lost airmen WW1Written by Martin W Bowman

Pen & Sword 2013, Pen & Sword Aviation Ltd, Barnsley South Yorkshire

£25.00, 236 pp, ill, footnotes, index

ISBN Number: 9781783831951

 

This work by the prolific aviation historian Martin W Bowman covers the careers of many men of the Royal Flying Corps who were forced to land or crashed in such a way that they became prisoners of war. The book gives excellent detail on the careers and events that led to the capture of these airmen and it also describes the setting in which prisoners of war found themselves. He quotes Captain Eckersley of the 8th Surrey Regiment who described being a prisoner of war as: "that gloomy general background of monotonous waiting and wasting", and it was undoubtedly a relatively mundane existence. No longer spending their time attacking the Germans, the men who were prisoners of war now had to depend, almost exclusively, on their foes for existence. Escape was not for all, but for many it was a dream and for some it was something they were determined to do. For many it served as a distraction, something to feel positive about, something to continuously exercise the mind over.

 

The book describes the planning, and execution of many escapes, and the recaptures of many men. Persistent escapers were seen as a bad influence on the men who would not consider escaping and were often sent to one of a number of special camps from which escape was considered almost impossible. What that did was to concentrate in one camp a number of men of like mind, determination, cunning and expertise. So these men would rise to the challenge as escape was seen as a duty. Officers who were prisoners of war sensed that it was a duty to try and return to military service by escaping, as being a prisoner of war had taken them away from the role of being able to strike at the enemy. Officers were not made to work like other ranks and were more likely to get red cross parcels. These parcels often contained small concealed items like a compass to aid escape. So officers were often found to be planning and executing escape attempts. If captured the punishment was usually solitary confinement but those who had taken part in the escape knew that it had caused much diversion of German resources in trying to recapture those who had escaped.

 

The book also looks at the incredible bravery of men bringing a badly damaged aircraft into land. This hopefully would occur on the allied side of the trenches but did happen in "no-mans land". Such an event would mean they had to try and land without injury so they could make a dash for the British lines and avoid capture. A downed airman was expected to take all necessary steps to destroy is aircraft - no mean feat when you have just crash landed and the enemy are taking pot shots at you.

 

The book is a delightful mixture of stories about famous names and Bowman manages to make the stories come alive with well researched and interesting snippets many of which I had never heard before. He describes how Harry Beaumot originally in the Royal West Kent Regiment and later the Royal Flying Corps, was injured and at some point was aided to escape by Nurse Edith Cavell and Beaumont was the 83rd prisoner she helped escape but only the 13th to make a home run. Edith Cavell was involved in some 200 escapes and Bowman devotes a whole chapter to her story, explaining how she was shot by the Germans for treason and not for espionage.

 

Later he writes about Billy Bishop VC and the events of the so called King of the Fighter Aces, Mick Mannock VC who was an incredible pilot despite only having one good eye. We hear about Andrew McKeever and his daring exploits; the adventures of Lawrence Wingfield MC DFC and his capture and daring escape covering 90 miles in ten days. I like the final quote by Wingfield "I was decorated twice once for being shot down and once for running away".

 

The book has enlightening descriptions of the impact the arrival of airships and aerial bombing had on the civilian population and how Leefe Robinson VC changed the game. Following his airship victory over the Schutte-Lanz (S L 11) he went on to serve in 48 Squadron and was shot down by Festre. He became a keen escaper but ended up being badly treated by the Germans and spent a lot of time doing solitary confinement which had a serious impact on his general health.

 

Canadian Raymond Collishaw DSC DFC DSO, who benefited for extra flying tuition by John Alcock, was shot down several times, managing to land in the British sectors. Once he managed to land in thick fog at German aerodrome and on realising made a quick get away!

 

James McCudden VC DSO MC MM was given more gallantry medals than any other British national in the Great War. His exploits were amazing, and well detailed in this book, sadly he was killed in flying accident.

 

Bowman goes on to describe the exploits of 8 USAF airmen whose stories and exploits are quite fascinating. These chapters are a series of stories that highlight the contribution of the Americans in the Great War and are stories that are somewhat neglected by many British authors. He covers the careers and fate of these men in detail.

