I occasionally review books. Some I buy, some I get asked to look at. For some of these I get a few cents should you buy them through my reviews here. Every bit helps. Enjoy browsing.

 

cover-11780Bill Lancaster: The final verdict

By Ralph Barker

When I was first asked to have a look at this book I thought… hmmmm, not really ‘my thing’. The story of an aircraft found in the African desert, decades after it had disappeared. Nothing to do with World War 2. And not about a man I had ever heard of.
But I was curious and got the book …. and lo and behold, it turned out to be a very interesting read !

The story has actually been written way back in 1969 already, after Bill Lancasters old aircraft and his remains were found in 1962 by a French military patrol in the Sahara desert. But the interesting part is actually Bill’s life BEFORE that fatal crash.

In fact, reading through the first chapters one would easily ome to the conclusion that this man was a failure, a dreamer and pretty irresponsible. He was a great pilot, having quite a few mishaps and taking a lot of risks. Although I guess back in those pioneering days, even a normal flight was quite a risk.
But also in his personal life he wasn’t a great man. He married a wife that he soon left for another woman (Chubbie, an Australian girl). He embarked on a flying adventure – flying from England to Australia in a single engine aircraft) that he couldn’t really get off the ground without the help of that Australian girl. And when they actually flew to Australia THAT didn’t go without a hitch and they arrived too late to set the record he had aimed for.

Later on they moved to America, where Chubbie actually acquired some fame, but where Bill was quickly forgotten.They then move to Miami, and really, the way they live there I am sure would drive me mad! No money, no security, no work….. trying all sorts of things to get an aircraft and a flying job. It gets complicated, with a few men living in a house with his girlfriend Chubby. I won’t spill all the beans here, you have to read it yourself. But I can tell you, it reads like a movie and one wouldn’t believe these things happen for real.

Bill then flies to Mexico with a borrowed aircraft, that of course breaks down several times again on the way. They plan a 72 hour flight that turns out to take 27 days ! Borrowing cars, getting $5 for gas, trying to get a spare engine on borrowed money again…. and the ‘airline job’ turns out to be smuggling people and drugs over the border to the US. This is in 1932. Nothing new under the sun, eh?

The story really takes a weird turn when Bill’s ‘competitor’ for Chubby’s love is found shot in bed, after the three of them have had some emotional meetings that night about their ‘relationship’ issues with the lady. This ultimately turns into one of the more sensational murder trials of the century ! How’s that for an aviation story ! The recordings of the trial then take up quite a substantial part of the book !

The next chapters in the book are about Bill Lancaster’s arrest and the subsequent trail. This part goes in great detail and many of the conversations in the courtroom are penned down literally (probably taken from the official notes of the court’s clerk). It reads like an old Perry Mason tv series…. and although it is quite lengthy and has nothing to do with aviation adventures as such, it will still have you read on. Knowing already what went on prior to the trial, you will want to know if and how Bill escapes from prosecution !

And then the final part of the book….. the part that it all began with from the title and the part I personally was most curious about when I started reading: Bill’s final flight and his diary that was found in the desert 30 years later!
Frankly, it wasn’t so amazing that he crashed the way he did. He was ill prepared, not very fit and not having flown for 12 months…. taking off in bad weather and in a hurry basically. Reading all the (lack of) preparations this was an accident waiting to happen.

But most impressive of the entire book is to imagine how Bill Lancaster must have waited for his death AFTER he wrote that last slip of paper or fabric and after he already tied up his diary, scribbled in his pilot’s log. It is hard to imagine a more lonely and sad death.

So the book goes from telling about a young flyer’s life in the aviation pioneer time of the 1920’s and 30’s, through an adventurous ‘record flight’ to Australia, to a romantic part filled with emotional issues and a less successful flying career and onto a murder trial, followed by yet another record flight and his disappearance in 1933 on that last flight. And ultimately it finishes 30 years later with the discovery of his plane wreck and his diary, which is printed in full at the end of the book.

