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