Defiant, Blenheim and Havoc Aces
Series Number: Aircraft of the Aces 105
Author: Andrew Thomas
Illustrator: Chris Davey
I admit that when I first saw this title I thought this will be a thin book; wasn't the Defiant over Europe what the Buffalo was over the Pacific?
Was I wrong! These three aircraft were not headliners but they pulled their share.
Osprey continues their fascinating Aircraft of the Aces series with Defiant, Blenheim and Havoc Aces
. These three aircraft are not generally thought of in association with “ace” pilots, yet a total of 11 pilots claimed five or more victories when flying these three types. No fewer than 33 future aces opened their scores flying the Blenheim, Defiant or Havoc.
In the opening days of the Second World War the RAF had several Blenheim fighter squadrons tasked for day combat! Although these aircraft were originally designed as bombers they proved amazingly maneuverable and provided not only convoy escort, they also conducted long-range offensive sweeps over friendly and Nazi-controlled territory! But the big fighters were outclassed and soon losses lead to their use as nightfighters.
Defiants were a flawed concept relying on a powered turret as their only armament. A good looking and good flying aircraft, Defiants were generally enjoyed by their crews. Properly flown Defiants could even defend themselves against Bf 109s in many situations, and they gave a good account of themselves over Dunkirk and early on over the Channel. However, once the Luftwaffe Jagdfliegers
learned to defy the Defiant, horrible losses lead to the type being withdrawn from day combat. In the protective cloak of night, Defiants again fought the Blitz as nightfighters.
Neither the Blenheim nor Defiant were ideal for nightfighting and the RAF supplanted them with Beaufighters. They also employed American Douglas Boston bombers in the role. The Boston could carry radar as a pure nightfighter, or could carry bombs and guns as night intruders. Bostons served the RAF until Beaufighters and the supreme Mosquito became available.
Unique as these aircraft were in these roles, even more exotic were some of their weapons. The British experimented with laying aerial minefields in front of bombers. One weapon for nightfighting was the brilliant searchlight mounted in the nose, Turbinlite, used to illuminate the target while ‘parasite’ Hurricanes would visually attack for the kill.
Defiants and Blenheims fought into 1942; Blenheims saw action over Greece, North Africa, Iraq, and in the Pacific.
Nightfighting Bostons lead to the United States adopting the type as their first nightfighter, the P-70. Used in the Pacific, the P-70 was too heavy and too underpowered in the humid tropical air to intercept “Washing Machine Charlie”, the fast Japanese bombers used as night intruders. A few victories were claimed over New Guinea and the Solomons.
The Allies won the war and thus have a great deal of archival material for author Andrew Thomas to research. This title is full of information. Mr. Thomas does a good job of explaining the concepts and employment of these three unlikely fighters. He packed the book full of narratives of the squadrons that flew the machines, accounts of battles from reports, and archival data. Also included are excerpts from personal interviews, diary entries, and quotes, both Allied and enemy:
It was a stupendous sight, and lasted for 2-3 minutes before we found ourselves as a broken formation milling around the sky with Me 109s as our dancing partners. We knew that the Blenheim could turn inside a '109 if we knew precisely when to do it. To this end, we had devised a system when we were under attack whereby I moved from the navigator's position, opened the cockpit behind the pilot, stuck my head out and, looking back, signalled my pilot with my thumb exactly when, and in which direction, to turn. We were first attacked from the upper rear port side somewhere south of Schiphol. He closed to around 400 yards and I signalled the pilot hard left and the '109 overshot. We then turned hard right and got in a burst as he went away. We were then attacked by a '109 corning in from above and to the right, with somewhat similar results.
The pilot of Blenheim IVF L9392 recalled a confused fight off Blankenberg:
'At this moment we were joined by some Me 110s that came in to attack us. I broke away and repositioned to attack the nearest Me 110 and, after a bit of jockeying for an advantageous position, I came up underneath the belly of the aircraft and got in a good burst of fire from my five Brownings. As I fell out from the steep climb, the Me was gliding down ahead of me, so I closed to get in another burst. At the same time the gunner in the Me had a potshot at me and hit my starboard engine. A few seconds later the Me suddenly hit the sea in a great cloud of spray and was gone.
Heinkel pilot Oberleutnant Ulrich Jordan recalled:
A few minutes later they were behind us - Blenheims! The combat lasted nearly 20 minutes. The fighters attacked continuously from behind, one after another, causing a lot of damage to the fuselage, engines and tail of my aeroplane, and they succeeded in stopping one of the engines. However, the fight continued until the other engine stopped which happened just after the last fighter disappeared.
One of the attacking RAF pilots wrote of the event;
Climbed to engage enemy aircraft and attacked from below tail after searchlights were no longer holding. Range 50 yards. Enemy aircraft returned fire and appeared to throttle back suddenly. Delivered five attacks. Air gunner fired seven short bursts at varying ranges. After last front gun attack air gunner reported port engine of enemy aircraft on fire. Returned to base and landed.
A Defiant pilot lamented:
I can recall my final air combat quite vividly, as again it proved to be a very frustrating affair. Sent to patrol over the Hurnber area, I spotted an aircraft as soon as I took off, which was quickly confirmed by ground control as hostile. It was off to my left and perhaps 1000 ft above me. The gunner called that he thought it was a Ju 88, and at about 300 yards he opened fire. I kept low and closed in, allowing him to fire directly up into the bomber's belly. The aircraft was all black, and we kept hitting it without apparent effect until in went into cloud, and that was that.
Defiant, Blenheim and Havoc Aces
is brought to you through 96 pages of six chapters:
A FLAWED CONCEPT 6
A BLOODY SUMMER 11
THE BLITZ 28
BLITZ TO 'BAEDEKER' 56
OVER SEA AND SAND 7O
THE LAST RITES 85
COLOUR PLATES COMMENTARY 90
Photographs, Illustrations and Graphics
I did not count the total but scores of black-and-white photographs add their 1,000 words per picture. “There I was” shots, aircraft portraits, crew portraits, aircraft and crew portraits, all bring the text to life. Most are high quality images although there are a few that are blurry. Included are several downed German planes, plus a pilot sticking his arm through a damaged Defiant tail.
Artist Chris Davey brings color with 36 profiles of the aircraft. There are no grand centerfold battle scenes, maps, or illustrations of cockpits or other components. The cover art by Mark Postlethwaite is a dynamic scene depicting Flt Lt Nickolas Cooke of no 264 Sqn in action off Dunkirk in the evening of 29 may, 1940; he and his gunner Cpl Albert Lippett claimed an incredible two Bf 109s, a Bf 110, and five Ju 87s! Otherwise the only other graphics is a table of pilots who scored kills with these aircraft, or who flew them and later scored.
I hate to sound like a cheerleader yet I am very impressed with this book, as I have been with most titles of the Aircraft of the Aces
series. I am especially impressed with this title as it features three elements near and dear to me – underrepresented and appreciated aircraft, early-war subjects, and lots of pilot narratives. The number of quality photographs is higher than titles dealing with Axis subjects and, of course, the original color aircraft profiles are excellent. I am mildly disappointed with the lack of a map, as I find even general maps useful for orienting the reader to where the aircraft operated.
Overall I am very happy with this book and heartily recommend it to fans, historians, and enthusiasts of Defiants, Blenheims, Havocs, early air war, early night fighting, and The Blitz.
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