Musings on the worlds of aviation, military and international affairs.
With reviews of books that cover these topics
Shackleton Boys (Vol I)
Steve Bond Grub Street, September 2018
Slightly surprising this ‘characterful’ aircraft type has been so far down the priority list of Boys titles. The bulk of its veterans must be knocking on a bit now. And I am guessing that sales of the audiobook version will be modest, because most of them will be fairly deaf! The noise of the Shack’s 4 Griffons, sometimes supplemented by 2 Viper jets, in some variants, was apparently something to behold from within an essentially beefed-up Lancaster fuselage…
The publication this year is poignant too, since the UK currently has no aircraft fulfilling the Shack’s main role of maritime reconnaissance – until the Poseidon enters service. The Shack Force – aka the Kipper Fleet – was in its prime when the RAF had innumerable bases around the globe, and the UK still had the vestiges of an empire. Thus many of the stories involve exploits at far flung stations such as Gan or Tengah.
Usually there was an engine failure or other technical fault which required the crew to wait awhile in tropical climes for a spare to be flown from the UK. Fair compensation in my book, for having to spend hours staring at a tedious ocean, with a Griffon symphony banging on your headset. A Shack posting would not have been top of my personal wish list, yet apparently many aircrew did so desire it. Mostly, it would appear, those who had an insatiable hunger – the incessant in-flight catering was a big draw. More seriously, the crew camaraderie seems to have been strong and alluring for many.
Engine failures, particularly towards the end of the type’s long service career, seem to be endemic to Shack operations. At least early in its career, many of the captains had endured a lot worse (over the Ruhr), and thus the aircrew are rather phlegmatic - this volume harks back to an earlier era than most of its sister titles! Note that the typical operating height of the Shack was 1-5,000 feet. The aircraft suffered a high attrition rate (1 a year from Kinloss alone, during one contributor’s tour).
The author starts the book in a rather bitty fashion, with several contributors filling a page or two with a lot of brief anecdotes. This goes against the flow of the more successful Boys titles in my view, which give free rein to a contributor to fill a half or full chapter. The book flows better as it progresses. Of particular interest are the accounts of Op Grapple – the H bomb tests in the Pacific. The chapter on the Beira run (trying to prevent oil imports into Rhodesia) is also entertaining. Bob Lyall recounts a particularly terrifying tale with ice threatening to bring down his Shack miles out into the ocean. There is also an amusing tale of a couple of (straight) aircrew sharing a honeymoon suite.
Overall an overdue addition to the Boys genre.