27 December 2023

Flying with the Navy – Steve and Heather Bond


I can't say I've ever seen a landscape format book from Grub Street before, especially an aviation title. It's a surprising package from cover to cover (almost as surprising as ABR showcasing a book with a 'Brick' on the cover!). As a sucker for anything to do with wartime naval aviation, and therefore absorbing anything to do with the subject either side of 1939–45, I expected to see some familiar images, but none were. The photos are the 'cast offs'; those not used in the author's Fleet Air Arm Boys series. That says a lot for the quality of the images in that series as this book is quite magic.

The subject matter, which of course guides the images (or was it vice versa?!), covers almost all aspects of life in the Royal Navy's air arm, from far flung bases and theatres to life at sea and 'coming home'. Just about every aircraft type used by the air arm gets its own chapter and photo spread, as do some of the roles that make everything happen and the cultural norms familiar to the naval family. Some of the captions are quite pithy too.

At first glance, you could argue Flying with the Navy is a potted history of the RNAS and FAA, but it goes so much deeper than that. This is the illustrated story of an air arm that, but for a few long years in the mid-1940s, has always had to justify its existence. Its people have always played the cards they've been dealt and always, always, delivered more than could ever be expected. The proof is in the images and breadth of narrative.

Visit Navy Wings and support them by buying the book from their store. 

Please be mindful the Grub Street website links above are only of use if you are in the UK. For various reasons, the publisher no longer ships outside the UK. Please speak to your local bookshop to buy/order a copy, visit the Navy Wings link above, access your preferred buying website or use this Abebooks link to acquire a copy.

ISBN 978-1-91171-4-033

05 September 2023

Mosquito Intruder Pilot – Jeremy Walsh


The Far East. That’s how you get my attention. Right, the book is off the shelf. Read the back cover description and/or blurbs: ‘Intruder’, ‘night fighters’, ‘strain’, ‘twitch’, ‘Oscar’. Okay, good. Inside flap: ‘lied about his age’, ‘Boston’, belly landings’, ‘engine failures’. Somewhat standard, but what’s this about his age? He turned 21 in February 1945; he flew his first op in the fourth quarter of 1942. I’ll leave that for you to figure out. Mosquito Intruder Pilot makes all the right moves in selling itself as the complete package – the ideal aircrew biography – and, bar a scattering of issues, it does just that.

Ben Walsh, missing the camaraderie of his older friends who had already enlisted and wanting to do his bit, managed (amazingly) to get his parents to sign a letter saying he could enlist when he was 18. Through further acts of subterfuge, he signed on with the RAF quite short of that milestone. 

Training complete, he was posted to No 418 Squadron to fly Douglas Boston intruders; the unit was new to the role and had suffered heavy losses for little return. These losses continued steadily, the system of two nights on/two nights off – with there being a good chance of not even being called for an op when ‘on’ – meant it really was the luck of the draw, despite some casualties from non-operational accidents. Duty crews, as the night progressed, were stood down one by one if nothing was in the offing. Besides the stress of being on call, the nervous energy that must have dissipated when a crew stood down or built as those remaining continued waiting, would have done a number on any man. Indeed, knowing you were flying that night would have been a release, a known quantity to some extent.

By mid-1943, with 18 ops under his belt, and an interminable number of hours at readiness, it is clear Ben has been struggling with his nerves for some time. This was perhaps exacerbated by his desire to remember his friends and colleagues who were lost; throughout his service he maintained a ‘roll of honour’. By this stage, there were 32 on the list. As the squadron began to convert to the Mosquito, however, and the operational tempo increased, Ben could finally see an end to his first tour. The unit, though, as part of the RCAF in the RAF, had become more Canadian and, as a British NCO, Ben’s conversion to the new type didn’t appear to be much of a priority, although he did complete it. It was then he and his navigator were told they were off to the Far East.

An eventful ferry journey east ended with the delivery of the recalcitrant Mosquito to Allahabad. Senses overloaded by a very foreign land, the two men were briefly posted to a PR unit, much to their frustration given their experience (it was all because they were a Mosquito crew), before finally landing with No 27 Squadron in late November 1943.

Initially, the tempo of ops resembled those in the UK. By April 1944, Ben had only notched up another four trips. The decision of 27 Squadron to retain its Beaufighters, however, forced a move to No 45 Squadron. The unit, consisting mostly of Australians and New Zealanders, came under a different command and Ben was told his ops didn’t count and he would have to start his tour all over again! On top of the surprising and distressing loss of his mother earlier in the year, not to mention his obvious homesickness, it is clear the literal and figurative drop in our hero’s shoulders, and subsequent hospitalisation, had little to do with the oppressive climate of the region. 

Still, he fought on, returning to the unit as an ‘outsider’ in some respects. The grounding of the Mosquito in the theatre due to issues with water ingress and the much-vaunted glue issues was just another thing to be overcome if his luck, relatively speaking, held. With the squadron’s aircraft strength reduced after intensive investigations and assessments, its eventual return to operations was welcomed. No one appreciated this more than Ben. Finally, in December 1944, he hit his straps, flying an incredible 19 ops during the month.

Four months later, having reached 75 operational sorties, surviving Japanese flak and fighters in what proved to be the flying he yearned for – challenging, consuming, consistent – Ben was posted out to a communications unit, eventually ending up with a maintenance unit where he flew several initial air tests on Mosquitos before the effects of accumulated stress returned with a vengeance. 

Back home by late 1945, Ben was demobbed in mid-1946. Understandably, he didn’t readjust very well, but his blossoming relationship with his future wife proved the foundation upon which he rebuilt his life. Menial jobs saw him through to a long and successful career in the pharmaceutical industry, his dogged determination led to starting a successful business from scratch and overcoming health issues. He passed away in October 2008.

