Musings on the worlds of aviation, military and international affairs.
With reviews of books that cover these topics
Javelin Boys: Air defence from the Cold War to confrontation
Steve Bond Grub Street, September 2017
The Javelin was the RAF’s all-weather and night fighter/interceptor in the Fifties, and early Sixties. I dimly remember its shape at airshows as , like the Vulcan, it looked as though it had stepped from the pages of a Dan Dare story in an Eagle comic. It represented a quantum leap in performance and looks from the Meteor which it replaced. It is rather odd that this volume appears so late in the Boys series – there have been c. 16 previous titles to date, and the era of the Javelin’s service is such that many of its aircrew must have taken their last flight by now.
There is a good introduction from Gp Capt JK Palmer. The author, Steve Bond, has what appears to be fairly encyclopaedic knowledge of the type, and much of the book, particularly the first two-thirds, is dominated by the narrative of which marks went to which airfields and to which squadrons. It is definitely one of the drier Boys titles, and there is a degree of overlap not just on the differences between the various marks, but also on their idiosyncrasies. The book could have used some harsher editing.
Much of the book will feed nostalgia for a very different era in RAF service: a plethora of overseas postings to enjoy (or not), a mass of airframes such that at one time there were 12 squadrons operating this type. It was clearly not loved by many of the groundcrew who had to suffer more than usually difficult maintenance tasks on this type. The opinion of aircrew seems fairly nuanced: those who had enjoyed an exchange tour in the USAF described the Jav as “going backwards a lot”. As well as a predilection for engine failure when large altitude changes and resulting temperature shifts caused compressor blades to disintegrate on hitting their casing. The flying control system also allowed the airframe to be (sometimes fatally) overstressed at low altitudes – this seems strangely to have escaped those at Boscombe tasked with writing the operations manual.
Whilst the banter quotient is below the Boys’ excellent average, there are a handful of stories to treasure: the AOC’s hat for one. And characters emerge: one squadron OC, Mike Millar, drove (with his long-suffering family) back to the UK from a tour in Singapore – in his Land Rover! (I wonder if the marriage survived…). The last contributor, Peter Day, is perhaps the best, with a very laconic style which matches the best of the Boys titles.
So overall not a classic of the series, but it includes some worthy material with which to remember an important fighter of its time.