Musings on the worlds of aviation, military and international affairs.
With reviews of books that cover these topics
In one sense, this book does what it says in the cover – it recounts the stories of six airmen in WW2, spread across Fighter and Bomber Commands. But that also gives a sense of one of its several limitations. Introduced to six airmen in succession, the reader never really has an insight into the personality of any. The narrative lacks any emotional intensity. This is also because the author’s sources are primarily operations records books, logbooks, and other archive material, together with in some cases, some diaries and letters.
The first subject, Howard Clark, flies Hurribombers in the Western Desert, and the accounts of their effectiveness are of interest to those who study this campaign, but the chapter badly needs a map to enable readers to understand the meanderings of both forces in this struggle. Goodrum tries to tie in Clark’s actions to strategy of the overall campaign, but this slightly unbalances the prose given the restriction on space.
Chapter 3, on Walter Dring, is one of the more interesting tales. Dring was involved in an intense programme of fighter sweeps over Brittany in Typhoons. It becomes apparent that the early marks of this aircraft, with the car-type doors, were exceedingly difficult to escape from. The later marks, with bubble canopies, were in contrast deathly in the event of an inversion on landing. It is a tragedy that, after an illustrious career, Dring essentially kills himself with a bad landing.
Jim Crampton, the subject of chapter 4, had quite an interesting time. Captured in 1941, it was slightly frustrating we do not find out more about his time in Stalag Luft III, but he became one of the few RAF pilots to make a success in post war commercial aviation, and was a founder of the airline Air Anglia. ‘Zoom’ Summerson in Chapter 5 shows intense courage in escaping after he was shot down and badly burned.
Goodrum is clearly not an aviator. There is a needlessly plodding account of RAF instructional techniques, e.g. “During that trip he carried out numbered flying exercises, which continued under dual instruction in a logical progression on subsequent days.” Another grating recurring mistake of the author is he uses the abbreviation of “recco” for reconnaissance; the RAF I know uses the abbreviation “recce” as in “sector recce”.
They Spread Their Wings
Six courageous airmen in combat in the Second World War
Alastair Goodrum, The History Press, 2013