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Shores, Christopher and Chris Thomas. 2nd Tactical Air Force, volume one: Spartan to Normandy, June 1943 to June 1944. Crowborough, UK: Classic Publications, 2004
How much has Chris Shores brought to light about the RAF in World War II? Probably more than anyone else in the field. After so many years and so many well-researched books, Shores and his collaborators continue to produce excellent, highly informative tomes about the Royal Air Force. He recently turned his attention back to 2nd Tactical Air Force, a subject he initially covered in 1970 with a book of the same title. This time, with the assistance of Chris Thomas, the original edition has been revised and expanded into three volumes of which this is the first. The result? Another great RAF book from Team Shores.
Experience had shown that the most successful and adaptable instrument of close support was the fighter-bomber, so that many squadrons at that time operating in Fighter Command would have to be released for the new organisation. Although the most immediate way to provide a nucleus for the new force would have been to expand Army Co-operation Command, this would have entailed a massive re-organisation and a considerable disruption of the "non-stop offensive" in which the Fighter Command units were engaged. Consequently, the alternative was adopted, whereby the formation of what was initially known simply as 'The Tactical Air Force' took place within the framework of Fighter Command.
The authors go on to describe the various components of the new air organization and then segue into the heart of each chapter, a day-by-day chronology of 2nd TAF's activities. For each day, Shores and Thomas explain the events in a series of paragraphs followed by a tabular listing of claims and losses. Data in the daily table includes time of day the event occurred, squadron, type of aircraft, identification of aircraft, names and ranks of pilot and crew with casualties (killed, wounded, prisoner, escaped), type of enemy aircraft claimed (if any) as destroyed - probable - damaged (shown as "d p d"), and cause/location of the claim or loss of the aircraft. All this initially proves a bit tricky to decipher, because each table includes both RAF aircraft lost and victories claimed by RAF aircraft. These are listed in chronological sequence for each day, making a bit of a mix.
The tabular material becomes considerably longer and more complicated as D-Day grows closer and the pace of operations increases. In all cases, a few abbreviations are critical to understanding the tables. For example, "sdbf" means "shot down by fighters," "hbf" means "hit by flak," "e/f" means "engine failure," "b/u" means "blew up," "l/s" means "last seen," "c/l" means "crash landed," etc.
Six Typhoon pilots set off on a sweep at 07.02 hours. One was hit by Flak at Domburg and returned with the Pilot, Flight Lieutenant V. Fittall, wounded. 11 Group repeated Ramrod No. 265 at 11.05 hours, Mosquitos bombing Woippy at low level. Four were shot down by Flak and a fifth returned with the navigator dead. 10 Group Ramrod No. 92 at 14.30 hours took B-25s to Guipavas. A Spitfire pilot crashed in England, believed on return from this mission, and was injured.
And here's what Shores and Thomas show for the same date:
The second 2 Group Mosquito raid was launched as 'Ramrod 265,' an attack on a Messerschmitt engine works at Woippy by 14 aircraft of 464 Squadron and 12 of 487 Squadron. En route a formation of Royal Navy vessels were seen, and in changing course to avoid overflying these, the Mosquitos crossed the coast slightly off course, and in an area where Flak was concentrated. Four aircraft were shot down, two from each unit, all falling near Metz, and a fifth was damaged, Wg Cdr A.G. Wilson, Commanding Officer of 487 Squadron, landing at Manston with his navigator, Flg Off D. Bridgman, dead. The whole effort had proved of no use, however, for on arrival the target was found to be covered by cloud, and bombs had to be brought back.
Whatever the reason for occasional discrepancies (were all four lost Mosquitos from 487 Squadron, or were two from 464?), it's clear that Shores and Thomas add considerably more detail to their daily tallies, and that richness makes this volume a terrific source of information. Readers should be warned that this is definitely a data-heavy book, not a narrative history and not a compendium of first-hand accounts from pilots and aircrew. However, it's exactly the kind of resource we appreciate, and we can recommend it without hesitation to anyone interested in highly detailed, day-by-day compilations of flying operations. Bravo, Messrs Shores and Thomas, and we look forward to the next two volumes in the series.
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Reviewed 8 May 2005
Reviewed 8 May 2005
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