Although this is not my regular genre of books, I can whole hardheartedly recommend it and I guarantee that you’ll read it from beginning to the very end !

By Ralph Barker
Imprint: Pen & Sword Aviation
Pages: 244
ISBN: 9781473855830
Published: 10th December 2015

You can order it direct from the publisher here !

Some interesting links :

http://www.express.co.uk/entertainment/films/521856/Bill-Lancaster-died-secrets-now-a-new-film-seeks-the-truth

http://www.thelostaviator.com/

 


 

5811Russian Gunship Helicopters

by Yefim Gordon

Recently I was introduced to the FlightCraft series of Pen and Sword Books. This is an interesting series aimed at not only aviation enthusiasts, but more in specific to aviation scale modelers and researchers as well.

I ordered the Russian Gunship Helicopters title, by Yefim Gordon and Dimitriy Komissarov. It covers 3 distinct models of Russian attack helicopters. The ‘obvious’ Mil MI-24 ‘Hind’, but also the lesser known Mil MI-28 and the Kamov KA-52 (that’s one with counter-rotating main rotors).

The book is a great resource with extensive information on the development of the various types and many many great photographs. But that’s not all….. the second part of each chapter is made up of a review of various plastic model kits of the various helos. In this case including a few unknown (to me) Russian kit manufacturers as well as the more obvious ones like Airfix, Tamiya, Revell and the likes.

Also included are 3D drawings showing much detail and scale of the helicopters and reasonably well suited for 3D digital designers.

Last but not least there are pages full of detailed color schemes of each model, allowing the kit builders to properly color their models pon completion.

I chose this particular title because there are already so many books about all the more mainstream (read: western powers) military aircraft that it would have been ‘just another book’ to me. But looking into a more exotic subject such as these Soviet machines not only provided me with some unknown information, it also was a good ‘test’ of the book series.

Test successfully completed…. I recommend this book to any (military) aviation enthusiast and especially to all kit builders wanting to dig into some Soviet fighting machines!

In short:

Flight Craft: Russian Gunship Helicopters
by Yefim Gordon

Imprint: Pen & Sword Aviation
Found in: Aviation History Books Aviation Reference Books
Series: Flight Craft Paperback
96 pages
ISBN: 9781781592823
Published: 4 November 2013

Order it directly from the Publisher here.

 


lancastercoverLuck of a Lancaster

by Gordon Thorburn

“….During her career, well over two hundred airmen flew in J. None were killed while doing so, but ninety-six of them died in other aircraft. This is their story, and the story of one lucky Lancaster…..”.

200 pages, hard cover. That may not seem like much. It is less than one page for every man that served on the Lancaster bomber with registration W4964, WS-J, aka J-Johnny Walker. Still, it took me quite some time to read the book. Where ‘read’ is probably not the proper word. I rather ‘researched’ it. And that takes time.

Lancaster W4964 beat all the odds, seeing that it performed well for over 2 years – from April 1943 till October 1944, made 107 operational flights in that period, and survived the war….. and even the century ! Average lifespan for a Lancaster in front-line duty at that time was 22,75 flights only !

Gordon Thorburn has researched the book well and takes the reader on a chronological trip through the aircraft’s life, explaining backgrounds of missions, telling the story of quite a few of the crew members, sidestepping every once in a while to tell more about the war that was going on and also mentioning other flights and aircraft that Johnny Walker crews served on.

When I said I ‘researched’ instead of read, I mean that it takes concentration to read the book. I put it down a few times because just continuing to read of one mission after the other can get tedious. Also, I found that it worked best to look up some of the places described when going through the chapters. The places they flew from and the places they flew to and over! The book has quite a few good and interesting photographs itself, but I used some other sources next to it to see where it all happened.

Apart from a huge range of bare facts and figures that could be read as a timetable of operations, Gordon also describes a lot of the action in such a way that the sheer magnitude of the operations is made clear to the reader.

