until just before it was taken over by de-Havilland. There are many lessons and jewels here for entrepreneurs today. Nevil divided people into "starters" and "runners"; the latter ran things to show a profit while the starters were risk takers and creative - without a doubt he was one of these. For those interested in aircraft, his period in the aircraft industry covered DH.34, R100, Turn Sail Plane, Ferry, aircraft refuelling, very hazardous especially in those early days, Courier with the first restractable undercarriage to be produced in the UK, the Envoy and the Oxford, by which time he resigned in 1938 to concentrate on writing books.
I wish I had read this years ago during my time in strategy and R&D.
"Target Tirpitz" by Patrick Bishop
I was recently given a newspaper cutting from the North West Evening Mail recording the death of RAF Bomber Command Veteran, Archie Johnstone at the age of 99. Mr Johnstone was a bomb-aimer with 617 Squadron and took part in the raid which finally sank the battleship Tirpitz in November 1944. He had also been a member of the former RAFA Kendal Branch.
This was rather a coincidence as I had just finished reading Patrick Bishops' book "Target Tirpitz", a fascinating history of the battleship which many felt was unsinkable. The book charts the 24 missions, by sea and air, between 1940 and 1944, including human torpedoes and near-suicidal bombing raids.
Patrick Bishop builds up a picture of the Tirpitz's crew and the way the atmosphere on board changed. As each mission attempted - and failed - to sink her, the crew became increasingly conscious that they were a sitting target and that it was a matter of time before one was successful. The different teams of Allied servicemen from Navy, Fleet Air Arm and RAF who were involved are also described and the book is a fine tribute to their determination and bravery.
It was finally the job of 9 and 617 Squadrons to try, and even they had three attempts. The final raid, on 12th November 1944, involved 30 Lancaster bombers, each carrying a 12,000 lb "Tallboy" bomb, designed by Barnes Wallis. On this day there were only 1700 crew on board the battleship, some 600 engine hands having been moved ashore, or the loss of life would have been greater. Even so almost 1000 men perished.
Winston Churchill was obsessed by Tirpitz and for five years he pressured the service chiefs to send out mission after mission to eliminate her, believing that the tide of the war would change if she was off the scene. What Bishop's book does is question just how much of a threat Tirpitz was and whether such concentration of men and materiel, together with the loss of life, was justified.
Operation Mincemeat by Ben Macintyre
One overcast April morning in 1943, a fisherman notices a corpse floating in the sea off the coast of Spain. When the body is brought ashore, it is identified as a British soldier, Major William Martin of the Royal Marines. A leather attaché case, secured to his belt, reveals an intelligence gold mine: top-secret Allied invasion plans.
But Major William Martin never existed. The body is that of a Welsh tramp and every single document is fake. Operation Mincemeat is the true story of the most extraordinary deception ever planned by Churchill's spies - an outrageous lie that travelled from a Whitehall basement all the way to Hitler's desk.
So says the summary on the back cover of this amazing book. The intricacies of the deception, the attention to detail - and the occasional oversight that might have derailed the whole operation - are worthy of a James Bond story, so it's no surprise to find that Bond's creator, Ian Fleming, was a member of the department whose job it was to come up with plots to outfox the enemy.
The driving force behind this deception was a Naval Intelligence officer called Ewen Montagu who in 1953 wrote The Man Who Never Was, his account of the plan he had masterminded, codenamed Operation Mincemeat. The book was written at the behest of the Government in order to conceal certain facts and was intended to be incomplete.
Author Ben Macintyre first came across Ewen Montagu when researching an earlier book, Agent Zigzag, and a visit to Montagu's son unearthed a treasure trove of documents, including an unpublished autobiography, which allowed the full story of Operation Mincemeat to be told.
Macintyre says in his Preface: "This deception operation - which underpinned the invasion of Sicily and helped to win the war - was framed around a man who never was. But the people who invented him, and those who believed in him, and those who owed their lives to him, most certainly were. This is their story."
An ideal book for a long train journey - you won't want to put it down!
Double Cross by Ben Macintyre
And if that deception plan wasn't amazing or audacious enough, then this follow-up book by Ben Macintyre will take your breath away. Having pulled off Operation Mincemeat the Allied wartime intelligence team devised another deception to convince the Nazis that Calais and Norway, not Normandy, were the targets of a 150,000-strong invasion force of D-Day. The deception involved Bletchley Park, MI5, MI6, SOE, Scientific Intelligence, the FBI and the French Resistance. But at its heart was the 'Double Cross System', a team of double agents controlled by the Twenty Committee, so named because twenty in Roman numerals forms a double cross.
The book recounts the backgrounds, recruitment and exploits of these double agents whose "masterpiece of deceit" saved countless lives on D-Day. It is a very involved story and will by turns amaze and confuse you, not least because the agents had at least three names - their real names, the ones they were given as spies for the Germans and those given them by the Allies!
A review of "Buccaneer Boys" by Air Commodore Graham Pitchfork.
Only last week I was caught by our Branch Chairman and Secretary. I have
a weakness for scouring charity shops for aviation themed books.
Sometimes I have to get my fix elsewhere and the library is sometimes my dealer. Recently at Heysham Library a title caught my eye. At first I thought it would contain swashbuckling tales from the Caribbean or of one-legged pirates with parrots on their shoulderswhilst searching for long lost treasure. To my delight though, the strapline 'True tales by those who flew the last all-British bomber' led me to investigate further than the inside front cover. I must confess to being a 'Cold War' jet junkie. Whilst I never served on a station where Buccaneers were based they would have been a frequent visitor to Wildenrath, Coltishall and Coningsby. At Wildenrath, working in the POL, (Petrol, Oils and Lubricants), section, one of our bulk fuel installations was adjacent to the airfield, so I had a grandstand view of the day's flying activities. I saw a Buccaneer at Machrihannish too. It was the last time I saw one in the flesh, so to speak.
The book covers all aspects of life with this aircraft: Royal Naval
service on the last big carriers, subsequent life in Royal Air Force
markings and, unknown to me prior to reading this book, its service
with the South African Air Force and Defence Force. The aircraft's
contribution to Operation Granby, the First Gulf War, is well
So for all of us armchair pilots, whilst we wait for the arrival of the
airshow season, pour yourself a large one and enjoy the reminiscences
of those who flew a legend. I will be returning it to the library
shortly. Code number 623.746309 PIT if you are interested.
If you are familiar with YouTube on your computer, you can also search
RAF Buccaneers and video clips will appear as if by magic. Warning,
this could become addictive!