Mosquito Intruder Pilot goes a lot deeper than just recounting a wartime service career. The depth of understanding and analysis brought by the author, as Ben’s son and a former RAF serviceman himself, extends far beyond the aircraft, the flyers, their operations and the greater war. There is a successful attempt to get inside Ben’s head, based on his letters and other records, to extrapolate the effects of the immeasurable factors that contributed to his mental load, factors that manifested themselves physically one way or the other.

The examination of stress felt by aircrew, Ben specifically, is no mere undercurrent. Indeed, the first chapter, what sets the scene for the rest of the book – therefore one of the author’s most effective tools – sees the subject under examination in 1946 as RAF medical types try to get to grips with Ben’s bouts of fainting. Immediately, the focus is on this man’s mental and physical state. What got him here? The author’s subsequent deft touch in this area, while influenced by his own experiences living under the same roof, raises as many questions as it answers, revealing an understanding of the subject while making it clear just how much more there is to learn in this understudied area of the aircrew experience.

With this early investment in the ‘principal character’s’ wellbeing, the reader develops an affinity with him – the aim of all good biographies – and feels his frustration as the tour drags on. Equally, it is pleasing when he finally gets a good run on operations, flying 50 or so in short order before he is finally rested. However, there is also concern for his willingness to record the losses of his friends and colleagues, even those in other theatres he learns of through the grapevine. While it is clear he wanted to remember these men, did the exercise affect him adversely? We all know the generally accepted ‘line’ or method, often recounted, was to get on with the job, apparently without a second thought for those lost, so seeing something like this (the list is included in an appendix), something outside the ‘accepted’ norm raises an eyebrow or two. It also asks the question as to what was more effective – addressing the losses as Ben did or ignoring them and having the effects of doing so manifest as who-knows-what later in life. No two people are the same, but it is clear both ‘methods’ have their downsides, as you’d expect, with Ben’s laid out for all to see.

Wrapped around this ongoing intrigue is a decent discussion of intruder operations in both Europe and the Far East, as well as the minutiae of life on a squadron and the impact of lives and family outside the RAF. To place all of this in context, while keeping the focus on Ben, most of the superbly titled chapters begin with a small list of major events happening at the same time. While these are useful, they highlight a problem encountered throughout the book – an incomplete grasp of the technology, terminology and ‘basics’ of the era. Don’t get me wrong, everything about Ben is what you want from a biography; it’s the details that let things down. While no doubt the author’s doing, some of the issues need to lay at the feet of the publisher. Typos like Welham (Geoff Wellum), Gypsy, Turpitz, Aircraftsman, Boxcar (the Nagasaki B-29) and Chindwits are inexcusable for a major military publisher. British ships at Midway, anyone? The author’s relative ‘newness’ to the era is also clear with his research leading him to moments of confusion such as Pratt & Whitney Cyclone engines, the Airspeed Oxford being powered by Wasps (less than 300 were) and, similarly, the inference that all Bostons/Havocs had Pratt & Whitneys, not to mention talking to the tower to request permission to take off for an intruder op, there being no autopilots or electronic aids, and clunky references like ‘German riots at Amsterdam Jews’. 

Repetition is also an issue with, most glaringly, ‘Ben’ being used many times in the same paragraph or even sentence (more so that what I’ve used above!). Minor details also regularly crop up, such as the marriage of Ben’s sister or the specifications of the Mosquito. Most obvious is the map on page 198 reappearing on page 206. An author may not see the woods for the trees, understandably, but that’s what editors and proof-readers are for and, as well-intentioned as family members always are, the majority of the time they will accept what is written when it comes to detail and fact. Again, though, I must stress the examples mentioned above made it through several stages, the final ones being the ‘eyes’ of a major military publisher. The buck stops there and in this case prevent the book from crossing the threshold from ‘very good’ to ‘excellent’.

I was always going to buy this book and I cannot wait for the author’s forthcoming Mosquito Intruders – Target Burma, which is sure to be equally well illustrated and produced. Mosquito Intruder Pilot is everything you look for in a biography, albeit a little rough around the edges, with the subject barely moving from the centre of the narrative; the author avoids major tangents and rabbit holes, with even the Mosquito’s issues in the Far East (the one great failing of the type) recounted with just sufficient detail to add depth to Ben’s journey. The editor in me came away frustrated at what might have been, but the reader and aircrew enthusiast/aficionado/activist revelled in experiencing another life lived. 

ISBN 978-1-39908-4-772

31 August 2023

Flying to the Edge – Matthew Willis


Mention ‘test pilot’ to anyone with even just a passing interest in aviation and their mind will inevitably turn to the likes of ‘Chuck’ Yeager, perhaps the astronauts of the ‘Space Race’. Widen the net and Jeffrey Quill, Alex Henshaw, Hanna Reitsch and Eric Brown are sure to be mentioned. What about Mike Lithgow, Peter Twiss, Don Lopez, Roland Beamont and, a personal favourite, ‘Mike’ Crosley? Besides the obvious Western origins, there is one thing they all share. They all came to prominence, and I mean approached being household names, for their exploits during and after the Second World War. What about Duncan Menzies? Never heard of him? Well, you have now and the opportunity to learn more is provided by a book that is a lesson in efficiency and focus.


Born to a Scottish farming family in 1905, Menzies’s future was to follow his father on the family’s land in the Scottish Highlands. What he wanted, though, was freedom and flying appeared to offer that. Perhaps seeing his future in his father made him feel hemmed in; joining the RAF offered a broadening of horizons.


Broaden they certainly did as Menzies trained in Egypt for much of 1928, flying Avro 504Ks before progressing to the ‘bomber’ flight and DH.9As. In the final quarter of the year, he was posted to No 45 Squadron, south of Cairo, to continue flying the DH.9A. Promoted to flying officer early in the new year, he was sent to No 47 Squadron in the Sudan in mid-June, but not before flying the Fairey IIIF as his old squadron began to convert to the type.


