The British Fleet Air Arm in World War II
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Review Date: 3 Jul 2008
Having just written a review on a book regarding the German infantry, in which I complained that the author failed to mention the training, equipment, etc. of the common infantryman, I almost felt like my next book was written just to counter that: The British Fleet Air Arm in World War II.
Author Mark Barber, an aviator with the British Royal Navy himself, opened the book with a brief history of the birth and early days of the Fleet Air Arm. When the Royal Navy got the Fleet Air Arm back from the Royal Air Force at the eve of the European War, however, it was in such a sad state that the FAA had to essentially be rebuilt. This introduction was by no means the complete history of FAA, but it was a satisfactory primer for someone who is not familiar with the FAA like myself.
The section about the men of the FAA was my most treasured part of the book. Through these pages, I got a sense of training programs for pilots, observers, gunners, mechanics, and many other roles critical in FAA operations. A careful breakdown of the command structure in a typical squadron was also very helpful, with insights on the responsibilities of Commanding Officers and Senior Pilots. Learning how these men became aviators and how they operated in squadrons contributes greatly to the understanding of how they fought in the campaigns of WW2.
With the foundations established, the author next presented the campaigns in brief. The attack on Taranto and the Malta convoys were well-known, thus making Barber's shallow overviews relatively lacking, though his deep knowledge of the FAA shined through occasionally, and his easy-to-follow narrative style kept me interested.
And of course, among the first things I did when I got my hands on this book, as with any Osprey book, was to look for the artwork. I was not disappointed. "The Channel Dash" and "Operation 'Pedestal'" paintings by illustrator Mark Postlethwaite were most life-like.
For its small size of 60-some pages, The British Fleet Air Arm in World War II sure packed a lot of material.
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