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This week we take a peek at a pair of better-than-average books for specialists and one excellent book which should be appreciated by a relatively broader WWII audience.
Colledge, J.J. revised by Ben Warlow. Ships of the Royal Navy: The Complete Record of All the Fighting Ships of the Royal Navy from the Fifteenth Century to the Present. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2003
Preface; Foreword; Introduction; Abbreviations
Colledge's two-volume compilation was first published in 1968 but soon went out of print. A revised two-volume edition was published in 1987 by Greenhill. Now Greenhill and Stackpole have launched the first volume of the set with further revisions and additions by Ben Warlow. In all three incarnations, Ships of the Royal Navy has served as an important reference for anyone with a serious interest in the RN.
In concept, Colledge's work is quite simple. He simply lists every vessel that has ever served in the Royal Navy from, as the sub-title says, the fifteenth century to the present and for each vessel provides vital statistics. In practice, this means mind-numbing thousands of individual entries including ships of the Royal Canadian Navy, Royal Australian Navy, etc. Of volume two, with "trawlers, drifters, tugs and requisitioned ships," there is at this time no sign. On its own and covering only "principal warships," this volume containsby rough countmore than 10,000 listings, which should be sufficient for all but the most hard-core enthusiast.
To begin with, Colledge offers an explanation of the scope of his book plus notes about tonnages, dimensions, armaments, building materials, yards, early ship types, abbreviations, and so on. Following that introductory material, the author launches directly into an uninterrupted listing of warship after warship after warship. No photos, no diagrams, no maps, no tables.
Vessels are listed alphabetically, andgiven the repeated use of the same name for many warships of different eraswithin each name they're listed by date of service. Of Lion, for example, Colledge lists nineteen different ships, along with three of Lion's Whelp and a pair of Lioness. Each entry gives name of vessel, type (such as battleship), tonnage, dimensions, armament, builder, date launched, and final disposition.
Here's an example of the three warships named Hood:
HOOD (ex-EDGAR) Screw 2nd Rate 91, 3,308bm, 198 x 56ft. Chatham DY 4.5.1859 (renamed 29.6.1848). Harbour service 1872. Sold 1888. See EDGAR 1848.
HOOD Battleship, 14,150 tons, 380 x 75ft, 4-13.5in, 10-6in, 10-6pdr. Chatham DY 30.7.1891. Sunk 4.11.1914 blockship Portland harbor.
HOOD Battlecruiser, 41,200 tons, 860.9 (oa) x 105.3ft, 8-15in, 12-5.5in, 4-4in. John Brown 22.8.1918. Sunk 25.5.1941 in action with German BISMARCK and PRINZ EUGEN south of Greenland.
Although most decidedly not suitable strictly for pleasure reading, specialists in the Royal Navy will rejoice and revel in the almost boundless data Colledge and his successor, Ben Warlow, have assembled here.
Wolf, William. American Fighter-Bombers in World War II: USAAF Jabos in the MTO and ETO. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd, 2003
Foreword; Preface; photos; tables; color profiles; Index
Appendices: Enemy Aircraft Destroyed; USAAF Combat Losses; Tons of Bombs Dropped; Fighter Sorties Flown; Combat Effectiveness
By comparison with Ships of the Royal Navy, William Wolf's new book will attract a much broader audience.
In addition, after the relative disappointment of John Sullivan's recent Air Support for Patton's Third Army, it's a pleasure to report Wolf has taken a wider perspective on air support, provided much more detail, and succeeded in producing a thoroughly enjoyable and informative book that belongs on the shelf of anyone interested in air warfare. Although limited in scope to USAAF operations in North Africa, Italy, and northwest Europe, Wolf manages to maximize the level of detail provided about that specific subject area while simultaneously transcending those confines with useful examples and conclusions that are far more generally applicable.
Part One comprises about 150 pages and examines the overall background of American fighter-bomber ops. Wolf writes about topics such as the evolution of tactical air doctrine, the relative strengths of air support vs artillery support, the suitability for air support of seven American fighter models, comparison of light and medium bomber air support vs fighter-bomber support, unit organizations, airfields, armaments, and ordnance, types of targets and the tactics used against each, German tactics against fighter-bomber operations, etc. Despite covering a great deal of ground, the author displays a good grasp of all these subjects and there won't be many readers, even old hands, who fail to learn something from these pages.
