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review 2017-09-18 04:51
Camel Combat Ace: The Great War Flying Career of Edwin Swale CBE OBE DFC* - Barry M Marsden

"CAMEL COMBAT ACE" is a fine, well-written book about a singularly remarkable man, Edwin Swale. Hailing from a middle-class background in Northern England, Swale joined the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) in October 1917. He completed his flight and gunnery training by early March 1918. Shortly thereafter, he was shipped to France and was assigned to No. 10 Squadron, RNAS, which soon became caught up in trying to stem the German offensive. 

Later that spring, with the creation of the Royal Air Force (RAF) from the amalgamation of the RNAS and the Royal Flying Corps (RFC), No. 10 Squadron RNAS - now redesignated No. 210 Squadron RAF - was very active along the front. Swale was involved in a lot of dangerous, low level attack missions against German troops in the field and other military installations behind the lines. The book provides considerable detail on Swale's combat service, which - aside from one spell of leave in Britain - lasted through October 1918, by which time he had shot down 17 German planes in aerial combat, survived a number of close calls, and had been promoted to Captain and placed in command of a flight of Sopwith Camels. 

After the war, Swale would marry, have a family, and assume responsibility for the family business. The book shows, with the insertion of some excerpts from Swale's autobiography, that he was a restless man with considerable energies and interests. With the outbreak of the Second World War, he rejoined the RAF and spent the war working in intelligence. 

This book was both interesting and easy to read. Plus it has lots of photos showing Swale (at various periods of his life) and his family.

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review 2017-09-17 03:37
A Life Well Lived - Ralph Sausmarez Carey

As stated on the back cover, "[t]his book is a wonderful compilation of memories, stories, letters, newspaper articles and" [photos] about the life of Ralph Sausmarez Carey (1898-1976). 

Carey, a Canadian from Winnipeg, joined the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) in November 1917 and received pilot training in Canada, the U.S., and Britain. He went on to serve as a fighter pilot in France with No. 73 Squadron, Royal Air Force (RAF), flying Sopwith Camel fighters over the Western Front in the latter stages of the First World War in 1918. Upon returning to Canada in May 1919, he studied at the University of Manitoba, where he earned a B.A. degree. He then went on to earn a law degree and briefly practiced law in the 1920s. 

The bulk of Carey's career would be with the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC), a major retail establishment where he worked his way into the upper ranks of management. Aside from his service with the Canadian Army as an administrative officer in Ottawa during the Second World War, he spent 36 years with HBC, retiring in 1965. 

What makes this book truly engaging to the reader are: a transcription of Carey's First World War experiences (which he had recorded on tape; his wife preserved it for their children); the personal recollections of Carey's children, former colleagues, relatives, and friends which bring a wider human dimension to the man that was Ralph Sausmarez Carey; and --- Chapter 5, which contains Carey's background and the backgrounds of his parents and siblings. 

All in all, "A LIFE WELL LIVED" is a nice book to read.

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review 2017-09-13 03:15
The Last Fighter Pilot: The True Story of the Final Combat Mission of World War II - Don Brown,Capt. Jerry Yellin

"THE LAST FIGHTER PILOT: The True Story of the Final Combat Mission of World War II" is centered mainly on the combat service of Army Captain Jerry Yellin of the 78th Fighter Squadron (15th Fighter Group, United States Army Air Force [USAAF]) in the Pacific between March and August 15, 1945 (the end of the war). Yellin was part of a unique group of U.S. Army fighter pilots tasked with protecting B-29 bombers on their extended, oceanic missions against Japan in the final months of the war. 

Based on Iwo Jima, Yellin and his fellow pilots flew Very Long Range (VLR) P-51D Mustangs on missions over the Japanese home islands that often lasted up to 8 hours. These were very challenging missions, not simply because of the long distances involved - a situation similar to that faced by their counterparts flying P-51 Mustangs with the 8th Air Force in Europe on deep penetration bomber escort missions over Germany. There was also the vagaries of the weather, which cost the lives of some of Yellin's fellow pilots. 

The book also serves as a tribute to the sacrifices made by several of Yellin's close friends in the 78th Fighter Squadron who did not survive the war. One of them, in particular, deserves special mention: First Lieutenant Phil Schlamberg of New York City, age 19, who, as Yellin's wingman, was lost on the last combat mission of the war on August 15, 1945.  (A distant relative of First Lieutenant Schlamberg is the actress Scarlett Johansson.)

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review 2017-08-27 01:56
The Flight: Charles Lindbergh's Daring and Immortal 1927 Transatlantic Crossing - Dan Hampton

As someone who has been an aviation fan since I was 10, "THE FLIGHT: Charles Lindbergh's Daring and Immortal 1927 Transatlantic Crossing" was a book that commanded my immediate attention. So I bought it and read it avidly. The strengths of the book are in the way, Hampton, himself a retired U.S. Air Force combat pilot, conveys vividly to the reader, the joys and thrills of flight as well as the challenges Lindbergh faced in making his solo flight across the Atlantic from New York to Paris in May 1927. Several aviators since 1919 (when the Orteig Prize was initially offered for any aviator(s) who were able to successfully fly non-stop across the Atlantic from New York to Paris or Paris to New York) had tried to fly the Atlantic non-stop, and failed. Many of them dying horrible deaths. And in the case of the celebrated First World War French aviators Charles Nungesser and François Coli, disappeared in an attempt to fly from Paris to New York several weeks before Lindbergh's flight from Roosevelt Field. 