The RAF in Africa and the Middle East, and beyond, performed the role of ‘aerial policeman’ throughout the 1920s and 1930s. The Sudan was no exception although there is no evidence Menzies was involved in any raids at the time. He was certainly not underemployed, however. Flying Fairey IIIFs again throughout the region proving routes and performing aerial photography and surveys, he even tried for some endurance records. He returned to the UK in mid-1930, trained as an instructor and, as fate would have it, returned to Egypt, and the school he learned to fly at, to teach.


With hours building, Menzies found the time between instructing to hone his aerobatics; he would be called upon to perform flying displays. With the culmination of the first course, he led a flight of, interestingly, Armstrong-Whitworth Atlases to Iraq, effectively graduating the class while also acting as a show of force to the region. It is a particularly evocative part of the book, with accompanying images, as the aircraft traverse vast tracts of exceptionally inhospitable desert (and not without mishap).


An oft-expressed desire to fly a wider range of types, coupled with his instructing prowess and reputation, saw Duncan posted to the Aeroplane & Armament Experimental Establishment (A&AEE), the centre of the test-flying world. During his almost three years at Martlesham Heath, after finding his feet, Menzies achieved his goal, albeit most types seemed remarkably antiquated for the time. While he had glimpses of the future, including flying the Heinkel He 64, his testing career gravitated towards naval types and he was part of the team that tested what would become the Fairey Swordfish. 


Coming to the end of his medium-service commission, and now a highly regarded test pilot, Menzies took the opportunity to resign his commission to stay employed doing what he loved. Faireys took him on and he was soon back in the Swordfish programme before moving to the long-overdue Hendon bomber. It was a Fairey light bomber, however, that stole the limelight the following year, 1937, when the first Battle rolled off the production line. Menzies flew this aircraft for most of April, testing it and proving that, weighed down with operational equipment, the Battle fell short. He had his first brush with the aircraft that would define his career, the Fulmar, in mid-1937, but much of the remaining years leading to war were taken up with testing Battles.


The Fleet Air Arm desperately needed a modern fighter and ended up with the Fulmar. Underpowered and carrying a crew of two, this graceful and ‘friendly’ (important when landing on aircraft carriers) aircraft remains the highest-scoring fighter fielded by the Royal Navy. It was the typical FAA type of the period, loved by its crews but lamented for not quite being up to the job given it. This aside, Duncan Menzies was there to test all the improvements and refinements made to the type throughout its operational career, no doubt being one of the main contributors to ‘Winkle’ Brown’s comment about the ‘basic rightness’ of the Fulmar.


After a Fulmar disintegrated around him, the g-force of the destruction throwing the test pilot clear, in early February 1941, Menzies spent the next few years of the war flying whatever Fairey had on offer – prototype and early production Barracudas, reconditioned Battles and even Fairey-built Beaufighters. He worked as an FAA liaison from 1944, taking advantage of being able to spend a few days at sea, ostensibly to see how aircraft handled on and off carriers of course, away from what was becoming an increasingly technical and somewhat troublesome job. He even headed to the Far East to investigate issues with operational Fireflies.


Throughout the later years of the war, the Fulmar, despite being withdrawn from operational service, continued to feature prominently in Duncan’s life; the prototype, having languished at Faireys for some time, was rejuvenated and became the company ‘hack’. It continued in this role post-war, proving useful during the development of the Firefly trainer, a project Menzies pushed hard for upon realising the power differential between trainers of the day and new aircraft like the Sea Fury. After a year in Australia helping with the Royal Australian Navy’s new Fireflies, and 25 years after dragging an Avro 504K into the hot Egyptian air, Menzies stepped from a cockpit as pilot for the last time in February 1952. Fittingly, his last flight was in the company Fulmar. He retired in 1964 and passed away in 1997.


Flying had been Duncan’s path to freedom and it kept him gainfully employed, and challenged, for a quarter of a century. When it became overly technical and bureaucratic – constricted by gadgets, technology and rules – he felt the freedom had gone so, without any apparent qualms, he simply stopped. He did so without fanfare; quietly and modestly, he just stepped aside. That modesty is reflected in Flying to the Edge. While there are some gaps in the account of his pre-war service, per what remains of his records, the author seamlessly fills them with reference to other sources backed by intelligent analysis and conclusions. There is no padding, though, and little in the way of contextual scene setting once Menzies returns to the UK for good. It’s not needed as the focus is kept firmly on the subject.


The accounts of service in Africa are vivid, almost ‘last frontier’ stuff, and are remarkably well illustrated, not by generic photos of the era and region, but by images featuring Menzies and his colleagues. An image of the Atlases flying to Iraq over a forbidding landscape is particularly striking. The focus exhibited in the narrative extends to the photo selection throughout, each having a direct link to Menzies if he’s not actually pictured.


Pre-war test flying was, obviously, the crest of the wave and Menzies was right on it. Descriptions of the types under development with A&AEE border on the exquisite, without disappearing down any number of rabbit holes, and are the product of an author well versed in the technical, and sometimes quirky, aspects of the machines and their time. 


For a book of a modest 120 pages, it is astonishing how much is included. The thoughtful layout helps, but this is certainly a book that punches well above its weight. Like Duncan Menzies, it might have flown under the radar, especially as the author has since been ‘scooped up’ by larger, more prolific aviation publishers, but track it down and set off on a heady journey with the Faireys.


ISBN 978-1-44566-4-415

18 July 2023

Barracuda Pilot - Dunstan Hadley


To give you an idea of how busy I've been and how absolutely neglected ABR has been in 2023, besides the obvious sole review to date appearing on 1 January, this review, written by regular contributor (to both ABR and Flight Line Book Review) Adrian Roberts, was sent to me at the end of January. It's taken me this long to remember I had it at the same time as having some time to publish it. I do hope to have more reviews up before the year is out; we'll see how we go. It is interesting to note Adrian's comment about the author's positive views on the Barracuda, certainly in the minority in this age of 'stories' and 'reputations' that take on a life of their own. While I agree some of the criticism towards the Barracuda is justified, Hadley's impressions mirror those of the great Roy Baker-Falkner, as detailed in Drucker's excellent biography 'Wings over the Waves'. Andy Wright

Dunstan Hadley left his studies as a medical student and joined the Fleet Air Arm in 1941. He was selected for training on the Fairey Barracuda torpedo bomber, which implied a greater level of aptitude than those destined for the Swordfish. 

