Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Unflinching Zeal

9781612511115 Hardcover & Ebook Naval Institute Press 368 Pages 

This consequential work by a pioneer aviation historian fills a significant gap in the story of the defeat of France in 1940. Higham also more fully explains the Battle of Britain and its influence on the Luftwaffe’s invasion of the USSR. The author provides a comparative analysis of the French, German, and British air forces and then dissects their campaigns, losses, and replacement abilities. His research led to an important finding: the three air forces actually shot down only 19 percent of the number of aircraft claimed, and in the RAF’s case, 44 percent of those shot down were readily repairable, contrasting with only 8 percent for the Germans and zero for the French. Higham concludes that awareness of consumption, wastage, and sustainability were intimately connected to survival, and his book emphasizes the necessity of realistic assessments.
Having a late relative who was the only RCAF pilot assinged to RAF 601 "Millionaires" Squadron (so named as from its prewar home for some of the wealthiest members of the Royal (Auxiliary) Air Force, I was engaged in the narrative.
Most French aircraft of the prewar era were of poor design and were unsurprisingly massacred by the Luftwaffe in 1940. From Versailles to Dunkirk, France blamed the army for the loss of five million deaths in the First World War. This feedling lead to pitiful attention to the military which was unprepared for war in 1939.
The UK funded the Royal Air Force slowly and unevenly through the 1920s and 30s and spent much to their air resources in India and other outposts of the British Empire. Poor decisions on acquisitions produced disastrous aircraft such as the Fairey Battle, which like the French designs, was massacred in 1940 by the Germans. 
Kudos to Mr Higham for producing this fine work.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Through a Canadian Periscope Second Edition

Canadian submarines; cover of Through a Canadian Periscope, 2nd ed. by Julie H. Ferguson

Through a Canadian Periscope: The Story of the Canadian Submarine Service

by Julie H. Ferguson Dundurn 2014 ISBN 9781459710559 

Julie Ferguson, a well known figure in the west coast writing community, has done an excellent job updating her first edition of this book to coincide with the 2014 Canadian Submarine Centennial.The well written text brings to life what deplorable conditions onboard most submarines, until recent years, with little or know sanitation, privacy or personal hygiene possible. The first Canadian submarines were bought by the British Columbia Government in 1914 to reassure local citizenry that they were safe in spite of no credible defences from marauding German cruisers. The reader can really appreciate the hardships of serving on these early vessels, originally ordered in Seattle by the Chilean Navy.Two submarines were obtained from the UK after the First World War which were soon retired from service with Ottawa unwilling to spend on defence. Much of the book details the experiences of Canadian officers serving in the Royal Navy submarine arm, the only time Canadian submariners experienced combat.In the Second World War, Canada lacked any submarines and soon learned they were desperately needed for antisubmarine warfare (ASW) training and eventually convinced the Royal Navy to base training submarines in Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and Bermuda. Postwar, the Royal Canadian Navy financed the basing of the Royal Navy Sixth Submarine Squadron in Halifax for ASW training. This arrangement was never quite satisfactory and Canada eventually began to pursue their own boats.These early efforts, much like acquisition projects of today, were victims of either bureaucratic bungling or a naval leadership afraid to speak up. Two former radar picket submarines from the US Navy were earmarked for sale to Canada from their reserve fleet, USS Burrfish and Tigrone. The former was successfully purchased and assigned for ASW training at Esquimalt in 1961 and the latter, intended for Halifax, fell through by ineptitude in Ottawa by naval leadership. (Ironically, USS Tigrone visited Halifax after participating in a 1970 ASW exercise.)By 1970, three obsolete Oberon Class submarines were built in the UK and another was obtained to replace Grilse on the West Coast. The boat obtained, USS Argonaut, had just finished a four year assignment in the Mediterranean was actually in worse shape than Grilse.And therein lies the problem with Canada even having submarines. Naval leadership still plans and trains to refight the Battle of the Atlantic from the First and Second World War. Submarines are intended for ASW training and are never employed in an operational role. Submarine officers had great difficulty passing the multinational commanding officer course, known as Perisher, as they only been operating in support of training surface ships.When the four Upholder Class submarines were obtained from the UK in 1998 after a number of years dithering over it, the first thing Canada did was removed two thirds of their weapon capability, meaning they can no longer fire missiles or lay mines. Back to ASW training.A few small errors noted in the text:
  • Russian submarines built in the First World War in BC were constructed in Burnaby and Vancouver and were disassembled for ease of shipment. The latter batch were completed after the Russian Revolution and were sold to the US Navy, which commissioned them in Bremerton.
  • In 1939, Canada did not declare war until September 10th.
  • In 1944, Newfoundland was a British Crown Colony and not part of Canada. In fact, service personnel from Canada based in Newfoundland were awarded overseas benefits by Veteran's Affairs.
  • When boarding a naval ship, you enter at the brow, not the bow.
  • HMCS Rainbow listed as SS7S instead of SS 75.
Mrs Ferguson is truly the unofficial Canadian submarine historian and is congratulated on this effort. Book is most definitely recommended.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Book Review White Ensign Flying - Corvette HMCS Trentonian

White Ensign Flying - Corvette HMCS Trentonian
By Roger Litwiller

Paperback March 2014 192pp 9781459710399 8.25 in x 10.875 in
eBook – ePUB February 2014 192pp 9781459710412

