By Geoff Puddefoot
Hardback 256 pages
Seaforth Books October 2009
Set up in August 1905, the Royal Fleet Auxiliary was originally a logistic support organization, part of the Navy proper but run on civilian lines, comprising a miscellaneous and very unglamorous collection of colliers, store ships and harbour craft. Just over a century later it has evolved beyond recognition: its ships compare in size, cost and sophistication with all but the largest warships, and the RFA itself has developed into an essential arm of all three Services. It is truly the ‘Fourth Force’ – as it is known to its own personnel – and without it, the current worldwide deployment of British service men and women would be simply impossible.
This book charts the veritable revolution that has overtaken the RFA since the end of the Second World War. New technology and techniques reflect the rapid growth in the importance of logistics in modern warfare, while the broadening role of the RFA is to be seen in the history of its operations, many of them little known to the public. Woven together from a combination of technical ship data, official correspondence and personal recollections, it is predominantly about the men and women of the RFA and their stories – an insight into the underreported history of a service whose initials unofficially translate as Ready For Anything.
With at least two more ships from the RFA fleet being withdrawn from service at the time of the writing of this review, this book should be required reading for all figures interested in both peacekeeping and power projection roles.
At various times in its history, the RFA was considered an integral part of British military operations and at other not so much.
Periodical looks at manning the ships with military crews were looked. Also fascinating was a study into a fast replenishment ship in the early 1950s, a concept only the US Navy ever adopted.
The problems with bringing into service with some of the more recent ship types as well as workings of the head office of both a positive and negative nature are examined in a frank and open manner. This frankness is what impressed me with this book, no candy coating.
This book contains an excellent set of lists and data tables ranging from ships to nuclear warheads at sea during the Falklands War.Fourth Force by Geoff Puddefoot is truly a great book; we certainly hope to see more from him in future.