After finishing the book one cannot but admire these pilots and crews for their bravery, and in most cases, yes, their sheer luck to survive. In that respect W4964 sure beats them all ! A remarkable tale of history!

In short:

Luck of a Lancaster
107 operations, 244 crew, 103 killed in action

by Gordon Thorburn
Imprint: Pen & Sword Aviation
Hardback
200 pages
ISBN: 9781781590737
Published: 20 May 2013

£15.99 instead of   £19.99

You can get it direct from the publisher here !

 

 

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PSbooklogo-3832Surviving Trainer & Transport Aircraft of the World

by Don Berliner

This is actually part three of a 3-volume series on surviving World War 2 aircraft. The reason I like it is that not so many people know about these wonderful aircraft that in many instances were even MORE important to the outcome of the war then all the iconic and better known aircraft such as the Focke Wulfs, Spitfires, Hurricanes and Messerschmitts together!

Let’s face it; without trainer aircraft there would not have been pilots to fly the fighters and bombers….. or not enough aircraft remaining in one piece to fight with. And without transport aircraft those huge armies would have been starved of food and ammo long before they got to end their fights.

Don Berliner’s book covers surviving aircraft like transports, trainers, recce planes, liaison and utility aircraft, gliders, amphibian and even a few early helicopters. And not only from the US. Countries of origin and/or location vary from the US and UK to Germany, Russia, Spain, Italy and many others. Obviously the book is by no means covering ALL types and models, but it does give a very reasonable overview of everything that was used in the above categories.

The order of subjects is by category and within each category by country of origin. Of course the US is best represented since after all they must gave had the largest arsenal and highest volume of production, even before the war started. Since it is relatively cheap to own and fly an aircraft in the US compared to most other countries in the world, it is also the country were most old aircraft could be restored and kept flying…. even today! And yes, us European (vintage) aviation enthusiasts are suitably jealous of that.

Don provides a description of each aircraft, including the history of coming into being. The depth of these descriptions vary. Of some of the aircraft not much is known, or knowledge has been lost over time. Others are well documented. The same is true for the pictures.
A little disappointing is NOT to have a picture with EACH aircraft. I guess it has to do with copyrights, because on today’s all-knowing Internet there certainly are pictures of everything ever produced. I also found it a pity that none of the photos have captions….. as to where and what is portrayed.

A definite bonus is the fact that surviving examples are listed including the location and organization owning them. I already have made some notes of places I MUST go some time in future! Together with the usual specifications list the book provides a very good overview of these type of aircraft and no doubt will also pop up a few aircraft that many of us had not heard of before !

The book comes in oblong format, has many colour photos, albeit a bit small, has 185 pages printed on excellent paper and is now available at GBP 15,99 instead of 19,99. It can even be had for only GBP 13.59 if you sign up to the Platinum Membership of Pen and Sword !

 

In short:

Surviving Trainer and Transport Aircraft of the World
by Don Berliner

Imprint: Pen & Sword Aviation
Hardback
186 pages
ISBN: 9781781591062
Published: 20 May 2013

£19.99

You can get it direct from the publisher here !

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tigers-in-normandy-3562Tigers in Normandy

by Wolfgang Schneider

Since I am working on our own Normandy 1944 scenery product for FSX, the book I recently received for review fits wonderfully into my current research and reading and I wanted to share my views on it with you.

Tigers in Normandy by Wolfgang Schneider and published by the Pen and Sword Publishing company in the UK is an excellent book that meticulously traces the whereabouts of ALL German Tiger tanks in Normandy during and after the allied invasion. It was originally written in 2004 under the title “Tiger im Kampf: Die Einsästze in der Normandie”. Schneider, a colonel in the present German army, has done a LOT of research and included many accounts by soldiers involved at the time.