 

Overall this is a book that I thoroughly enjoyed as it gave those little extra bits of information about what took place in the air and on the ground during the Great War. It reveals the true grit and determination these men had. They may have failed to escape once but there was always a second chance and they would take it, irrespective of the odds being stacked against them every time.

 

Martin Bowman continues to show he is a professional author who spends time researching, checking and verifying his facts.

 

My copy had a few proof reading errors but not enough to mar my delight and enjoyment of reading this book. I would consider this would make an excellent gift for anyone who has an interest in these events in the air and on the ground.

 

Reviewed by Peter Garwood

contable_maxwell_brothers_fighter_acesPen and Sword, 2010.  ISBN: 1848841779.

Those who own a copy of Alex Revell's The Vivid Air, which was published by William Kimber in 1978, will immediately recognise Fighter Aces! as a reprint of a favourite account of air-fighting in two world wars, and will know Alex Revell as an accomplished and well-respected historian of air warfare in the Great War particularly noted for his expertise on Gerald Constable Maxwell's squadron: No 56.  This new impression takes the opportunity to record, on the last page, the death in 2000 of Michael Constable Maxwell.  The book would benefit from source notes and a bibliography.

This fast-paced double biography, and I should stress that this is a biography rather than edited memoirs, begins with the story of Gerald Constable Maxwell's service in the Great War predominantly with 56 Squadron, one of whose star pilots he became.  The author makes good use of his subject's diary to detail Gerald's hectic life of patrols, combats and victories.

Gerald flew thirty-seven types between 1916 and 1918 and commented in his diary on many of them.  For example, during his time as a fighting instructor at Ayr he flew a Bristol M.1C which he described after his second flight as "the nicest machine I have ever flown".  After a mock dog fight Gerald recorded that in an SE5 he could do nothing against a fellow instructor in the M.1C "...as the mono outzooms an SE every time."

The book's cover, showing a Mosquito and its fatally damaged victim, emphasizes the work's dominantly Second World War content.  However, any Great War aviation enthusiast should enjoy the 167 pages about Michael and Gerald in the '39 - '45 conflict just as much as they have enjoyed the sixty-two pages about the earlier war.

If The Vivid Air does not already grace your bookshelves you may want to add Fighter Aces to your collection of quality aviation biographies.

 

David Seymour, WFA Education Trustee

Buy this Book from Pen and Sword.

 

 

bloody-aprilISBN: 0 297 84621 3 HB 381 pages £25.00

Published by Weindenfield & Nicholson

 

The Battle of Arras is the forgotton battle of the Great War.

 

Many Great War authors have penned important works on the battles of 1915, the Battle of the Somme and the three battles of Ypres, very few have looked at Arras in April 1917.

 

In Bloody April, Peter Hart has looked at the battle from the view point of those who flew with the Royal Flying Corps (R.F.C.) and the Royal Naval Air Service (R.N.A.S.), during the turmatic months of April and May 1917.

 

The book is well structured commencing with a review of the R.F.C.’s and to a lesser extent the R.N.A.S.’s activities from the summer of 1914 to the early spring of 1917. It is written from a revisionist point of view. Peter also makes many interesting observations in the introductory section of the book. The one which stand out refers to the Scout Pilots or Air Aces.. “Unfortunately, the scout pilots role soon became so wreathed with glamour that then, and ever since, this allure has deflected attention from the real role of the R.F.C...”

 

Once the book commences with the story of the battle extensive use is made the pilots accounts of their life and all to regular death expliots over the Arras battlefields. This narrative helps to explain to the reader just how the pilots and observers coped with combat, fear, survival and death during their many hazardous missions.

 

The reader through Peter’s narrative is helped to see the whole picture rather than looking at the battle as a group of isolated incidents involving the many unsung heroes of the R.F.C. Time and again you are told about daring exploits and acts of selfless sacrifice to obtain arieal photographs of enemy trenches and gun positions. Most importantly this is placed into context, you are remined the RFC’s role was to provide information which was then used to support the Infantry on the ground.