The book sets out to tell the story of HMCS Trentonian, (named for Trenton, Ontario and a member of the second to last batch of Canadian Flower Class corvettes) from building in Kingston to ultimate loss in UK waters in 1945.
Numerous photos were obtained by the author and would have given a much better look to the book if they'd been displayed in a higher resolution. 
Having read the author's previous book, Warships of the Bay of Quinte, I was hoping to see an improvement in this book. Alas, it was not to be. A lack of good proofreading is displayed with some very sloppy mistakes such as non-existent date of February 29, 1943 and HMCS Drumheller listed as a corvette and frigate on the same page.
Like the author's previous work, there appears to be a lack of knowledge on types of ship. In this latest book HMCS Winnipeg is erroneously identified as a Bangor Class minesweeper. In addition, a lack of distinction between Royal Canadian Reserve (RCNR) and Royal Canadian Volunteer Reserve (RCNVR) displayed with statement that Trentonian's first commanding officer, Lt Harrison RCNR, was a member of the RCNVR.
A good looking book that could've been much better. If Mr Litwiller wishes to continue writing, and we certainly encourage any and all to research Canadian naval history, a sharper effort next time would be appreciated.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

British Warships & Auxiliaries 2014/15


British Warships & Auxiliaries 2014/15
The Complete Guide to the Ships & Aircraft of the Fleet

By Steve Bush
Maritime Books 120 Pages Softcover 2014

One of our yearly treats is the release of the latest edition of British Warships and Auxiliaries and this year’s version by Steve Bush lives up to the standards. Profusely illustrated with almost all color photographs, a description of all current and planned warships, submarines, aircraft and auxiliaries are listed with their particulars. In addition, the book covers British Army and Border Force vessels. This books is a must for naval bookshelves.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Lost Black Sheep: The Search for WWII Ace Chris Magee

Review by Jim Bates

When most people think about VMF-214, aka "The Black Sheep," they remember either Pappy Boyington or the fictional characters from the 1970s TV show. Few know that a member of VMF-214 was not only an ace, but his life was probably more interesting than the fiction they remember with nostalgia. His name was Chris Magee.

Robert T. Reed's book, Lost Black Sheep: The Search of WWII Ace Chris Magee, is written in two parts; the first, a biography of Mr. Magee, the second, a search for Mr. Reed's roots, and the two turn out to have significant crossover.  Chris Magee grew up in Chicago and, as a young man, tried to get to Europe to become a fighter pilot in World War II. He failed at first, but did end up training in Canada with the RCAF. After graduating with his wings from the RCAF he joined the United States Marine Corps and became the second highest scoring ace with the Black Sheep. Mr. Magee was not the typical fighter pilot as portrayed on screen. He was a deeply intellectual man, who was a voracious reader and a great writer.  Several of his letters are included in the book and they are well written, observant, and quite amusing at times. Post-war, Mr. Magee continued flying as a mercenary with Israel, later became a bank robber and then spent some time as a guest of the Federal Government. After paying his debt to society, he dropped off the face of the earth.

The second section of the book is more personal for Mr. Reed. He discovered that the man he grew up calling "Dad" was not his biological father; it was actually Mr. Magee.  Robert tracked down Mr. Magee and set out to establish a relationship. What does an ace, robber, and mercenary do in old age? Apparently, settle down to a life in a small apartment outside of Chicago to continue his intellectual quests, spending most of his time with his nose in a book. The story continues as Mr. Reed becomes acquainted with his father and reintroduces Chris to both his fellow Black Sheep and Mr. Magee's remaining estranged family members.

Lost Black Sheep is quite interesting and enjoyable. After finishing it, I longed for more insight into what made Mr. Magee tick.  Clearly he was far from the stereotypical fighter pilot and certainly no two dimensional underscripted TV character.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Juan de Fuca's Strait: Voyages in the Waterway of Forgotten Dreams

By Barry Gough 9781550176179 Harbour Publishing Paperback and maps 288 pp August 2013

I was looking forward to reading this book, having read some of Dr Gough's earlier works. The text starts well recounting the lives and feats of the seafarers, merchants, naval officers and explorers who searched for the fabled passage from Pacific to Atlantic which of course never existed. About halfway through the whole gist of the book seems to shift to a political correctness theme and thus causes the book to fall apart. This caused me to give up reading the remainder. When a writer wants to include 21st Century terms such as "First Nations", "Salish Sea" and "Haida Gwaii" brings the rest of the manuscript into question. What other parts of this book has history been assuaged to change events to make people appear either bad or good for political correctness? This book belongs in the trash bin. Very disappointing.

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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Naval Institute Guide to the Ships and Aircraft of the U.S. Fleet, 19th Ed

Naval Institute Guide to the Ships and Aircraft of the U.S. Fleet, 19th Ed
Naval Insitute Press Annapolis March 2013 9781591146872 Hardcover 688 pages

Very happy to see the publishing of the 19th Edition of this Naval Institute staple and that the considerable talents of Richard Burgess has been added to the production. As usual the book is profusely illustrated and with many excellent lists and tables in a large format. The one think I could do without are the numerous listing of retired classes of ship, which seems to fly in the face of the intent of original editor James C Fahey. Apart from this, the book is highly recommended and should be added to the bookshelf of military and civilian personnel with an interest in the US Navy, US Coast Guard, NOAA and Military Sealift Command.

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