Especially interesting is the fact that this book is not only about German tanks and troops, but also viewed, analyzed  and written by a German officer, whereas the majority of history books and movies dealing with this period and battlefield are always seen from the ‘allied side’. And although it focuses on the German side of the battles and operations, it is not ‘taking sides’ as such and Schneider provides some interesting analyses of some of the people and their actions.

Admittedly, I am more specialized in aviation and air warfare myself, and so some of the facts that surprised me will be well known facts for ground war specialists, but I think the book is interesting for those of us who are not so familiar with what happened on the German side in those Summer months in 1944.

The book follows a chronological path and the first thing that is flagged is the fact that there were NO Tigers in the area on June 6th. They were not anywhere near even, and although one unit happened to be on its way to Normandy, the others were not. Subsequently they had to start their voyage towards the new front and that was not an easy one! By then the German Luftwaffe was of course not a major force anymore, so the allied fighters and bombers were almost freely roaming the skies. With most rail tracks damaged by bombing and sabotage, the tanks had to take to the roads. And these were constantly under fire from ground attack aircraft, forcing the tanks to drive at night and hide during the day.

The Tigers were not only hampered in speed because of this, but they suffered from another problem too: tanks are not made to travel larger distances, certainly not in that era, and the wear and tear on the heavy equipment caused them to break down almost daily! It ultimately resulted in many tanks not being battle-ready.

The book shows where all units were on June 6th, their routes to Normandy and some of the ‘adventures’ along the way getting there. The next major event is the famous ‘battle’ in Villers-Bocage, where Michael Wittmann hit on the British and Canadian troops on their way around Caen. Schneider calls this chapter ‘The Mystery of Villers-Bocage” and provides a very detailed account and analyses of Wittmann’s actions. This too is an interesting part of the book for those not intimately involved in the tank battles of Normandy. The author argues that the widely held views on that particular engagement on June 12th 1944 are often incorrect, depicting Wittmann as a brilliant tank commander with a supernatural action that day. In reality it may well have been that Wittmann acted haphazardly and not very wise, although courageous, and Schneider also shows that the actual number of allied tanks and other vehicles destroyed by him were much less than is usually assumed.

Oh, I also read somewhere that the British were using Lysanders for artillery spotting…… I have done quite a bit of research on the SOE role of the Lysanders and much of the results of that research went into our Lysander product for the Microsoft Flight Simulator. But the little remark in this book has sparked my renewed interest in learning more of subsequent actions this old aircraft was involved in. So Thank You mr. Schneider for pointing that out!

What I really like about the book are the many, many photographs! And not only the old ones, but also the comparison photos showing old photos followed by ones of the current day situation. Sometimes it is amazing to see how little has changed in these past 69 years ! What I also greatly appreciate are the detailed maps annotated with the positions and movements of the units involved and also the maps showing WHERE photos were taken and in which direction.
It results in LOTS of leafing backwards and forwards to acquire the situational awareness to go with the written accounts of the action. I really appreciate the amount of time and thoroughness that has gone into this.

The book covers all the main (allied) operations that took place from June 6th (Operation Neptune of Overlord) through the final breakthrough of Falaise. In the Appendix section we find a list with allied units that took part in the various operations,  an overview of all the Tigers of the Heavy Armor Units 101, 102 and 503 and a listing of the losses of these.

There is only ONE thing I miss in the book: not being a tank specialist I would have really appreciated a chapter with some photos, specifications, explanation and maybe some cut-outs showing the workings and the innards of these formidable tanks. I know this can be found in other books, but it would have made the work really complete.

Other than that: highly recommended as part of the overall view on what happened in Normandy back in 1044 !

You can order Tigers in Normandy here. And there are many more interesting books in the Pen and Sword on-line bookshop.

 

 Your reviewer in St. Mère Eglise on one of his Normandy tours|

 

In short:

Tigers in Normandy
by Wolfgang Schneider
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
Hardback
376 pages
ISBN: 9781848848023
Published: 2 May 2012

£20.00 down from £25.00

 

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