Given the negative view of many aviation enthusiasts of the Barracuda (more of which were produced than any other British naval aircraft), it was interesting to read the views of a pilot with first-hand experience who has a largely positive view of the type. Many pilots will have a prejudice in favour of types on which they spent a large proportion of their career; Hadley seems to find very little reason to be negative about it. Possibly the worst faults had been ironed out before he got to fly them; he acknowledges that the wings came off some of the early examples but does not mention this happening to anyone he knew. One of his friends was killed when he apparently lost control during manoeuvres, but Hadley was prepared to go up and replicate the incident and work out how to deal with it. Readers may have come across some rumours of the undercarriage collapsing into the observer’s position during heavy landings, but Hadley does not even mention this so maybe it was not considered a frequent issue. 

In the end, Hadley only flew one combat operation, from HMS Victorious against Sigli on Sumatra. He is critical of the Admiralty’s decision to withdraw the Barracuda in favour of Avenger squadrons due to their longer range. Readers solely interested in accounts of combat may be disappointed. They would be missing out, however, as Hadley is a very entertaining writer and takes us through the entire process of basic training of a naval recruit, primary flight training and operational training including practice landings on small escort carriers. 

The anecdotes are often humorous and self-deprecating. Obviously, writing 50 years after the events, he must be fictionalising the conversations and possibly re-inventing some characters, but the story opens onto a forgotten world involving people as well as technology. Either way, the small details of life in the 1940s are rapidly moving out of human memory and worth preserving.  

Hadley gives no details of his later life, but the book’s flyleaf implies he went back to Medicine after the war. A Google search turned up a document from University College Oxford (where the book says he was a student) suggesting he died in 2000, aged 79. Aviation enthusiasts have reason to be grateful he committed his flying career to paper. This book is long out of print but well worth searching out on the second-hand market.

ISBN 978-1-85310-1-953

01 January 2023

Looking Backwards over Burma – Dennis Spencer DFC


Like this simple 192-page paperback from Woodfield Publishing, I’m getting straight into this review. Dennis Spencer was a No 211 Squadron Beaufighter navigator, flying a tour of operations over Burma, hence the title, with the same pilot he flew the ferry flight from the UK with. As expected, their bond was strong and the book is simply dedicated ‘for Geoff’ (Vardigans).


It took them 20 days to reach India (Allahabad), slowed by two spare parts delays, and then almost the same again for the author to reach Calcutta, his pilot having been admitted to hospital. The account of their journey to this point reads almost like a travelogue, once the ferry flight from the UK is underway, the author proving exquisitely observant (something that becomes exceptionally useful, both for intelligence officer and reader alike, during his tour) with good descriptions of weather, terrain and people.


Dennis is also particularly good at an almost overwhelming dose of self-doubt. He is consistently worried about his ability and skill as a navigator and, in general, a serviceman. This is evident early on before he flies on ops. Having to travel to Bhatpara (East Bengal, now Bangladesh, just north-east of where the Ganges flows into a major distributary, the Padma River) on his own, despite travel warrants and the like, is daunting. Indeed, this chapter is titled ‘Lonely Journey in a Foreign Land’. His uncertainty is further assaulted by the ‘seething mass of humanity’ he encounters and the general culture shock of experiencing India, both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. Dennis is eventually warmly welcomed to the squadron, having travelled by Dakota, train, river steamer and truck to get there, and takes up residence on a ‘dead man’s bed’, a fact his new basha mate tries to hide (the standard coping mechanism for most aircrew).


Flying his first op six days later (this is March/April 1944 so the time of Kohima and Imphal) across the Irrawaddy with a ‘mad’ Canadian who felt he did not need a navigator, the author, having been told by his colleagues that map reading was of far more use than keeping an accurate plot, experiences a rollercoaster of emotions as he feels compassion for the Burmese they scare the living daylights out of at low level and then burning hatred for enemy soldiers who try to man an anti-aircraft gun. The realisation sinks in – ‘For me this was the day the war had really started.’


Pilot and navigator were reunited soon after as, by mid-May, Geoff and Dennis were approaching double figures for ops flown. Their tour progresses through to early December, with a few adventures on the way as you would expect, both men earning the DFC as a result and the author starting a rest tour with a Mosquito Conversion Unit near Bangalore; he also casually mentions he’s there as the navigation officer so any doubts about his abilities were clearly all in his head! If you’ve read anything about low-level work over Burma, you’ll be familiar with how these strikes were carried out and how the environment – the terrain and the weather – were as dangerous as the Japanese. What stands out, however, is the author’s description of the flying, the attacks and the sheer effort just to get home. Coupled with his memories of squadron life and life in India, the narrative is on par with Andrew Millar’s The Flying Hours and Atholl Sutherland Brown’s Silently into the Midst of Things in terms of painting a colourful, harrowing, debilitating, and even fragrant picture of the aircrew experience over Burma. The downtime between ops is exacerbated by Dennis being very good at worrying when he has nothing to do. His ‘expanded Inner Self awareness’ means he knows he lets his mind run; these internalisations – the fear, overcoming it, etc. – receive as much weight on the page as the flying.


Lightly illustrated, a small bibliography is included, as are some small, useful appendices. While very much a descriptive account of the ‘highlights’ or, at least, what he could remember – there are a few dates and aircraft/technical details mentioned, but their paucity hardly registers given the rich narrative – a lot is learned about Dennis and, to a lesser extent, Geoff, his pilot. To do so in less than 200 pages is something special. This is the ideal aircrew memoir.  


