The main body of this book is exactly what it claims to be on the cover. It contains more text than the series usually includes, but it has some rare photographs. The curious aspect of the book is that is starts at 1911 and ends with the Sea Harrier, the British Invincible Class gas turbine VSTOL/STOL carriers and the USN nuclear-powered carriers.
NAME: Images of War, Naval Aviation in the Second World War
CATEGORY: Book Reviews
AUTHOR: Philip Kaplan
PUBLISHER: Pen & Sword
BINDING: soft back
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: WWII, Second World War, World War Two, jeep carriers, flat tops, Illustrious, Sea Harrier
DESCRIPTION: The main body of this book is exactly what it claims to be on the cover. It contains more text than the series usually includes, but it has some rare photographs. The curious aspect of the book is that is starts at 1911 and ends with the Sea Harrier, the British Invincible Class gas turbine VSTOL/STOL carriers and the USN nuclear-powered carriers.
It is easy to be critical of the book because it strays from the familiar photo essay format of other books in the series and it makes some statements that will annoy some readers, but if the reader approaches it for its mixture of information and rare photographs, the areas of contention should not present any difficulty. Had the book been described as an overview of naval aviation, it would be difficult to take exception.
Picking a starting point for naval aviation can be tricky. Americans may like to think that it started with an American flying from a ship in 1911. Germans may wish to believe it began with their rigid airships and there are several views of when it began for Great Britain.
Royal Navy interest in naval aviation goes back to the Napoleonic Wars when an extraordinary British frigate captain, Thomas Cochrane, proposed the use of hot air balloons, bombs, and poison gas. Cochrane was a very capable frigate captain who upset the French sufficiently to come to the personal attention of Napoleon who dubbed him the Sea Wolf. He had a very active mind and offered a number of suggestions for new ways of inflicting pain on the French, later going on to command the navies of Chile, Peru and Brazil in their fight for independence. The first aerial activity by the Royal Navy had to wait until the American Civil War when RN observers apparently went aloft in Union Army observation balloons. By the late 1870s, RN gunnery officers were making use of British Army balloons in Africa, spotting for naval guns landed to support the army. In 1903 the RN began a series trials, that continued until 1908, flying man-carrying kites from a selection of vessels from a whaler to a battleship. The Blair Brown Regime curiously decided to take as the Official RN Aviation Centenary the allocation of funds for the first RN airship, Mayfly, in 1909. The choice was curious because Mayfly was an almost unmitigated disaster and there were many positive points that could have been taken to mark a century of British Naval Aviation. By 1911, the RN already had its own flying school and had started selecting and training its own pilots who, between then and 1914, pioneered the dropping of bombs, depth bombs and torpedoes from naval aircraft.
The author has dipped back and forth from 1919 to the present day, when the period 1939 – 1945, or the American WWII of December 1941 – 1945, potentially provides a huge selection of photographs to select from that are very rare and have often never been published before. Sticking rigidly to the period would have produced a much better match with the title, although some readers might have found it a less interesting book, particularly if they were new to the subject of naval aviation.
The author has covered the first generation British flat tops, which are really the products of World War One, but the most important carriers for WWII were Ark Royal (III) and the fleet and light fleet carriers. These armoured carriers even proved able to withstand attack by Japanese suicide pilots who had been seriously damaging and sinking US warships. The planning for a first strike strategically on a fleet in harbour was planned by the RN during WWI and would have taken place had the RAF not taken control of the RN’s aircraft. The plans were then dusted down for the attack on the Italian Fleet, giving the RN 6 months advantage in the Mediterranean and inspiring the Japanese attack on the US Pacific Fleet.
The images of modern warships is interesting but clearly beyond the scope of the book title. Considering the British Fleet Air Arm developed tactics, used later by the Allies, and took the US Corsair fighter to sea on their much smaller carriers at a time when the USN considered the Corsair too hot for US carrier operation, there is huge photographic scope. Similarly, the FAA took the very hot Mosquito to sea and was landing jet fighters on RN carriers before the end of WWII.