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& Bullets

Musings on the worlds of aviation, military and international affairs.


With reviews of books that cover these topics


Fighter Pilot

The life of Battle of Britain Ace Bob Doe

Helen Doe

Amberley, 2015

Quite rare to find a military biography of a warrior father by his daughter. Odder too when the man in question has already penned his own autobiography (Fighter Pilot, 1991). Helen Doe attempts to square this circle by positioning the book as a study in how his father developed his leadership skills. The book fails in this objective. That she is a university academic is spelled out in the end-paper, yet is obvious from her fact-heavy writing style, which owes more to a dissertation for a doctorate than a page-turning biography.


Her background in education perhaps explains a rather over-enthusiastic focus on her father’s educational assessments through his childhood, which dog much of the first chapter. It is evident she has come cold to this military and aviation world, and the prose is not at ease with military matters (although this problem recedes during the course of the book as the writer gains experience). There are other tell-tale signs of the author being outside her comfort zone: for example “Gloucester” – as in the manufacturer of the Gladiator – rather than “Gloster”.


Doe went on to be one of the higher scoring fighter pilots in the Battle of Britain (despite an acknowledged weakness in aerobatics), yet this section of the book leaves us none the wiser as to how his flying, fighting and leadership skills evolved through this period. There are other odd jumps in the narrative – Doe was suffering Achilles tendon problems later in the year, but their onset is never mentioned.


Bob suffered severe facial injuries in a crash, and spent many  months in rehabilitation. In 1943 he began the long journey out to India to command his first squadron.  Here the book does add some value in giving a portrait of life in an Indian Air Force squadron,  a topic not often covered. His squadron then operated in (close air) support of Slim’s campaign to recapture Burma. Reading Slim’s Defeat into Victory or Wavell’s autobiography, will put all this into context.  


His prolonged posting to Asia, and a change in character following his earlier crash, led to divorce from his first wife. Helen is a daughter by his second, which perhaps explains her tentative coverage of her father’s emotional and romantic development. Doe went on to secure a permanent commission in 1948, and forged a relatively successful career in the post-war air force. Being of the slightly cantankerous type of fighter pilot (who hated desk postings), he had reached his ceiling in 1967. His later career is not covered.  


Overall somewhat  disappointing.


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