ISBN 978-1-84683-0-730

*Dennis Spencer passed away in September 2020.

08 December 2022

Christmas Countdown - 25% off at Helion & Company!!!


Eagles over Husky cover image

This Helion & Company discount, is exclusive to Aircrew Book Review followers. Until 31 December, using the code RAFDEC25, you can get 25% off Eagles over Husky by Alexander Gilbert David Fitzgerald-Black and Commanding Far Eastern Skies by Peter Preston-Hough.

The titles are self-explanatory and both books look at how the Allied air forces contributed to particular campaigns. The notes in both titles are worth the read alone, with Preston-Hough in particular using this literary device to its full extent. His book, being based on his thesis, might appear the drier of the two (it is certainly less well illustrated), but it flows well (not as well as Alex's book) and is a must if you are a student of the air war over Burma and beyond. 

With The Eyes of Malta by Salvo Fagone due from Helion next year, now is the time to get to grips with the Sicilian air campaign if you haven't already. Eagles over Husky is the ideal way to do this. Get into it!

Commanding Far Eastern Skies cover image

Helion also has a couple of other discounts available at present. These are available to everyone so should be included here so you can partake as well! The first is 25% off, until 31 December, the North Coates Strike Wing book To Force the Enemy off the Sea

Also running to the end of the month is a 'buy one get another 50% off' deal. This applies to all of Helion's extensive range of @War titles, including the excellent and recently released The Darkest Hour two-volume series on Japanese naval activities in the Indian Ocean. Use the code B1G1WAR to take advantage of this @War offer. Lots of bang for your buck with the @War books.

Operation Oyster - Kees Rijken, Paul Schepers and Arthur Thorning


Usual story, everyone, but I'm fortunate to be able to feature another guest reviewer. Colin Ford will be known to many of you as the 'Historian by Appointment' of the No. 268 Squadron Association. He is, therefore, an authority on the world of tactical reconnaissance, especially the use of the North American Mustang in the role. I first worked with Colin a few years ago when I had the honour, albeit with a good dose of dismay, of whittling down (to magazine feature length) his extensive account of two Australians who flew the Tac/R variant of the Hawker Typhoon. To say the original work, effectively an extract of Colin's 268 Squadron history, 'ADJIDAUMO "Tail in Air"', was magisterial would be an understatement. Tactical work being Colin's forte, I have no hesitation in featuring the comprehensive review below. Andy Wright.

This book sets out to tell the story of the raid by bombers of No. 2 Group, Royal Air Force, conducted against the Philips Radio Works located in two locations in Eindhoven in the Netherlands on 6 December 1942. The raid was conducted at low level by Douglas Bostons, Lockheed Venturas and de Havilland Mosquito bombers, escorted part of the way by Supermarine Spitfires of RAF Fighter Command.

The origin of the book lies primarily with the two listed Dutch researchers and authors who live in Eindhoven – one who, as a young child, witnessed the raid and its aftermath; the other the son-in-law of another witness. They sought to set out the details of the day from various perspectives, that of the attacking aircrew, the Dutch civilians and responding Dutch civil defence and emergency services personnel on the ground, and, to a lesser degree, the defending German personnel with various Luftwaffe and anti-aircraft units. Therefore, it draws on much original material held in various archives, along with immediate post-event interviews and interviews conducted some years afterwards. It is in part a tribute to those who took part in the raid, the Dutch civilian casualties and emergency services workers.

The third member of the team, in the UK, also had family connections via a family member who flew with one of the squadrons participating in the raid. He combined his research to produce this edition of the book in English.

Operation Oyster was one of the first, if not the first, large scale, multi-squadron raids, utilising most of the operational strength of 2 Group, to attack a target in occupied Europe in what could be considered a ‘precision strike’, largely flown and conducted at low level. Its target, two factories of the Philips Radio Works in Eindhoven in the Netherlands, was intended to remove a source of critical electronic components, especially radio valves, produced in the factories and utilised by the Germans in a range of military electronic equipment, including radar units. The target was one of a number, identified by special technical committees in the British Government, of facilities producing items of great military value to the German armed forces and where interruption to supply of these items would have an adverse effect on the German military. The final choice of target was in part dictated by its location and, being within striking range of the aircraft of 2 Group, the ability of Fighter Command to provide some escort to and from the target area, the nature of the target, including potential for civilian casualties for those living in areas around the factory complexes, and the vulnerability of the manufacturing plant to the weight and type of ordnance to be delivered from low level by the attacking aircraft.

The book does give a degree of detail and devotes a short chapter to the diversionary operations conducted by heavy bombers; B-17s and B-24s of the USAAF, escorted by Spitfires from multiple RAF fighter wings, and one USAAF fighter group operating Spitfires, against a range of targets in northern France and Belgium (primarily Luftwaffe airfields and transportation nodes). These operations were designed and timed to draw Luftwaffe fighter units away from the incoming Eindhoven raid. Other diversionary operations conducted by the RAF over other areas of the Netherlands, Belgium and northern France, as a part of the overall plan in support of the raid, receive scant or no coverage.

Potentially because the research and writing of this book was a ‘labour of love’ for the two primary Dutch researchers/authors, it comes across in part as uneven in its coverage and understanding of the events associated with the raid. There are, in some parts, some basic errors in relation to details provided of the 2 Group aircraft types involved; looking at the aircraft type references quoted as sources, many are quite dated. There is no appreciation or insight into the senior RAF officers who were involved in the initiation of the plans to raid the Philips Works at Eindhoven, the raid’s planning and eventual decision to mount the operation. Lastly, the coverage of the action from the perspective of the various 2 Group squadrons is somewhat patchy and tends to focus on only a couple of the units involved, possibly a result of availability, or lack of it, of material in the archives used in their research and access to surviving personnel for interviews, their personal material or published memoirs. Where RAF aircrew material is included, it is interesting to see the different perspectives on the lead up to the raid, its conduct and aftermath, depending on the role the participant played and the type of aircraft they flew.

