Fleet Air Arm: British Carrier Aviation 1939-1945
Squadron Signal, ©2001
64 Pages, Softbound
Squadron/Signal publications rarely divert from their established format. Whether the In Action, and Walk Around series, or their photo books on various air forces/units, you pretty much know what you’re going to get – relatively inexpensive paperbacks printed on good paper, full of photos and drawings, and fairly light on text.
The Fleet Air Arm has long been the forgotten Allied air force of World War Two. Compared with either the Royal Air Force or the US Navy’s air arm, the FAA has taken something of a back seat. Yet their activities were both important and wide ranging, despite being handicapped by inadequate equipment, especially at the start of the war. The Admiralty did not gain control of the FAA from the RAF until 1937; until then, naval aircraft had been an afterthought to land-based aircraft, meaning that at the start of the war, the FAA was mainly equipped with biplanes. It wasn’t until the middle of the war, when American Lend-Lease aircraft and a few newer British types became available that the FAA had much to work with. That they accomplished so much with obsolete or unsuitable aircraft is a testimony to the skill and courage of the crews.
Mackay’s book consists of 64 pages, eight of which are devoted to color profiles, with the back cover featuring five WW2-era color photos. His text is short but functional, giving a brief overview of FAA operations. Brief is the operative word – the Bismarck operation is covered in two paragraphs, and Taranto in one! The emphasis is where it should be, on the photos. They are well chosen and laid-out, with often only two or three to a page, allowing details to be seen. As with virtually every naval aviation book, there is a lot of photos of prangs – I guess that’s when people got their cameras out!
Squadron/Signal has improved its previously dismal proofreading over the past few years. There are fewer typos, although the Fulmar is credited with a top speed of 256 mph on page 9, and 280 mph on page 17. One irritating habit is the convention of putting ship’s names in capitals rather than italics. Each first mention of a ship or aircraft type in the text is also accompanied by putting the name in bold, which isn’t a bad idea for a book without an index.
How useful is this book to modelers? There are some great ideas for models (the all-black Swordfish with full D-Day stripes is tempting,) many photos offer details, and the author gives color information where possible, both the official British paint names and the FS equivalents, which is a nice touch. The color profiles are good but not outstanding – and what is a 1920s-era Blackburn Blackburn, one of the ugliest aircraft ever built, doing in here at all?
Fleet Air Arm is a useful introduction to the subject, and because of its price, is well worth picking up. And then if you get interested, you can check out the IPMS FAA SIG web site for the specifics.