The Adventures & Inventions of Stewart Blacker, Soldier, Aviator, Weapons Inventor

B2210

Every so often, previously unpublished biographies and collections of diaries and correspondence surface and are turned in a unique and very enjoyable book that is compelling and, while seeming incredible against modern experience, is entirely believable. This book is one such. Stewart Blacker is a larger than life individual who was not that unusual in his times, but has perhaps no modern equivalent. That is as much due the changes in society as it is in the human. There are parts of Blacker that will be familiar. He is in part ‘Q’ from the James Bond stories. In part he is Biggles from that fictional aviator. There are many extracts of his character and experiences that do chime today but, as a whole, he is really extraordinary and shows how life in the early years of the 20th Century was more flexible than today. This is a book that should be read by many as a fascinating insight into times past, and the level of endeavour that is so different from the period a century later. Very Highly Commended for style and content.

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NAME: The Adventures & Inventions of Stewart Blacker, Soldier, Aviator, Weapons Inventor
DATE: 140815
FILE: R2210
AUTHOR: edited by Barnaby Blacker
PUBLISHER: Pen & Sword
BINDING: soft back
PAGES: 204
PRICE: £12.99
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: WWI, the Great War, First World War. World War One, WWII, World War Two, Second World War, aviator, aircraft, weapons, technology, intelligence services, MI5, pioneer, practical engineer, PIAT
ISBN: 1-47382-771-X
IMAGE: B2210.jpg
BUYNOW: http://tinyurl.com/p6nen8e
LINKS:
DESCRIPTION: Every so often, previously unpublished biographies and collections of diaries and correspondence surface and are turned in a unique and very enjoyable book that is compelling and, while seeming incredible against modern experience, is entirely believable. This book is one such. Stewart Blacker is a larger than life individual who was not that unusual in his times, but has perhaps no modern equivalent. That is as much due the changes in society as it is in the human. There are parts of Blacker that will be familiar. He is in part ‘Q’ from the James Bond stories. In part he is Biggles from that fictional aviator. There are many extracts of his character and experiences that do chime today but, as a whole, he is really extraordinary and shows how life in the early years of the 20th Century was more flexible than today. This is a book that should be read by many as a fascinating insight into times past, and the level of endeavour that is so different from the period a century later. Very Highly Commended for style and content.

Blacker was a pioneer aviator. He began flying shortly after the Wrights first flight. Like aviators of the period he was working in the unknown. The survivors would write the manuals. He became a weapons inventor and was leader of the team who developed the synchronized machine gun for British aircraft that enabled forward firing machine guns to be mounted close the pilot, firing through the propeller arc without destroying the propeller. This may not be seen today for its real importance. Early fighter aircraft were equipped with machine guns that often jammed in operation. That meant that it was important for a pilot or observer to be able to clear the problem in flight. The single seat fighter either had to have a machine gun that fired outside the propeller arc, which required the pilot to stand up or reach out to clear a stoppage, or the aircraft had to be equipped with a pusher propeller behind the pilot. By introducing an interrupter gear, the machine gun could be halted each time a propeller blade passed in front of the gun. The rate of fire was reduced but this was more than compensated for by enabling single seat fighters to have one or two machine guns immediately in front of the pilot, easy to reach to clear stoppages, and sighted along the center line of the fuselage, allowing the pilot to point the aircraft at the enemy.

Today, we might think of an inventor as some kind of ‘boffin’ in a white coat, working in a lab. In Blacker’s day, inventors were mostly practical engineers. They had the mind set to see a problem and devise a practical solution that was often so obvious it was a wonder no one had thought of it before. They were working at a time when ‘Standards’ were still a novelty and much of engineering was still in a fluid state. Inventors always work at the edge of established technology but today they have computer aided software that draws from human experience and aids the development of new solutions. Blacker was working before the introduction of electronic computers.

In terms of mobility, Blacker was able to rejoin the Army and fight in France when he felt he needed to ‘do his bit’. He fought in Central Asia from 1918-1920. He was awarded the OBE and was appointed to the Imperial General Staff. He worked for MI5 and continued to fly and to develop weapons as a private inventor. It was a hard life, a full life, and rewarding life.

The PIAT, Projector Infantry Anti-Tank, gun was an example of an original mind. It several respects it was an unlovely weapon. When Blacker came up with the idea, anti-tank weapons for the infantry were rifles, very large, cumbersome rifles that fired a large armour piercing round, such as the Boys anti-tank rifle. They may have been effective against early tanks and lightly armoured reconnaissance vehicles but, by the late 1930s, tank design and the thickness of armour were making anti-tank rifles obsolete. During WWII, anti-tank artillery rapidly increased in shell size and sophistication of shell design, far beyond the ability of an infantryman to carry and fire, requiring a wheeled carriage, or mounting on a vehicle. This left an important gap because infantry would have to operate against tanks, when there was no anti-tank artillery available. This was particularly true in the case of airborne troops and commandos that were landed into enemy territory with only what they could carry. Blacker came up with the idea of a spring bomb thrower that could be carried by an infantryman and fire bombs that could be developed further as armour became stronger. Although armoured fighting vehicles developed significantly during WWII, the PIAT was still in service with British airborne troops as the European war ended, and still killing tanks. The PIAT was replaced by the shoulder-fired anti-tank rocket that provided a much richer development path, with the addition of guidance systems, but the PIAT in its time was portable and effective.

Blackers grandson has made a very good job of compiling an absorbing biography, using documents from the family archives. It is a story that hits so many points of interest and deserves to achieve a wide readership, providing a very human story of a remarkable individual and an environment that was so very different from the world today.

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