Where the book does shine is in the level of detail and coverage of the raid from the perspective of the people of Eindhoven who were eyewitnesses, which includes firsthand accounts drawn from many sources, including the archives of the Philips Company, which operated its own fire brigade and emergency services within the two factory complexes, as well as survivors of the raid. The impacts of the raid on the production of the two complexes in Eindhoven, and the consequences arising from that, are also well covered. The danger to factory workers being deported to Germany and the loss of skilled workers to the demands of the Todt organisation after the raid, while repairs were made to the two factories, were well appreciated by Philips management and the measures they took to protect their staff is another aspect covered.

The narrative is well supported by maps showing the key geographical locations covered in the book as well as the routes used by the 2 Group bombers. A wide selection of photographs is also included, some taken by the strike cameras fitted to the bombers and others showing the damage to the various factory buildings and surrounding areas.

This book fell a bit short of what it could have possibly achieved as a work focussed on a specific raid, its planning, conduct, aftermath and the events surrounding it. The coverage and sources used as noted are patchy in parts, yet excellent in other parts. It is that lack of consistency that detracts from the end product.

ISBN 978-1-39901-9-767

02 December 2022

Christmas Countdown – 20% off at Fighting High!!!


Fighting High website showing categories of books available.

In the first of this year's Aircrew Book Review Christmas Countdown discounts, Steve Darlow of Fighting High Publishing, one of ABR's earliest supporters, has generously offered a 20% discount off all books purchased from the FH website from Friday 2 December.

Who said following and supporting ABR was just putting up with reading long reviews?!

As many of you know, Fighting High is an industry leader in the aircrew book genre; from subject matter to the final product, everything this publisher does exudes quality. Its continued support of the Bomber Command Memorial in Hyde Park and the International Bomber Command Centre in Lincoln, not to mention several other RAF-related charities, shows that, while an obvious commercial venture, producing aircrew books is all about keeping the stories alive and remembering what these flyers did in the darkest of times.

Go and have a look at the Fighting High website and treat yourself. There's nothing better.

10 October 2022

Mosquito Intruder - Dave McIntosh


I am definitely starting to sound like a broken record now: the editing work has not allowed me to get any review writing done recently. Anyway, as ever, I have had a guest review (or three) sitting around waiting to be published. Robert Brokenmouth, a regular ABR guest reviewer, sent this in over a year ago and it has taken me this long to remember to find a half-decent image to use as the cover. I have the later edition of Mosquito Intruder, retitled Terror in the Starboard Seat, and it is one of those books that I have always felt warm and fuzzy about at the prospect of eventually reading it. No pressure now to crank out a review now! Andy Wright

Now then. There aren’t that many books by the chaps in the Mossies who went into hostile territory at night to hunt Luftwaffe night fighters and the occasional target of opportunity. And there aren’t that many books on the aviation war in the Second World War that are actually funny, nor are there that many which focus on the fear felt by the aircrew; Mosquito Intruder ticks all three boxes and for that reason deserves a place on your shelf. And, if you’re one of those nutters who like to have at least one book by a veteran of every squadron possible, McIntosh was with No. 418 Squadron, so that will keep you happy as well.

Not sure what the reason for this is. Certainly Mossie night ops were regarded as ‘safer’ than night bombing by the ground staff, but get in your wayback machine and tell that to the young Dave McIntosh and you’ll get a disbelieving look.

See, young Dave is utterly bloody petrified most of the time and, to read him you’d think he was a mostly incompetent navigator. He (and his pilot) manage to arrive home safely (41 ops) and play this for laughs in the mess to their colleagues. The contrast couldn’t be more stark; while we, as parties interested in wartime aviation, are accustomed to reading hair-raising stories told with aplomb after the years have allowed fear to be stifled or forgotten (at least for an audience), McIntosh’s method offers a critical insight into the reality of that war.

I won’t speculate on the reasons for McIntosh’s obvious ongoing terror (particularly given the relative safety of the Mossie), but I will say that flying accidents while training would not have helped (especially one which could, simply, have happened to anyone). There’s also one particularly ghastly story which I won’t repeat, but it absolutely hammered me when I read it. 

Also amusing is his description of him preferring women to have a large bust because otherwise they’re not worth bothering with; as we continue it becomes apparent that McIntosh is reflecting on his younger, more callow self from a distance of several decades.

That said, despite being an engaging and informative read, I also found it a bit lopsided, as if certain parts of the book were written at different times in the author’s life, or as if some parts were written, then edited before writing the rest. Speculation, of course; the lopsidedness comes from the combination of a rather flip way of expressing things as well as describing things more seriously.

But this is to carp, and anyway, I only have one actual moan and it’s to do with the publisher, not the book; in my copy, pages 62–63, 66–67, 70–71 and 74–75 are all blank – not good odds over 184 pages. 

But such flaws in the publishing world are rare; Mosquito Intruder, or the later, probably better-known, edition Terror in the Starboard Seat, is a must have. 

ISBN 978-0-71953-9-183 or 978-0-77373-0-892

21 July 2022

Bristol Beaufighter - John F. Hamlin


There I was sitting at my local cafe, kids-back-at-school celebratory coffee and book session delayed by one day, when I get a phone call from the post office to say I had a parcel that had somehow missed the day's delivery. A short walk and 4.5 kg of Air-Britain magic was in my hands. Flintham's Truculent Tribes bargain and the 2022 Propliner were incidental to the real reason for the order: John Hamlin's Bristol Beaufighter made up most of the weight, 420+ pages of glossy A4 hardback goodness to be exact.


It is a beautiful book and is loaded with superb photos, all magnificently reproduced on quality paper and leaving few aspects, if any, of the aircraft to the imagination. There is a surprising amount of colour too, from ‘sidebars’ to period advertisements and a great number of clean profiles that feature some of the rarer markings seen on Beaufighters.