Reading this book deepened my appreciation of Lindbergh's singular accomplishment. Imagine yourself flying alone in a small, upper-winged monoplane across 3,000 miles of ocean to Europe, not always sure of your position in the sky (even with the benefit of charts, compass, and other navigational aides) for roughly 33.5 hours straight without having slept for close to 3 days? Many people in the early to mid-1920s looked upon aviation as little more than a sport or a fool's hobby. What Lindbergh and his plane, The Spirit of St. Louis, managed to do showed aviation's potential and made possible the further development of commercial aviation and technology for space travel and exploration over the next 40 years. 

Hampton also shares with the reader how much Lindbergh's life was changed as a result of the flight - good and not-so-good, for Fame often exacts a high cost from anyone who becomes a public celebrity - which was sobering to me. "THE FLIGHT" is a book I would highly recommend to ANYONE who love stories of how seemingly ordinary, humble people can --- in spite of heavy odds --- accomplish great things and so inspire the world.

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review 2017-08-19 14:48
’Paddy’ Finucane and the legend of the Kenley Wing: No.452 (Australian), 485 (New Zealand) and 602 (City of Glasgow) Squadrons, 1941 - Anthony Cooper

1941 was a critical year in the Second World War for both the Royal Air Force (RAF) and the Allies. RAF Fighter Command, which had helped to keep Britain afloat throughout the summer and autumn of 1940 following the fall of France, represented one of Britain's few effective blunt instruments to keep Germany off balance. As early as December 1940, it had begun engaging in 'lean-to' or shallow penetration missions over Occupied France where small units of RAF fighters attacked German airbases and military installations. By the following summer, this undertaking had been expanded into 'Circuses', which entailed the use of bombers escorted by, on average, 16 squadrons of fighters on both shallow and deep penetration missions (at least 50 miles inland) into France. Missions of this magnitude the Luftwaffe could hardly ignore. With the majority of the Luftwaffe now engaged in military operations in support of the Wehrmacht in the Soviet Union, 2 fighter wings (Jagdgeschwadern 2 & 26) were tasked with defending the airspace above France against the RAF.


Here is where the experiences of the Kenley Wing of RAF Fighter Command, who came to play a significant role in the RAF Non-Stop Offensive of 1941, are described in "PADDY FINUCANE AND THE LEGEND OF THE KENLEY WING." The Wing, one among 6 in the RAF, was made up of 452 (made up mostly of Australian fighter pilots), 485, (mostly New Zealanders), and 602 Squadrons. It was representative of the RAF itself, which contained in its ranks, many airmen from the farthest reaches of the British Empire and Commonwealth. There were also a few Irishmen like Finucane, a veteran of the Battle of Britain, who, during the summer and autumn of 1941, was making a name for himself as one of the RAF best known and top-scoring aces while serving as one of 452 Squadron's flight leaders. Indeed, 452 Squadron, of all the squadrons in the Kenley Wing, would develop a reputation with pilots of the caliber of Finucane and Keith 'Bluey' Truscott (Australian) as one of the top-scoring units in RAF Fighter Command. It seemed that whenever the Kenley Wing took part in sweeps over France that 452 Squadron would find itself involved in many a scrap with German fighters while the other 2 squadrons in the Wing encountered fewer or no enemy air opposition.


The book describes in considerable detail the intensity of the air combat the Kenley Wing experienced over France, as well as the standards the RAF had for assessing victory claims by its fighter pilots. What became increasingly evident is that there was a lot of overclaiming on the part of RAF Fighter Command during 1941. Much more so than had been the case during the Battle of Britain. This couldn't always be helped because air combat is a life-and-death affair, carried out by fast moving fighters --- requiring constant alertness on the part of the individual fighter pilot --- fought in three dimensions. One wrong move --- sometimes measured in seconds --- could mean nursing a badly crippled Spitfire across the Channel to Britain, riding a flaming aircraft to either a watery death in the Channel or a fiery crash inland, or being shot down and forced to bail out over France. The latter for an RAF fighter pilot usually meant becoming a prisoner of war or evading capture and - with the help of the Resistance - getting to Southern France and across the Pyrenees Mountains to neutral Spain and a sure passage back to Britain and the war.


It also became clear from reading this book that while the RAF was able to provide a widening pool of trained fighter pilots (the EATS or Empire Air Training Scheme was crucial in this regard in which large numbers of RAF aviation cadets received their training in Canada) to replace its losses in France during 1941, it had not given most of its pilots much (if any) gunnery training. Lacking this vital skill was, along with aircraft mis-identication, another key reason behind overclaiming kills in air combat. Indeed, "... the root of the overclaiming problem seems to have lain in the tendency of some pilots to make forced links between purported cause and effect, in the context of an overstimulated combat environment where in fact no-one could see it all, and where many pilots did not see much at all - or anything at all. Despite this uncertainty principle, some pilots repeatedly drew definite causal links between, on the one hand, their gunnery attacks upon fleeting targets' and on the other, subsequent fleeting impressions of flashes, smoke, splashes, hunts, and dives. These putative causative connections were too often accepted by the intelligence officers at squadron, wing, and group level who assessed and confirmed the claims, and too often by the squadron COs, wing leaders, station commanders, senior air staff officers, and air officers commanding who signed off on the paperwork before sending it up to the next level of command. Moreover, all of these officers permitted such claims to be confirmed despite the lack of corroboration --- sometimes pilot claims were supported by reported sightings from other pilots, but they were also routinely accepted on the claimant's testimony alone."


I developed a deeper appreciation for the pilots of RAF Fighter Command from reading "PADDY FINUCANE AND THE LEGEND OF THE KENLEY WING."  It's an inspiring account into how these men, through sheer determination, skill, guts, and dedication to duty, helped pave the way to eventual Allied victory in May 1945.

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