Overview & Format
The real surprise upon reading this book is the astonishing variety of pilots around the world who became aces flying the Gladiator. Andrew Thomas has gathered together a remarkable set of stories from conflicts in regions as diverse as Europe, the Far East and the Baltic. The text gives highly detailed accounts of the fierce fighting in which Gladiator pilots were involved and is backed up throughout by personal reminiscences and quotes from the memoirs and diaries from the pilots themselves.
The book follows the series' standard format, being softbound with 96 pages. The text is broken down into 5 main chapters:
1. Combat Debut
- covers the Gladiator's RAF service debut, plus combat in China and early WW2 on the Western Front.
2. Arctic Warriors
- deals with the Finnish/Soviet Winter War and the ill-fated Narvik expedition to Norway.
3. The Desert & Malta
- begins with early clashes against the Regia Aeronautica over the Western Desert and concludes with the defence of Malta.
- covers the hasty redeployment to assist the Greek government in repelling the Italian invasion, through to evacuation in the face of the German assault.
5. Aden, East Africa & Iraq
- gives detail of the often forgotten fighting between Commonwealth and Italian forces in East Africa and the abortive Iraqi rebellion supported by the Axis.
These are followed by an Epilogue and Appendices which include comprehensive lists of the kills claimed by Gladiator pilots.
A brief look at Chapter One gives some idea of the depth of coverage in the book. Beginning with aircraft's introduction into RAF service, it's fascination to read how, despite it's antiquated appearance to modern eyes, the Gladiator was viewed with suspicion by “traditionalists” who were not at all convinced of the merits of new features such as the enclosed cockpit and landing flaps.
As far as the RAF was concerned, the Gladiator was “blooded” as the British struggled to control what was virtually a civil war in Palestine but, in fact, the Gladiator was already in the thick of the fighting on the other side of the world. In 1937 a small batch of 36 aircraft had been purchased by the Central Chinese Government to bolster their mixed bag of fighters opposing the Japanese invaders. Hastily assembled under primitive conditions, the Gladiators performed superbly against superior Japanese forces. Many of the pilots were Chinese-Americans and it was one of these, Capt. John Wong Sun-Shui who became the first Gladiator ace. The story of these pilots and savagery of the dogfights in which they fought is vividly told.
From China, the scene shifts back to Europe and the outbreak of WW2 and British Gladiators were involved from the start, defending naval bases against Germman raiders. Worryingly, it was already becoming obvious that they lacked both the speed and firepower to tackle German bombers successfully. Luckily, the RAF Gladiator Squadrons in France re-equipped during the relative calm of the Phoney War and so faced the 1940 Blitzkrieg flying Hurricanes, but the first chapter ends with the tragic tale of the Belgian Gladiator pilots who were basically annihilated in a vain attempt to stop the German onslaught.
The book is illustrated by plenty of well-chosen B&W photos - most of which are new to me, being taken from personal collections. As you might expect, the quality of some of these isn't always great, but the photos show plenty of detail of the men and their machines and give a vivid impression of the difficult conditions under which they fought. From a modelling point of view, perhaps the most striking aspect of the photos is just how scruffy many of the Gladiators looked. These were tough old birds, patched up and repainted, often flown in harsh climates which rapidly took their toll on the paintwork.
Backing up the photos is a centre section of 40 excellent colour profiles by noted aviation artist John Weal. The sheer variety of schemes depicted will provide plenty of inspiration for some eye-catching models. There's a great selection of British Commonwealth machines, added to which are Chinese, Swedish, Finnish, Norwegian and Belgian aircraft. The captions at the back of the book are excellent, with a brief history of the pilot and the particular aircraft, along with colour notes. The illustrations clearly show the distinctive “shadow dispersion” scheme applied to many Gladiators, but it's a pity that no plan views are included.
Lastly, the book also includes a useful set of 1/72 scale drawings of the Gladiator Mks I & II, plus the Sea Gladiator and ski-equipped versions.
This is an excellent book which will be of value to modellers and historians alike. Perhaps inevitably, the Gloster Gladiator has been largely overshadowed by the likes of the Hurricane and Spitfire, but Andrew Thomas does a fine job in setting the record straight with a book which is a fitting tribute to a tough little fighter and the brave men who flew it.
PO Box 140
Northants, NN8 2FA
(01933) 443 863
Thank you to Osprey Publishing for kindly supplying the review sample.
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