I am not an Air-Britain aficionado or member. While I love all aviation to varying degrees, my focus is fairly obvious, so I’ve never been able to justify membership of an organisation with a much broader (and understandable) remit. The few A-B books I’ve seen – Hamlin’s earlier Flat Out, the history of No. 30 Squadron, for example, was bought secondhand – are unsurpassed on the quality front, but I’ve never been one for lists of serial numbers, as useful as they are for regular referencing. The 240 pages of Beaufighter serials, a la Morgan and Shacklady’s Spitfire: The History (but on far superior paper stock!), are the raison d'être of this book and clearly the product of years of work. That’s a big chunk of an expensive book. What’s left is roughly 20 pages of the type’s development, including a column and a half on the Australian production line, ten pages of an ‘Operational overview’ and then a comprehensive 100 pages of potted histories of the units (squadrons, wings, OTUs, etc.) and air forces that flew the Beaufighter, which is effectively a longer ‘operational overview’. The appendices are also of interest, but everything outside of the serials section is all too brief. 

The unit listing is impressive and there’s some fascinating inclusions, although the South Africans deserved more than two pages, despite only having the two units. Happily, the Royal Australian Air Force – squadrons and support units – gets a decent ten pages, the USAAF five and everyone else (France, Turkey, Portugal, Israel and the Dominican Republic) seven. However, again, it’s all in overview territory. There’s little more than the occasional one-liner quote from aircrew, but that’s perhaps a rabbit hole the author didn’t want to/couldn't go down. 


Speaking of the personal connection, there is a sobering tribute in the later pages dedicated to those who became casualties while serving with a Beaufighter unit (killed, wounded/injured, prisoners, etc.). Three columns per A4 page for 20 pages. It is a lovely inclusion. Imagine, though, the power of including the words of some of those listed or their contemporaries – giving them a voice. It would have made for a much longer book, of course, or a mighty second volume, but perhaps this is one of the few paths A-B rarely treads (if at all).


The Beaufighter’s full story continues to this day with long-term restorations to flight underway and great work being done on Hercules engineering in Queensland, Australia. Coupled with recent wreck discoveries, and even the important recovery of crew remains over the years, it is clear the type’s history did not end when the last airframe left military service. Again, the inclusion of such material was probably beyond the parameters the author was required to work within but would have highlighted the present stature of the Beaufighter in today’s historic aviation community and its exciting future. Extend that to a survey of the few surviving examples and the story is (more) complete. All this present-day material is, granted, nice to have.


It's a Beaufighter book and that's why I now own a copy and, if you're a fan, you should too. It is good, but it is not the comprehensive treatment expected. I wanted more, what it says on the tin, ‘The Full Story’. It is an expensive book and will be a standard reference, though the cost needs to be weighed with what the reader is after. It's more than just a serial number listing, and there are some gems throughout, but if you're after an in-depth narrative on the type, how it influenced strike operations, what it was like to live with and fly, this is not the book for you. Indeed, there's still not one book that can do that (but have a look for Neville Parnell's Beaufighters over the Pacific, Graeme Gibson's forthcoming Road to Glory, Athol Sutherland Brown's Silently into the Midst of Things, and anything relevant by the great Roy Conyers Nesbit, to name a few). It is, however, certainly the most significant overall Beaufighter title since Chaz Bowyers’s 1970s/80s works.


ISBN 978-0-95130-5-127

27 June 2022

Thinks He's a Bird - Ian Campbell


I'm still flat out with manuscript editing so nothing original from me for now. However...

Ladies and gentleman, Sean Feast.

There have been a good many books on Bomber Command published recently, but not many good ones. Thinks He’s a Bird, by Ian Campbell, I am delighted to say, is one of those that is very definitely worth adding to your shelf.

It tells the story of Keith Watson, a young man from Queensland, who after the usual pattern of training overseas ultimately arrives in the UK to join Bomber Command before volunteering for Pathfinder Force (PFF), the corps d’elite. 

Describing the story in such simple terms, however, immediately does the story a gross disservice, because it is so much more than the standard bomber pilot’s biography. It is both poignant and funny, sad and uplifting in equal measure. It manages to weave in considerable detail of what life was like for a journeyman crew in training and operations with a front-line squadron with what was happening outside of Service life, relationships both inside and beyond the station and how, for example, a chance meeting while hitching a lift by the side of the A1 can lead to a lifelong friendship being forged!

For those who have little or no knowledge of Bomber Command, Thinks He’s a Bird is a great way of finding out more about what these brave men went through, and the often perilous training they had to undertake at the various AFUs, OTUs and HCUs dotted around the UK, often in some of the most inhospitable places. Factual detail is complemented by first-hand memories from Keith’s contemporary diary and subsequent interviews and is the stronger for it. 

Whereas some books are wont to gloss over the training, perhaps in fear of boring the reader or wishing (with understandable logic) to spend more time on their (‘more exciting’) operational flights, the author almost appears to take the contrary view and should be congratulated for it. Even as, dare I say it, an experienced author and – first and foremost – an avid reader of anything Bomber Command, I didn’t find myself speed reading to ‘get to the good bits’. The author’s easy style, helped by some intelligent editing, made this a very comfortable and enjoyable read from start to finish.

What I particularly enjoyed was how – intentionally or otherwise – the book helps to explode some of the myths of Bomber Command generally and Pathfinder Force specifically. The way, for example, that the pilot rejected one of the crew as not being up to the mark, which flies against the generally held belief that every crew was an unbreakable unit like a merry band of modern-day musketeers. They were not: tensions among crew members could easily spill over into something worse; personalities often clashed; competency and skill were not a given. Some were not up to the job.

