Mike's Pick

But I need to know!

Among my several problems, and one in which in the modellers' world I suspect I'm not alone, is the recurring worrying about missing something which I know I should know, or which I shall need to know some day; as a counter to this I put an increasing strain on many of my bookshelves, a prime example being the one which has Project Cancelled and reaches, at least at the time of writing, to the succession of "Secret Project" volumes that began from Midland Counties and still continues from Crecy Publications.

Several of the more recent books in this sequence have appeared as Mike's Picks, so another won't surprise you. Reading and researching - usually on the backs of other people's efforts - is an integral part of my approach to the hobby. and this has become particularly noticeable with the growth of What If? subjects across my workbench, frequently as a result of the arrival of a fresh source of information. While some of this reads across to my modelling directly, the ability to do this varies with the size of the aircraft, and while 1:144th can come in to play for bombers - and I had great enjoyment with the canard Vickers Giant Bomber, as you may recall - I've limited the size of my models for some time, and I try not to start on anything bigger than a 1:72nd Canberra (if only there was a B.2/6/15).

There are some more possible subjects in Crecy's lateBritish bomber projects 1935-50st British Secret Projects 4 from Tony Buttler, for both of whom it bookends an invaluable sequence that I was astonished to find when I looked at the other end of its row started in this form at least under the Midland Counties imprint twenty years ago, with Keith Woodcock's memorable dust cover painting of the Fairey "Delta 3" in the markings of 5 Squadron. Some of us are still waiting for a kit of this big beast, but this book and its successors have given our niche group of dusty modellers a great deal if enjoyment and in some cases inspiration. The time that's elapsed since its launch has enabled much more information to emerge from hiding and enable author and publisher to produce substantial updates for the British subjects (other nationalities, to quote David Coulthard, are available).

Quite a variety of aircraft are treated in this volume; they're divided in to seven categories, each with their own chapter - unsurprisingly the heavy bombers get two with a separate one for early jet designs - with maritime aircraft and torpedo carriers of both shades of blue, and every so ofter a fighter or at least a fighter version makes a guest appearance often as a ground attacker. As we expect the book is copiously illustrated with photos of designs that made it in to flight and of mock-ups of some that didn't quite, and with line drawings of many that didn't even get that far. These are the types that fascinate me, and several of these are developed from serving aircraft. The illustration on the cover looked to me at first like a Vickers design, possiblly a Windsor variant, but it turned out to be the Avro 694 Stratospheric Bomber; once you know that its antecedents are obvious (144th conversion, please) and I was very pleased to see it wearing the markings of 57 Squadron. Thank you, Daniel Uhr.

I have found and still find this series invaluable; I may be one of a niche audience but I'm sure there are many others and probably several niches. For my exile to a desert island I would need them to be bound in to a single volume; if pressed I would settle for the British but I would miss the variety offered by the American and especially French industries. I am torn between a satisfaction that this series is now finished and that I have gathered them, mostly on the same shelf, and a regret that there are probably no more to look forward to with the attendant astonishment

Half a new series

Close Call is the first of two volumes from Crecy by Vic Flintham on the history, in the Second World War at least, of the RAF and and ground attack; unsurprisingly I shall look forward to the second volume which should take us to VE Day. Apologies for the Close Call, Vic Flinthamdelay of the review; the book went and hid in the piles of assorted paper that accumulated from the end of November, and I blame the editor for putting this up before he was supposed to. Staff, eh?

Even before the delay that I'd managed to build in, my plan was to write a fairly swift and encouraging review but I found myself gripped from the start by the introduction, and in particular the way the book came about and grew, and this really needs to be read as a background to the main narrative. Following a brief reference to the methods developed by the RFC/RAF by the end of WW I, the preparations ahead of September 1939 are laid out and the shortcomings revealed by the "Phoney War" and the retreat through Dunkirk fully covered. These gave rise to a joint Army/RAF enquiry which took account of the Blitzkreig tactics of the German forces and the consequential measures taken as results of its findings, and resulted in the formation of Army Cooperation Command by the beginning of December. This lasted for less that two years, and its time was largely spent in devising command procedures and tactics for the expected invasion of Europe, leading to the Second Tactical Air Force whose use is not covered here.

Events in the Middle East with the British and Dominion services fighting the armies firstly of Italy and then Germany had in the meantime led to the evolution by the Desert Air Force and the Eighth Army of increasing joint use of their methods and capabilities. The fighting moved backwards and forwards across Libya, with increasing severity with the introduction of the Afrika Korps; tactics were devloped with experience, and with changes of command at all levels on the ground and in the air, and the arrival of improving equipment. Following El Alamein the fighting continued westward until the allied invasion of North West Africa with Exercise Torch, where the air cover was provided by the British and American navies; this also saw the tentative entry of light aircraft of both countries as air observation posts. This volume ends with the surrender of Axis forces in May 1943, and the next will take the story to Scilsly, and to the conclusion of the Italian campaign.

This very informative book is to the high Crecy standards of production. The detailed and fascinating text is accompanied by a profuse selection of contemporary photographs, the considerable number from the author's own collection showing the time and depth of research that's been involved. There are many tables of strength and organisation of land and air forces of both sides and appendices on the levels of management and control, a particular boon to those of us who don't understand how armies work, let alone governments. There are also many colour profiles of participating aircraft to please the modellers among us, who should now perhaps start hunting for Taylorcraft/Auster kits. I look forward to the second volume, which may be with us later in spring - I do hope so - and in the meantime there's a feature in the new Aviation Historian 34 by Vic Flintham on the Rover David system which formalised the "cab rank" and which like so many innovations covered in this story was devised and put to use by those very close to, or involved in, the action.

I'm not prejudiced of course but the photos of 112 Squadron's sharkmouths, especially those in colour, are a real bonus!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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