 

The book also introduces the reader to the exploits of the ‘Red Baron’, Manfred von Richthofen and his flying circus. The reader very quickly becomes aware that the German pilots such as Richthofen selected their prey with great skill. If they were to be of use they had to stopped the enemy getting their photographs and disrupt the arieal direction of artillery fire.

 

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. This is a first class study of the Battle of Arras. At long last we have a book which really does prove the quote ‘Up the Arras’, the R.F.C. met the challenge and came out on top.

 

Reviewer Martin Hornby

 Book Cover of The Royal Flying Corps in France
 The Royal Flying Corps in France

ISBN  0 09 475190 0

SB  237 pages  £9.95“The Royal Flying Corps in France. …” Is a book that all students involved in the study of the Great War and the fledging Aviators should read. It is written in an easy free flowing style. Ralph Barker covers the subject in considerable detail.

The book starts with the crossing of the Channel, remembering that it was only a few years previously that Bleriot had made its first crossing!  From the start, the Royal Flying Corps proves its value to the Generals with aerial reconnaissance at the Battle of Mons. Barker quickly introduces the men who would shape the RFC into an effective force, Trenchard, Dowding and Hawker.

As the War becomes bogged down in the mud of Flanders, the young aviators are flung into the fray, many of whom can only just fly. The losses are appalling. Trenchard as the supreme leader gives the RFC its “raison d’être” saying ‘No call from the army must ever find the RFC wanting’.

The ‘scraps’ with Boelcke and Immelmann show the frailty of the young aviators, but through this slaughter the first of the VC’s are awarded. With the arrival of Ball and the departure of Immelmann the book moves towards the Somme. The losses continue but those of the Germans are greater. Ball and McCudden are the first hero’s and Aces. With better machines the balance of aerial supremacy is held by the RFC.

At all times Barker uses the experiences of those who were flying in combat to illuminate his book. The losses were dreadful, but one young aviator explains why they continued. He is quoted as saying “its better to fly for 1 hour in shear terror knowing that if you get back you will live in peace and safety for the next 8 hours. In the trenches it can end at anytime.”

This book is a masterly anecdotal history of those fighting and flying in France, and is fitting tribute to the RFC.

Reviewer: Martin Hornby

aces-fallingPeter Hart,
ISBN: 978 0 297 84653 6 HB 386 £22.50
Published by Weidenfield & Nicholson.

Peter Hart, as one has come to expect, has written a first class account of the 1918 Air War. He has used his intimate knowledge of Great War veterans to illuminate their vital part in achieving the hard won victories in the late summer and autumn of 1918.

In this book Peter Hart has made extensive use of the Oral History Archives held at the Imperial War Museum. Each chapter is well illuminated with the reminiscences of those who were there. Along side Hart's simple yet very effective understanding of the conflict he is writing about, one comes to understand just what the pilot's and aircrew of the Royal Flying Corp and later the Royal Air Force had to contend with on a daily basis.

The book certainly draws the reader into the chaotic and turbulent world of the air crews. Many had joined for the thrill of flying, this excitement is soon lost and Hart allows the words of these brave men to tell the reader how they actual felt.

Many people have, over the years, idolized the "Aces". Their role in achieving the victory of 1918 has been overplayed by many authors, Hart has not fallen into this trap. He calmly and quietly explains why they were important for raising moral both on the Western Front and at home in "Blighty". However in the whole spectre of this conflict as individuals they really did not hold pivotal positions.

I feel many modern day authors pay scant attention to the photographs used to illustrate their books. In this volume we see many new pictures, many of which are horrific in nature. They illustrate exactly just how appalling the air war was.

The only critisism I have about the book is not the content which is first class, but the light grey texts used for the many quotes. Anyone with failing eye sight will struggle to read them.

In conclusion I would recommend this book most highly. This book explains to the reader exactly just how horrific the air war was, but most importantly it places the role undertaken by the RFC/RAF into its correct historical prospective.

Reviewer - Martin Hornby

 

Sponsored Link

pen and sword 2014

Back to top