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review 2019-11-20 02:57
Camel Pilot Supreme: Captain D.V. Armstrong DFC - Annette Carson

I have had a fascination with First World War aviation that goes back to 1977, when I received the Thomas R. Funderburk classic book 'The Fighters: The Men and Machines of the First Air War'. As time went on, in my readings I came across the name of a pilot in the Royal Air Force (RAF) noted for his remarkable skills in aerobatics who was entrusted with going from airbase to airbase across Britain showing pilot trainees and novice pilots alike that the feared and redoubtable Sopwith F1 'Camel' fighter could be mastered and flown skillfully by putting it through a variety of hair-raising, extremely low-level stunts. This was done to instill confidence in pilots to fly in combat an aircraft that could be unforgiving if indifferently flown. The name of this pilot, it was pointed out, was Armstrong.

Somehow the name 'Armstrong' stuck through the years. So that when I saw this book --- ''CAMEL PILOT SUPREME: CAPTAIN D.V. ARMSTRONG DFC" --- advertised recently, I thought 'this must be the one.' So I bought it and learned a great deal about D'urban Victor Armstrong that was amazing. Armstrong was born in South Africa in 1897 and arrived in Britain in the latter part of 1915 to join the Royal Flying Corps (RFC). He was trained as a pilot at the time when the RFC did not have a comprehensive and standardized pilot training program. The RFC, in the wake of the Fokker Scourge, had a desperate need for pilots and felt it more important to train men who could put a plane in the air and through their frontline experiences, fully learn 'the trade' of being a combat pilot on the Western Front. Pilots in 1916 on average were considered competent if they could last at least 3 weeks at the Front.

Armstrong, upon completion of training, was assigned to a new squadron, No. 60, which was dispatched to France in May 1916 flying both the Morane Saulnier N 'Bullet' monoplane fighter and the Morane-Saulnier Type L 'Parasol' high-wing monoplane which carried out photographic reconnaissance, escort, and bombing missions. Both planes were extremely tricky to fly. Notwithstanding that, No. 60 Squadron would go on to use them to great effect during the Battle of the Somme. Armstrong became quite proficient in flying the 'Bullet' in combat, scoring a number of kills with it in aerial combat. With the end of the battle in November 1916, Armstrong was one of only 5 men in the squadron to have survived unscathed. He was sent back to Britain, where for the next year and a half, he was involved with ferrying new combat planes across the Channel for use with frontline units, as well as serving in a couple of Home Defense fighter units pioneering both daylight and night flying tactics to combat the German long-range bombers that began flying bombing missions against London and targets in Southeast England during the spring and summer of 1917.

It was also during 1917 that Armstrong first became acquainted with the Sopwith F1 Camel, which first flew with fighter units on the Western Front in June of that year. Armstrong learned all that he could about the plane's idiosyncrasies by testing the plane itself. By this time, he was gaining a reputation as one of the RFC's best pilots. As a result of his growing prowess with the Camel, Armstrong's superiors in the RFC entrusted him with showing that it could be flown safely and inspiring confidence in those pilots who would later fly the Camel in combat.

Armstrong would return to France in late June 1918 with one of the RAF's first night fighter squadrons (flying Sopwith Camels), who would go on to pioneer tactics that would later be used in the Second World War to even greater effects by RAF night fighters in that conflict.

The more I read this book, the more I was deeply impressed with D.V. Armstrong, his unselfish nature and willingness to teach pilots all that he knew about aerobatics, as well as night flying and fighting. For the author, this book was the result of a 30 year effort to acquire and synthesize all that D.V. Armstrong -- who sadly died all too young -- was to the generation of aviators who knew him and valued his contributions to flight.

The book also has lots of photos from Armstrong's own collection that will give the reader a real sense of what a truly remarkable and special pilot he was. I recommend "CAMEL PILOT SUPREME: CAPTAIN D.V. ARMSTRONG DFC" to anyone who loves reading uplifting and inspiring stories.

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review 2019-10-19 02:58
Alarmstart East: The German Fighter Pilot's Experience on the Eastern Front 1941-1945 - Patrick G. Eriksson

"ALARMSTART EAST" is representative of what is likely to be the final story (much of it told first-hand from the few surviving veterans) of what the air war over the Eastern Front was like for the German fighter pilots who fought there between 1941 and 1945.