Here's an explanation of tactics used against rail marshalling yards and moving trains:
The recommended mode of air attack on rail traffic was at right
angles to the length of the train. Little or no firing lead was necessary. and moving trains were considered a stationary target. To stop
the train and make it an easier target the engine was the initial target. Attacks on the engine were made from 90 degrees by the No. 1
and, it necessary, No. 2 of a flight. Long, methodical bursts caused
the most damage and minimized return AA and small arms fire.
Fighter-bomber .50 caliber bullets could readily penetrate the
locomotive's boiler, stopping the entire train. A bomb hit on the
locomotive would blow it off the tracks, derail the following cars.
and destroy track, making clearing, salvage, and repair more difficult. Once the train was stopped. 10 to 15 degree deflection passes
were made by Nos. 2. 3. and 4 to destroy as many cars as possible
with a minimum number of attacks. Each pilot would attack in a
relatively slow (under 300 mph). shallow dive and make a climbing turn to about 500 feet. then circle to make another attack. Air
traffic discipline was essential, with each pilot following in trail the
aircraft ahead of him to avoid mid-air collisions and shooting at
other squadron aircraft. If a target had the possibility of exploding
pilots fired a short burst from a long distance away. aiming high. in
an attempt to explode it and he able to evade the debris. If this
failed, a long burst was fired somewhat high from a long distance
on the next run. The pilot watched for hits and then led fire into the
target. These attacks were to he broken off at a distance to insure
safety from an explosion, but all too often strafing fighters were
lost to explosions.
In December 1944 the Ordnance Section of the 12th Air Force.
using 57"' Fighter Group fighter-bombers, conducted a study of attacks on a static Italian steam locomotive. Strafing damage was
found to stall a locomotive and cause repairs ranging from one to
35 days, and that strafing was much more likely to achieve hits
than bombing or rockets. It was suggested that strafing using a .50
belting of four armor piercing incendiary (API) rounds to one tracer
was ideal (as opposed to the previous API-lncendiary-APl-Incendiary-Tracer belting). Strafing from 90-degree beam was suggested
over an attack from a shallower angle, as these perpendicular strikes
were more likely to perforate the locomotive's boiler and less likely
The standard method for attacking marshaling yards near or in
sizable towns or cities was to dispatch three squadrons; two to carry
two 500lb. bombs and a belly tank or, if the target was in range,
three 500lb. bombs and a third squadron to furnish top cover. The
group would climb to 25-30,000 feet and, because of the heavy flak
associated with this target, bomb in a four plane Vic. The group
leader would have the squadrons and their flights form in trail, with
each flight in close right echelon making a shallow diving turn toward the target to gain speed. The flight leader No. 1 would half-roll left with his wingman No. 2 rolling on his starboard wing. The
No. 3 and No. 4 would each half-roll left, in place, and the flight
would end up in a close finger four formation in a near vertical
dive. Three or four flights would dive simultaneously, with the lead
flight firing its guns to suppress AA fire. The formation would gain
speed to 400 to 500mph in the dive and release its bombs on the
lead flight. The aircraft would either pull up in loose formation and
zoom climb to about 20,000 feet or pull out at the deck and head for
a predetermined rendezvous. The two attacking squadrons would
he rejoined with the top cover squadron and return home. This
method was also used to bomb airfields.
Part Two, comprising another 200 pages, moves beyond theory and doctrine to cover actual USAAF fighter-bomber operations in the MTO and ETO. Individual chapters and sections, ranging from three or four pages to a couple dozen, focus on specific topics such as Kasserine Pass, the invasion of Pantelleria, Operation Husky, about ten different phases of the Italian campaign, D-Day, the breakout from Normandy, Falaise, and so on through the end of the war in Europe. In each case, Wolf briefly sets the stage with some general background, explains the air-ground command structure, discusses plans and expectations, covers air-support operations, quotes pilots who flew missions in that particular operation, offers summaries and statistics, provides a few relevant photos, and suggests some conclusions.
Among many memorable scenes in the book, chapter 21 describes the manner in which American fighter-bombers destroyed the lead and rear elements of a long German column on the road near Montelimar in southern France in 1944, then proceeded to destroy the line of gridlocked enemy vehicles. This demonstration of airpower was not without cost, however, and in the end, as Wolf admits, despite this kind of pounding a large proportion of General Blaskowitz's army group escaped. While the author clearly respects and admires the pilots who flew these missions, he fully comprehends the inherent shortcomings as well as the quantifiable successes of air support in North Africa and Europe.
