Saturday, April 9, 2011

On and off the Flight Deck Reflections of a Naval Fighter Pilot in World War 2

Paperback 256 pages
ISBN: 9781848841956
Published: 15 October 2009
Pen and Sword Books

Hank Adlam began his naval flying career in 1941, his first operational posting was to the newly-formed No. 890 Squadron. The squadron’s first operational role was to protect a convoy sailing from New York and bound for Greenock. Their major task was to protect the ship’s squadron of Fairey Swordfish anti-submarine aircraft and to destroy any long-range Lufwaffe Fw Condor reconnaissance patrols that were transmitting convoy positions to the waiting U-boat wolf-packs. During this first operational voyage he lost his best friend who was shot down. Later, on this same initiation to front-line operational flying, Hank was forced to ditch into gale-torn Atlantic Ocean. In the autumn of 1942, 890 Squadron joined the fleet carrier HMS Illustrious, again involving convoy protection. During one patrol he helped destroy an enemy Blohm und Voss Bv 138 Seaplane. Illustrious sailed for the Mediterranean arriving in Malta, with the objective of providing air cover for the landings at Salerno. 1944 saw the Squadron pilots despatched aboard HMS London and then they briefly joined HMS Atheling, to provide air cover for a strong fleet attacking Japanese shipping around the Andaman Islands. When 890 was disbanded he joined 1839 Squadron flying the new Grumman Hellcat.
Many interesting facts about aviation in the Royal Navy in World War Two such as:

  • Philip Vian, the hero of Narvik, was disliked by aviators because of his ignorance of aviation. This lack of knowledge or even appearing to want to know, led to the needless sacrifice of numerous Seafires and their pilots at the invasion of Salerno. This lack of knowledge followed Vian to his later appointment with the British Pacific Fleet.
  • In the early years of the war, the Royal Navy insisted on having an observer in carrier aircraft who was also in command over the pilot.
  • The Grumman F4F was always referred to as Wildcat and not by the official RN name of Martlet.
  • The light fleet carriers which came into service near the end of hostilities, were cursed with the design flaw of them being built for conversion to mercantile ships after the war. This had the effect of making them too slow to get enough wind over the deck during aviation operations.
  • After VJ Day, under the terms of Lend-Lease US aircraft on RN carriers were to be either purchased or ditched. Many aircraft were unceremoniously dumped in the Pacific Ocean.
  • Aircraft carriers were considered the best at evacuating released prisoners of war with their spacious hangar decks.
The narrative flows quite well leaving the reader with a real feeling of what it must have been like living the life of a carrier pilot. Details about shore time in places such as USA, Scotland, Ceylon, Australia and South Africa are detailed.
However there is one criticism of the book which needs to be addressed by the publisher in future works - the lack of proof reading. The overuse of capitalization of unnecessary words becomes distracting and annoying.
Apart from this, it is still a good read for fans and students of naval aviation.

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