Friday, November 20, 2015

Strike And Strike Again - the return!

I have always been a Beaufighter man. That sentence should really just have an ‘insert aircraft type here’ because I really am infatuated with anything flown by the RAF and Commonwealth air forces. However, the Beaufighter has always struck a chord with me. It was the strike aircraft that held the line but was there at the end. When the concept of the strike wings was being developed, the Beaufighter filled the vital anti-flak role and then took over torpedo duties from the Beaufort before reaching the zenith of its career with the widespread use of the rocket projectile. It exudes a sense of purpose. There’s a quality about it that I just can’t lay a finger on.  

As you can imagine, therefore, due to my struggle above to convey my enduring admiration and respect for this aircraft and its men, I am always on the look out for Beaufighter books. They aren’t thick on the ground but it is easy to build a nice library on the type. The ultimate Pacific theatre title is, easily, Neville Parnell’s Beaufighters In The Pacific (revised and updated from the ground-breaking Whispering Death of 1980). That’s the be all and end all when it come to RAAF Beaufighter operations in the region. There are, of course, a good number of memoirs from all theatres and all relevant air forces but, from an Australian point of view, the most elusive, to me anyway, has been Ian Gordon’s Strike And Strike Again. This book, the story of No. 455 Squadron RAAF 1944-45, was first published by Banner Books in 1995. This was a time when good, detailed squadron histories were beginning to be published (or re-published) and Banner was at the forefront. The first edition sold out and has been much sought after since. The secondhand market, over the past decade, has seen some silly prices for this book which put it out of reach of many an enthusiast and collector (myself included). Not any more.

After repeated requests for any stock he had left, and seeing a copy of the original edition listed on eBay for A$700, Ian Gordon, who now runs his own publishing house in Canberra, decided to produce a new edition of what to me was one of my holy grails. I had only ever seen one copy of the first edition before and that was behind glass in a museum never to be read!

The major hurdle, however, in producing this new edition was that there was no access to a digital copy of the original manuscript. A first edition was scanned and each page was manipulated and refined so that it did not look like a scan. The photos were copied separately and re-inserted. Several errors and oversights have been corrected but there is no new information. That’s fine although this is probably most revealing in the appendix that deals with the post-war lives of the aircrew. I don’t think this has been updated … yet. This is essentially a modern copy of a classic at a realistic, and affordable, price. Print on demand technology has progressed to a stage where single copies can be produced to a very high standard and this is certainly exhibited in the hardcover I have before me. It is 244 pages of Beaufighter goodness laid out on what I would call a mid-range paper stock (all the better for keeping the cost of the finished product reasonable). The photos are reproduced well and cover a good range of operational life. Most dramatic, of course, are the strike photos which always capture the danger and madness of the whole thing. Rarely is one taken from a level aircraft and the true nature of these operations is painfully clear. I have seen many, many strike photos through working with Graeme Gibson on his No. 16 Squadron SAAF project and, of course, being a sucker for anything featuring Beaufighters, but they never cease to tell story after story.

There are many stories in this book and this new edition puts them in front of a reading public again. Granted, it is a specialist topic but it has such a wonderful chance of doing well again because this, let’s call it the twentieth anniversary edition, is so reasonably priced, available as a hard or soft cover and, perhaps importantly in this technological age, as a PDF. Many of us turn our backs on this technology in favour of a real book but let’s not forget that it is technology that has returned Strike And Strike Again to the world. This time, too, it won’t sell out!

I will always be a Beaufighter man. To finally hold a copy of this book in my hands and, at last, see what all the fuss is about is one of the true highlights this hobby has given me. Now it is partly my responsibility to get the word out to all those who, like me, have always wanted to dive into Strike And Strike Again and live with the likes of Davenport, Whishaw, Clouston, Gordon, Wiggins, Milson, Masson, Cox, Ilbery et al. It has to be done. The Viking Boys will never be forgotten because of the foresight and technology employed to produce this new edition. That hole in your collection can now be easily filled. It is such a good thing.

ISBN 978-0-9943558-8-1 (hardback)