Pathfinder Force, similarly, was not the well-oiled machine it is sometimes made out to be. Chaos and disorganisation were constant spectres at the feast, as evidenced by Keith’s own experiences in joining PFF. 

Having initially been identified as ‘gen’ crew in training (usually because of the skill of the pilot, navigator and air bomber (PNB) team), he did not go straight to PFF as was usual. (At one stage of the war, one third of new PFF crews were drawn direct from training, with the remainder taken from crews that were currently operating or those returning from a ‘rest’). Instead, he is posted to a Main Force squadron prior to being posted to the Pathfinder Navigation Training Unit at Warboys. But even when he does finally commence his PFF training, he is sent back to Main Force, owing to an administrative foul-up. It transpired that 5 Group had sent down too many crews for training – undoubtedly the result of a miscommunication between 5 Group and 8 Group (PFF), which was similarly no doubt a by-product of the enmity that existed between the respective AOCs – Cochrane (5 Group) and Bennett (8 Group).

So is there anything wrong with the book? Nope. Not as far as I can see. It is long, which when your glass is half full means you’re getting excellent value for money. It’s a shame it’s not a hardback, or that the quality of imagery isn’t better, but that’s only a minor issue, and in fairness – as a paperback – I would argue the production is as good as you will find. There are a few very minor points I could take issue with, but to do so would be churlish. This is a thoroughly enjoyable, well researched and well-written book which deserves every success.

25 April 2022

ANZAC Day 2022


April 25 is, as many know, commemorated as ANZAC Day in Australia and New Zealand (and wherever you find ex-pats of both countries). It is the anniversary of the Gallipoli landings in 1915 and plays a big part in the national psyche and culture of both countries. It is commercialised, yes, and it is regularly used by politicians and media alike for self-promotion, such is its importance. Once it passes, and the hoopla wanes for another year, it's like the hangover from a grand final or election. Everything seems to move on.

However, every day is ANZAC Day. Every day is a day we should be grateful for, and remember, those who served and continue to serve. If you're reading this, I doubt you need to be told that, but there it is. Pass on your passion for keeping history alive.

While we're being thankful, take a look at the ABR 2022 ANZAC Day book pile above. These are the new books by/about Australian and New Zealand aircrew, or released by Aussie/Kiwi publishers, that have crossed my desk in the past twelve months. It has been a bumper year. Eighteen titles is a record since I started doing this and at least half are the result of the collaboration between the RAAF's History & Heritage Branch and Big Sky Publishing (or BSP on its own). It hints at a rejuvenation of interest in the genre, but the RAAF's centenary last year will be responsible for a fair chunk of that. 

I've worked on five (*) of these and can vouch for them being a credit to their author/s. If you see something you like, get to it, support these authors/publishers and do your bit to keep these stories alive. Enjoy!

Just in case the photo doesn't zoom in well, top to bottom:

Full Circle - JM Davis
The Gypsy Air Gunner - Tony Vine

12 April 2022

Boys, Bombs and Brussels Sprouts - J. Douglas Harvey


More than three months into 2022 and all I've done is add several covers of new books as they've crossed my desk. As before, the manuscript editing work is keeping me busy (follow Wright Stuff Editing & Proofreading if you want to get an idea of what I'm up to) and away from review writing, even reading. For the lack of content on here, I apologise. I must also proffer humblest apologies to Robert Brokenmouth, guest reviewer, for holding on to this and two other reviews since July. It doesn't feel like that long, but the emails say otherwise. Here, then, from a writer who knows how to get inside the head of a Bomber Command author, is a review of a book that some have said is quite hilarious (in a good way). That's not something you come across too often with BC, but there you have it. It's also a book I simply have not been able to find a nice copy of for a decent price. When I do, the postage is silly. Anyway, that's too many of my woes. Enjoy. Andy Wright.

We all have our favourite aviation books. You might think mine can be guessed at: Cheshire, Gibson, Charlwood, Cusack, Ollis.


Well, those five, yes. But there are several others; Yates (see here) is one, and this little cracker is another.


While some of us buy a military autobiography because we have an interest in the historical events, the small boy inside us (certainly me, I’m afraid) wants nothing but incredible adventures. Mel Rolfe’s series of books were hugely popular for that reason. Sprouts is brimming with events and details I have never read before in an aviation biography (never mind one on Bomber Command). Harvey’s knack of recall of specific things brings into sharp focus the grimmer everyday aspects of RAF life – told in such a way that sharp cackles of laughter on the bus are so frequent that you’ll get looks from disapproving teenagers. I won’t spoil it – though I’d love to – but Harvey tells his story with frankness, comic contempt, and an astonishing tenderness. It’s a hugely powerful book and, if you've not read it, you are in for a treat.


Harvey, a Canadian, joined No. 408 Squadron, Bomber Command, in June 1943 and survived to be screened in April 1944. Like Cusack and Ollis, he has little respect for the RAF system of promotion (arguing with the CO about the fact that officers get more pay than sergeants and all essentially do the same job; again, I won't spoil it). Unlike those two, however, he can recount a fantastic and very rare appearance by Bomber Harris.  


Lastly, if there’s a sorely overlooked book of the bombing war just waiting to be written, it's about the fussy, impractical, bullet-proof officer who wangles a posting to ops and proceeds to stuff everything up with a sort of self-justified glee. Cusack and Ollis each encountered one of these ding-bats (to the point where one surmises that a principal reason for writing about their experiences in the first place is to reveal and humiliate the ding-bat). Yates was one of these training characters, but he at least comprehended that he was far from invincible and endeavoured to bring back his crew (and himself) alive. Harvey encounters not one but two (leading me to think there should definitely be more known about these characters); and, not wishing to spoil the surprise, I’ll leave it there.


Let your fingers do the walking, as they say, and fish out the credit card. This is a somewhat under-appreciated (I won’t say ‘forgotten’) work that should be a perennial like the works of the ‘famous five/six’ mentioned above.

ISBN 978-0-77104-0-481