RAF Fighter Command Pilot
The Western Front 1939-42
Series: Warrior 164
Author: Mark Barber
Artist: Graham Turner
Length: 64 pages
Format: Softcover, PDF eBook, ePub eBook
Item: ISBN 978-1-84908-779-7
Osprey’s 164th title of their Warrior series introduces us to the fighter pilot of the Royal Air Force in the first part of World War Two. RAF Fighter Command Pilot, The Western Front 1939-42
is a primer of the European based RAF fighter pilot of the first part of World War Two. Examined is the birth and organization of Fighter Command; the selection, training, and equipping of the pilots; operations and driving ethos; their lives in and lout of the combat zones; and their aircraft. Several quality color illustrations and scenes, and many quality black and white photos graphically support the text. The reader is presented with a good introduction to The Few.
After The Great War ended the Royal Air Force, the world’s first independent air force, began a drastic drawdown. Britain’s government structured their military within the assumption that there would not be another major war for at least 10 years. Bomber theorists pontificated that ‘the bomber will always get through’. Little advancement of the fighter or fighter tactics occurred and professional RAF fighter pilots served in what some referred to as ‘ the best flying club in the world’.
Nazi Germany’s rise challenged the thinking of many in England and changes began. Fighter Command (FC) was established on 14 July 1936 with Air Marshall Sir Hugh Dowding at the yoke. His new FC had a small command of 18 squadrons of open-cockpit two-gun biplanes barely staffed with regulars and some reservists. Fortunately British scientists were working on RDF (Radio Direction Finding), what would become radar.
Author Mark Barber introduces us to the Fighter Command pilot of 1939-42 through 64 pages in 10 sections and chapters:
RAF FIGHTER COMMAND IN THE INTER-WAR PERIOD
RECRUITMENT AND TRAINING
EQUIPMENT: FLYING CLOTHING AND UNIFORM
AIRCRAFT OF FIGHTER COMMAND
ON CAMPAIGN: CONDITIONS IN THEATRE
BELIEF AND BELONGING
EXPERIENCE OF BATTLE: TACTICS OF AIR COMBAT
MUSEUMS AND SURVIVING AIRCRAFT
Modelers and reenactors and museum curators will enjoy the description of clothing and flight equipment. The differences between successive uniforms, flight kit, helmets, jackets, goggles, oxygen masks and the like is discussed in good detail. The color artwork and black and white photos are very useful understanding the descriptions.
Historians should appreciate the outline of Fighter Command training, organization, and aircraft. The text describes the progression from primary training into the formation and employment of the OTU (Operational Training Unit). No doubt many more pages could have been filled with further detail yet within the scope of this title you will have the ground school for further specific research. How much did the RAF emphasis aerial gunnery? How modern was F.C. tactics? What was the role of foreign pilots with the RAF? This book sheds light on these interesting aspects of FC.
Aircraft of FC are introduced. A basic acquaintance of the main British types in service during the time period of this book is presented. Foreign aircraft are excluded along with those British fighters that served only in limited numbers, such as the Westland Whirlwind.
Personal narratives are included in the sections concerning deployment and fighting. Fighter Command deployments to France and Norway are examined along with the environmental factors, as well as the relationship with the host populations. Fate saw land-based planes operating from aircraft carriers. What gave the pilots the will to join the RAF and then continue to brave horrors beyond our understanding? Such is examined in the chapter Belief and Belonging. A handful of quotes and personal accounts flesh out the thoughts of the pilots. You will no doubt be surprised by one, if not in fact shocked.
Aerial warfare accounts for almost a quarter of the pages. The Battle of Britain is an important part of the content, as is the Battle of France and the foray into Norway. Fighter Command’s grasp of aerial tactics is critiqued, as is their employment of RDF. You will learn of Rhubarbs, Ramrods and Circuses, of Big Wings, and command conflicts behind the scenes.
Finally, surviving aircraft and museums are listed for those who desire to seek them out.
Photographs and Art
Dozens of high quality photographs support the text, although none are color photos. The life of the FC pilot is conveyed through two cartoons featuring Pilot Officer Prune, a popular character created by Bill Hooper. Other photos include pages from a fighter pilot’s log and an after-action report by the indomitable Douglas Bader.
Original artwork by Graham Turner includes several full color scenes:
1. Gloster Gladiator In Action, Norway, May 1940. No. 263 Sqd engaging a Heinkel over Norway.
2. Hawker Hurricane Is, No. 46 Squadron, Flight Deck, HMS Glorious, June 1940. The birth of the Sea Hurricane!
3. Dispersal, A Fighter Squadron of No. 11 Group, September 1940. Nervous pilots between sorties.
4. Dogfight Over South-east England, September 1940. Spitfires and Hurricanes engage Bf 109s and Do 17s.
Additional color art includes the flight kit of:
a. Flight Lieutenant, 1939
b. Sergeant, 1941
I find RAF Fighter Command Pilot, The Western Front 1939-42
to be a very good introduction to the men who took on the Luftwaffe in the early dark years of the war. My favorite parts are the personal recollections from FC pilots.
I appreciate the attention to detail the author provides in describing uniforms and equipment. The organization of FC plus RAF training fills in my understanding of the organization. For those who are not familiar with the RAF’s early air war this is a good introduction. The color artwork answers questions I had as a modeler of RAF subjects. Photos and other graphics tie the text together visually. I really have no complains other than a few minor typos.
I recommend this title as a good start for anyone interested in Fighter Command, the RAF, early-war pilots and equipment, and Blitzkrieg aerial operations.
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