Against all the terrific aspects of this book there are only a couple of minor imperfections. Wolf provides no bibliography (although he tells us in his Preface he owns a personal library of more than 14,000 WWII-related aviation books and periodicals), and the index (where have we heard this before?) is woefully inadequate.
Those quibbles notwithstanding, this book is a real winner, packed with enormous amounts of information and insights. Highly recommended.
Fopp, Michael A. (General Editor). The Lancaster Manual: The Official Air Publication for the Lancaster Mk I and III, 1942-1945. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2003
Photos; charts; diagrams; tables; schematics
If instead of an automobile you keep a Lancaster bomber parked in your garageor at least you wish you didthen this is the book for you. Otherwise, it probably won't hold much fascination.
As the third in the series of manuals for British aircraft (after The Hurricane II Manual and The Spitfire V Manual) published in conjunction with the RAF Museum, The Lancaster Manual takes the same general approach of reprinting the wartime documentation used by pilots, flight crews, ground crews, and repair teams. In this case, that means eleven different sections of A.P. 2062A & C, volume I:
Leading particulars, Introduction, Pilot's controls and equipment
Pilots and flight engineer's notes
Controls and equipment at crew stations
Instructions for ground personnel
Removal and assembly operations
Electrical and radio installation - Maintenance
Design and construction of airframe
Hydraulic and pneumatic systems
Electrical and radio installations - Description
Armament and general equipment
Although not quite at the level of John Muir's How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive that some of us relied on to keep our transport in running order in the late 1960s and early 1970s, this manual comes close. The opening sections provide an introduction to the aircraft and general description of its various systems and sub-systems as well as notes for pilots and crews such as "Check list before taxying," "Check list before take-off," "Check list before landing," etc. For emergency situationsamong them "Engine failure during take-off," "Engine failure in flight," "Damage by enemy action," and, encouragingly, "Dinghy and ditching"a further eight pages provide helpful hints which presumably have been memorized in advance. For example: "If fire occurs in bomb bay, pilot should open bomb doors, jettison bombs, and dive."
Despite all those helpful hints, the bulk of the book is about maintaining, disassembling, repairing, and reassembling all the component systems of the Lancaster. The systems are fully illustrated with photos, drawings, and schematics that would make John Muir proud, and the manual contains step-by-step instructions for taking things apart and putting them back together.
Here's an example:
Dismantling.If it is necessary at any time to gain access to the switch
mechanism it is preferable to remove the switch completely from the
instrument panel. To do this the cables should be first disconnected.
Removal of the two screws (17) retaining the moulded terminal cover
in position allows this part to be slipped along the cables that pass
through the centre hole of the cover. The terminals are now exposed
and the cables can be disconnected. To remove the switch from the
instrument panel the four retaining screws, one at each corner of the
top mounting plate (14), should be withdrawn. Removal of the two
round-head screws (12) which retain the top mounting plate (14) in
position will free this part and also the sliding bar (13), the rectangular
aperture of which is passed over the ON-OFF section lever (8) and also
the die-cast distance piece (15). The metal case may now be withdrawn
and the switch mechanism exposed. The two sections of the switch
are held together by four long transverse screws (5) the ends of which
are riveted over on the locknuts. The spade-ended terminals (4) are
riveted to their respective phosphor-bronze contacting springs but
the end terminal plate (3) is retained by nine round-headed slotted
screws. The various other sub-assemblies of the switch are also riveted
together. The transverse tension spring pivots (10) are held in position
by circlips, and the looped ends of the tension springs rest in grooves
in these pivots and are readily removable.
Some of this is fascinating stuff and there are certainly some grease monkeys sufficiently fanatical about vintage aircraft to sleep with a stained, dog-eared copy of The Lancaster Manual under the pillow, but it seems safe to say this volume is really aimed at a small coterie of specialists.
All of these books are available from online booksellers, local bookshops, or directly from the publishers or their distributors.
Thanks to the publishers for providing these review copies.
Reviewed 23 November 2003
Copyright © 2003 by Bill Stone
May not be reproduced in any form without written permission of Stone & Stone