Saturday 5 June 2021

Guest Review: Spitfire: A Very British Love Story By John Nichol

Achtung, Spitfire!
The iconic Spitfire found fame during the darkest early days of World War II. But what happened to the redoubtable fighter and its crews beyond the Battle of Britain, and why is it still so loved today?

In late spring 1940, Nazi Germany’s domination of Europe had looked unstoppable. With the British Isles in easy reach since the fall of France, Adolf Hitler was convinced that Great Britain would be defeated in the skies over her southern coast, confident his Messerschmitts and Heinkels would outclass anything the Royal Air Force threw at them. What Hitler hadn’t planned for was the agility and resilience of a marvel of British engineering that would quickly pass into legend – the Spitfire.

Bestselling author John Nichol’s passionate portrait of this magnificent fighter aircraft, its many innovations and updates, and the people who flew and loved them, carries the reader beyond the dogfights over Kent and Sussex. Spanning the full global reach of the Spitfire’s deployment during WWII, from Malta to North Africa and the Far East, then over the D-Day beaches, it is always accessible, effortlessly entertaining and full of extraordinary spirit.         
Here are edge-of-the-seat stories and heart-stopping first-hand accounts of battling pilots forced to bail out over occupied territory; of sacrifice and wartime love; of aristocratic female flyers, and of the mechanics who braved the Nazi onslaught to keep the aircraft in battle-ready condition. Nichol takes the reader on a hair-raising, nail-biting and moving wartime history of the iconic Spitfire populated by a cast of redoubtable, heroic characters that make you want to stand up and cheer.

Review: This is a book about the Supermarine Spitfire, the iconic fighter aircraft that first flew just before the Second World War and served with the Royal Air Force (RAF) and other air forces, during and for a few years after the war. The author, John Nichol is a former RAF navigator who was captured along with his pilot by Iraqi forces when their Tornado aircraft was shot down during the Gulf War in 1991.

The book covers the aeroplane’s development and its subsequent deployment in various stages of the conflict. Although the book describes the evolution of the Spitfire and the various enemy aircraft it opposed during those six years, the focus is more on the people who flew and maintained the aircraft. Hence, there are accounts of the fighter pilots and also the ground crew, the men and women of the Air Transport Auxiliary who ferried the ‘planes to various airfields, and pilots who carried out photo reconnaissance missions. Many of these accounts are based on interviews with the ever-diminishing survivors of the war. There are a number of excellent colour photographs, along with a larger number of black and white illustrations. At the end of the book are references and a bibliography, together with technical specifications of the different versions of the Spitfire.

I thought the book was an interesting account of this famous aeroplane and the people who flew and maintained it. However, I found the writing style difficult and episodic, with too many apparently unconnected short paragraphs so that the reading did not flow. I also found the way the references were quoted was not very helpful. There are five and a half pages of references and notes at the end of the book, many of which are repeated because each chapter has its own list of references. I feel it would have been better to assign one unique number to each reference, meaning there would be a single list only instead of sixteen separate lists.

A couple of points I would make about the book are that the main German fighter during the Battle of Britain is referred to as the Me 109, although the author does note that the prototype was referred to as the Bf 109. Strictly speaking, all aircraft of this type should be designated Bf 109 since the manufacturing company was known as the Bayerische Flugzeugwerke at the time that the German air ministry assigned the number, and only became the Messerschmitt company afterwards. However, I understand that both terms were in common use. Additionally, the account of the Spitfire’s combat role appears to end with Germany’s surrender in May 1945. Hostilities in the Far East did not end until August 1945. I feel that the lack of information about these months, and in particular the role of the aircraft-carrier borne version, known as the Seafire, with the British Pacific Fleet is a major omission.

Overall, although I found the book with its fascinating personal stories an interesting read, I feel it could have been better.

To order your copy now, just click the link: UK or US

No comments:

Post a Comment