This is a very solid, very well researched book, with photos - many never before seen - from the private collections of several of the Luftwaffe fighter pilots the author had interviewed over many years, as well as diagrams and illustrations which give the reader a palpable sense of what life at the front was like for these pilots, ground staff, and support personnel. There is also a chapter that examines and evaluates the various criteria the Luftwaffe used for assessing the aerial victory claims of its Jagdflieger (fighter pilots).

For any aviation enthusiast, "ALARMSTART EAST" is an excellent reference source for learning about the nature of the air war over the Eastern Front between the Luftwaffe and the Soviet Air Force.

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review 2019-10-01 00:52
TEMPEST V vs FW 190D-9: 1944-45 - Robert Forsyth
For the aviation enthusiast, this is an absolutely first-rate book shedding considerable light on 2 Second World War fighter planes which represented the acme in the development of piston-engined combat aircraft.

The Hawker Tempest V represented an advancement on the Hawker Typhoon, which though originally designed as a successor to the Spitfire, proved to be ideal as a low-level ground attack fighter-bomber. Entering service with the Royal Air Force (RAF) early in 1944, the Tempest V proved adept at combating the German V1 'flying bombs' that were unleashed against Britain during the late spring and summer of 1944. Subsequently, they were employed on the European continent where they came into their own as both an amazingly fast ground attack aircraft, as well as in the purely fighter interceptor role.

The Focke Wulf 190D-9 represented an intermediate advancement on the Focke Wulf 190A-8 fighter with an extended fuselage (necessitated by the introduction of the elongated Junkers Jumo 213A engine), along with a number of other modifications that made it one of the most potent and redoubtable fighters in Luftwaffe service. It would be deployed with a number of Luftwaffe fighter units in Germany and the Western Front during the late summer of 1944. But it wasn't until December of that year, that the FW 190D-9 clashed for the first time with the Tempest V in the skies of Western Europe. It was the first of many contentious encounters between both fighters until V-E Day in May 1945.

Other hallmarks of this book are the rich assortment of illustrations and photos, as well as chapters describing in considerable detail the characteristics of both fighters in addition to the flight training programs devised by the RAF and Luftwaffe in training pilots who would go on to fly the Tempest V and FW-190D-9 in combat. For 80 pages, this book packs a lot and comes HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.


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review 2019-05-15 05:38
Spitfire Deserter? The American Pilot Who Went Missing - Bill Simpson

I was prompted recently to buy the book "SPITFIRE DESERTER?" because of a story I had come across years ago from reading the book 'Malta: The Spitfire Year 1942' about an American fighter pilot flying Spitfires with the Royal Air Force (RAF) who was regarded as a deserter because he was the only pilot of his squadron to fly off the American carrier USS Wasp on the morning of April 20, 1942 to the besieged Mediterranean island of Malta who failed to arrive there.


Indeed, "Malta: The Spitfire Year 1942" states that "[at] 1117 [on April 20, 1942] , a message was received from Malta that 46 aircraft had arrived safely, and that one was missing. This was the aircraft flown by one of 603 Squadron's Americans, Sgt. Walcott, who had been with the unit for only a month. He had confided to a Canadian pilot that he had no intention of flying to Malta. Consequently, as the Spitfires began their 660-mile flight, he turned for Algeria (some 55 miles to the south) where he force-landed BP958 in the area to the south of the Atlas mountains. Making contact with the US Consulate, he claimed to be a lost civilian pilot in need of repatriation!"

Well, in "Spitfire Deserter", Bill Simpson provides the reader with some background history about Salvatore "Bud" Walcott, his flight training with the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) in Canada and the advanced flight training he received during 1941-42 with the RAF in Britain. To his credit, Simpson makes an earnest attempt to determine -- given what information he was able to obtain about Walcott from U.S. and British sources, as well as from former squadron mates and people in Massachusetts (where Walcott lived for most of his life, dying there in July 1962, age 42) --- whether or not, as has been alleged by the RAF authorities, "Bud" Walcott was a deserter and a defector. 

