Musings on the worlds of aviation, military and international affairs.
With reviews of books that cover these topics
Adventures of a Cold War Fast-Jet Navigator
The Buccaneer years
David Herriot Pen & Sword, 2017
To end a sentence occasionally with an exclamation mark is normal! To end a second consecutive one diminishes its power! By the time the third sentence comes round, the reader starts to believe the author has a bizarre tic (or is perhaps an over-excited twelve-year-old)! Then the dull inevitability of a fourth begins to irritate (at least this) reader beyond compare! A fifth is lunacy!
This habit of Herriot should have required a ‘hat/no coffee’ interview with Pen & Sword’s senior editor as soon as the first draft was submitted. If this authorial scabies had not been eradicated in the second draft, a series of whacks to the back of the writer’s head with a nav ruler might have made the point. But, combined with a surfeit of spelling mistakes, one wonders whether this book was subject to any editing process. A conscientious editor might also have taken a knife to much of the first 100 pages – Herriot dwells on his childhood to a degree which will lose those who are more interested in Cold War fast jet tactics. And there is an abundance of Three Letter Acronyms, that require a glossary so comprehensive that ‘G&T’ is decoded for the lay reader as a gin and tonic! Surely Herriot could have simply written ‘First Run Attack’, for example?
This is all a great shame because Herriot is clearly an alpha male who does not let the grass grow under his feet. Through a long RAF career, and particularly in its early stages, he undoubtedly caused grief to a succession of commanding officers. Moreover he relates his fables well; there is plenty of high octane banter which will amuse civilians and RAF folk alike. However the former may well be astonished at some of the antics of our nation’s airborne protectors. The book hits its sweet spot (and one senses Herriot’s career does likewise) when he starts at XV squadron on the Mighty Bucc at Laarbruch in 1971. Glory days indeed. The ground-bound antics might stretch credulity were it not for the fact that I know some of the more extreme behaviour at this station has not made it into this book! (I think I am permitted a ! there)….
A favourite story of mine is the toga party in an officer’s married quarter at Laarbruch - the story of which spread like wildfire around the Bucc Force. You will have to read the book to find the dénouement. The film crew on a survival course also made me splutter my tea. Generations of British military pilots will no doubt argue the case at the bar – either on this Earth or Upstairs – but there is a strong case to be made that Herriot enjoyed his long career in the best era of the RAF, at least in post-WW2 times. Ridiculously high loss rates of the Meteor era were history, and the RAF had a real job to do in terms of keeping the Russkies at bay, although shots were not fired in anger till GW1. The Services were well-funded (at least by today’s standards), and pay and conditions were good. Health & Safety was embryonic rather than all-embracing. And finally the Bucc was one of the more potent aircraft since the Spitfire.
One would quite like to have heard how he got on with the Tornado GR1, and whether his post-Bucc life slowed at all.
So Herriot was lucky, and he acknowledges his good fortune. For most of the time, particularly in his bachelor days, he was clearly operating on the outer fringes of the acceptable performance envelope for RAF aircrew officers. And this injects the vim that would make this book a classic of its genre if only it had endured more aggressive editing. A missed opportunity.