28 March 2020

IOW: The Normandy Air War 1944 - Anthony Tucker-Jones

Staying home as much as possible could mean more reading and reviewing, but, at the moment, I've got a lot of work on so it's very much a case of 'just keep swimming, just keep swimming'. Fortunately, the guest reviewers keep making me look good (bad, really, considering the high quality of their writing) and productive on the review front. Adam Lunney is no exception. In recent years he has been emerging as a leading expert on the Normandy landings, particularly the air war from the Advanced Landing Grounds. Adam is the author of 'Ready to Strike', the  story of 453 (RAAF) Squadron over Normandy (ABR review here), and the recently released 'We Together', which looks at 451 and 453 Squadrons at war. He is therefore very well placed to review one of the latest additions to Pen & Sword's epic 'Images of War' collection. Stay home, be safe, be smart, read an aircrew book! Andy Wright

Anthony Tucker-Jones is a name closely associated with the Images of War series (well over 100 books as of 2020) from Pen & Sword. The Normandy Air War 1944 was released in late 2019 and is subtitled ‘Photographs from Wartime Archives’ on the cover, yet subtitled ‘Rare Photographs from Wartime Archives’ on the title page. The cover is the more accurate of the two, since some of the photos contained are anything but rare (Eisenhower with US paratroopers) and others appear to be black and white photos taken in the last few years (PR Spitfires, possibly the same one).
The early chapters are laid out in a very thoughtful ‘Summary, people and planes’ concept, covering events, key figures (such as Tedder and Spaatz) and the aircraft involved. Being primarily a photographic book, the summaries are just that, but they do mention the Oil and Transportation Plans, as well as giving basic coverage to the strategic and tactical air war over Normandy. Hopefully readers will be tempted by these summaries to dig further and invest in some more detailed Normandy titles. There’s no bibliography to lead the reader to them though, so all facts, figures and statements about personality conflicts, while perhaps well-known to some, will just have to be taken as given. 
There are about 150 images in the 132 pages of the book and they are both clear and clean. There are some bomb damage photos (from mid- to high-altitude and at ground level), but none from grainy gun camera footage, which is welcome. Some, such as Canadian troops watching a bombing strike land a little too close, or Dakotas towing Waco gliders low over the coast, are very interesting. Others, such as Bostons passing out over Pointe du Hoc, have been included in many books covering the Normandy campaign over the years and clearly contradict the ‘rare’ claim. Another is a cropped image of a Marauder taken from a larger image on a different page. These could have easily been replaced with a variety of images, such as Air-Sea Rescue operations or the Advanced Landing Grounds built within the Normandy perimeter – they get just one mention in the book, and there are no photos of them being constructed. Considering the level of access the author and publisher have to the archives used (nominated as US National Archives, National Museum of the USAF and Photosnormandie), in my opinion, an opportunity has been missed to provide something new to those with an interest in the Normandy campaign. The Imperial War Museum is a noted omission, perhaps due to the costs involved in obtaining permission to use photos in publications. The captions are usually two to three lines and give basic information, though some (unnecessarily) repeat information given in the chapter summaries. 
Considering the potential expense an author encounters when planning to include photos in a publication, one can easily look upon this book with a degree of envy, but also some frustration at a missed opportunity. However, the book sets out to ‘offer a visual introduction’, does this well and should appeal to those starting out on their own Normandy campaign.

ISBN 978-1-52673-005-3

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