From what I read, I don't know what can conclusively be said to account for Walcott's failure to reach Malta in April 1942. Walcott himself claimed that shortly after taking off from the USS Wasp, his Spitfire could barely sustain airspeed to remain aloft. So he increased power to his aircraft's engine and was able to gain altitude. But by that time, he was lagging behind his squadron mates. He increased power as a way to catch up with the formation, but became concerned that he might exhaust his fuel prematurely. After all, he had more than 600 miles to fly over the sea --- most of it deep in enemy territory. So, Walcott dropped down to sea level, endeavoring to independently make it to Malta. Some time later, Walcott passes over a small white ship and noticed black smoke coming out of his engine exhaust. His cockpit filled with smoke and the engine temperature began to rise alarmingly. What to do? Walcott thought he might have to bail out and so climbed to what he regarded as a safe altitude for doing so. He was now at 1,200 feet and headed toward the Algerian coast. (Algeria was then a part of French North Africa which was administered by Vichy France, a client state of Nazi Germany set up shortly after France's surrender to Germany in June 1940.) The engine temperature of Walcott's Spitfire had at this point returned to a normal range. But once over Algeria, the engine cut out and Walcott had no choice but to try to make a landing as soon as possible. His Spitfire crash landed and Walcott was knocked unconscious by the impact. Subsequently, he was picked up by Vichy authorities and placed in an internment camp on the edge of the Sahara Desert where conditions were austere, at times brutal, and harsh. There Walcott would remain as a de facto prisoner til the Allied invasion of North Africa in November 1942, when he was freed and repatriated to Britain, where he made a report about what he had been through since he had been reported as missing. Subsequently, Walcott would be commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Army Air Force (USAAF), fly combat with a fighter squadron in North Africa, and later be sent back to the U.S., where served out the remainder of the war as a flight instructor. 

In my view, given the scope of information the author was able to obtain about Walcott and the matter of determining whether or not he was a deserter while with the RAF, the book could have been much shorter. There were so many fillers about the part of Massachusetts in which Walcott grew up, the history of the affluent family into which he married while with the USAAF, and a short history of the island of Malta and its significance during the Second World War as key to Britain's strategic position in the Mediterranean. What I found useful in understanding who Wolcott was through learning about the extensive flight training he received as a fighter pilot, as well as the treatment he and other Allied combatants received during his internment at Laghouat by the Vichy authorities. Hence, the 2 stars.

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review 2019-05-12 21:02
FOREVER REMEMBERED: A Tribute to America's Aviators of World War II
Forever Remembered: The Fliers Of World War II: Interviews - Irv Broughton

"Forever Remembered: The Fliers of World War II - Interviews" is a treasure trove, as far as aviation books are concerned. It is all the more previous now almost 20 years after its initial publication because many of its interviewees -- all of whom served in various aviation-related capacities in the U.S. Army Air Force (USAAF), Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard during World War II -- are now deceased. As the World War II generation is leaving us in ever greater numbers, there are now correspondingly few eyewitness stories that we can draw upon in the present time. 

Irv Broughton is a gifted interviewer. In each interview, he acts more as a facilitator, allowing the interviewee to speak freely and expansively about his/her wartime experiences. I very much enjoyed reading these interviews and being given entree to stories from World War II that had either been forgotten or little remarked upon. For example, there was the story of Teresa James, who, prior to joining the U.S. Army's Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) in 1942, had earned her private pilot's license in 1934 and went on to be a barnstorming pilot in Pennsylvania and a flight instructor. She was one of 25 women to form the WAFS, whose purpose was twofold: "1) To see if women could serve as military pilots, and if so, to develop the nucleus of an organization that could be quickly expanded. [and] "2) To release male pilots for combat." The WAFS proved to be so successful that a year later (August 1943), WAFS was merged with a group of women pilot trainees to form the WASPs (Women Air Force Service Pilots). 

Many of the people interviewed in this book led truly remarkable lives, both during the War and afterward. Stewart Ross Graham, for instance, had joined the Coast Guard prewar and later learned to fly, taking part in numerous long-range patrol and search & rescue missions in World War II. He later became one of the first helicopter pilots world wide and helped pioneer various search & rescue techniques that became standard for all helicopters engaged in such roles. There were also a couple of interviews with 2 of the Tuskegee Airmen who saw combat with the 332nd Fighter Group in the war, one of the U.S. Navy's top fighter aces, former aircrew who became prisoners of war (POWs) of either the Germans or the Japanese, a test pilot who emerged from the war as the only survivor of a core group of 12 test pilots tasked with flying the latest USAAF aircraft to the limits of their flight capacities, and one of the few American night fighter aces of World War II. 

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