The author raises a very interesting question in the book title but does not directly address this question. How did the RAF manage to forget one of its highest scoring aces? The answer is probably that he flew obsolete and obsolescent aircraft in a theatre that saw a series of defeats. Bill Vale achieved many of his victories in the Gloster Gladiator biplane fighter that still equipped RAF and FAA squadrons on the outbreak of war in 1939.
NAME: Gladiator Ace, Bill ‘Cherry’ Vale the RAF’s forgotten fighter ace
CLASSIFICATION: Book reviews
AUTHOR: Brian Cull
BINDING: Hard back
PRICE: GB £19.99
SUBJECT: Gloster Gladiator, biplane fighter, WWII, Hawker Hurricane, Mediterranean, Greece, Crete, North Africa
DESCRIPTION: The author raises a very interesting question in the book title but does not directly address this question. How did the RAF manage to forget one of its highest scoring aces? The answer is probably that he flew obsolete and obsolescent aircraft in a theatre that saw a series of defeats. Bill Vale achieved many of his victories in the Gloster Gladiator biplane fighter that still equipped RAF and FAA squadrons on the outbreak of war in 1939. In fact the RAF still had Hawker Fury biplanes with front line squadrons. The Hawker Hurricane was the most numerous monoplane in RAF service in 1939 and by the time of the Battle of Britain in the Summer of 1940 Hurricanes still outnumbered the Spitfire by two to one. By 1940, the Hurricane was being eclipsed in performance by the Spitfire but killed more enemy planes mainly because it was a very stable gun platform and concentrated on killing bombers. Some Hurricanes were sent to France but the first Spitfires were held in reserve in Britain together with the majority of Hurricanes. In Norway, the RAF fielded Gladiators and in the Mediterranean the Gladiator was again the most advanced fighter available while the RAF concentrated on the vital task of defending the home islands. In reality, the Gladiator performed surprisingly well in combat. When it was introduced it brought with it some major innovations. Where other RAF biplane fighters were open cockpit fabric covered aircraft equipped with two rifle calibre machine guns firing through the propeller arc, the Gladiator had an enclosed cockpit, two way radiotelephone and four rifle calibre machine guns, two firing through the arc and two mounted in the wings firing outside the arc. This gave the Gladiator more than twice the weight of bullets on the target because not only were there twice as many guns, two of the guns were not slowed by interrupter gear that prevented guns firing through the arc from destroying the propeller. However, this improved armament was still competing with the eight wing mounted guns of the Hurricane and Spitfire and the German use of heavy machine guns and canon in their fighters. As a biplane, the Gladiator was slower than the initial fabric covered Hurricanes because the monoplane fighters had lower drag from the single wing and reduced drag because the Merlin inline engine was much more streamlined that the cowled radial engine of the Gladiator. Against that, the biplane was more nimble. It was with these challenges that Bill Cherry was to achieve one of the highest RAF Fighter ace scores during WWII. The author has followed the progression of Bill Vale into the RAF and off to his first war in Palestine, but the story of the Forgotten Ace begins with 80 Squadron. Fighting in the Eastern Mediterranean as a Gladiator pilot, Bill Vale began to notch up victories. He was then equipped with the Hurricane which he regarded as a superb aircraft. Although it was fast becoming obsolescent, it was a major step forward. The author has covered Bill Vale’s wars in the area, including Syria, and demonstrates careful research and attention to detail. This is a book that puts right a major omission in RAF fighter history.