Book Review: ‘The Spitfire: An Icon of the Skies’

58. DSCF2122 (2)

Reviewer:  Michael Keith

Title: The Spitfire: An Icon of the Skies

Editor: Philip Kaplan

No. of Pages: 234

Rating Scale (1: very poor, 10: excellent): 7


According to its author, this volume: ‘…Looks at both the magnificent restoration of a AR213 [A specific aircraft], and at the Spitfire generally. It considers the mystique and charisma associated with the type, its principle designer R.J. Mitchell, the Spitfires of the pre-war years, the Spitfire in the battle of Britain, flying the aeroplane, the roles of the Spitfire in the Second World War, the amazing career of Alex Henshaw as Chief Test Pilot…the famous Rolls Royce Merlin engine…some of the motion picture and television performances of the Spitfire, and the phenomenal evolution of the warbird movement’. It is an excellent precis.

The volume consists of 12 Chapters. These cover the subjects described above and are accompanied by numerous monochrome and colour photographs. These are of both aircraft and individuals; all are relevant to the narrative. However, the image sources are not included with the images, but are instead listed in a separate Picture Credits section placed at the back of the book (of which more anon). Art works, along with images from both print media and philately, also appear, together with numerous personal reminiscences.

Regrettably, for this reviewer, this volume has several significant faults. Of these (and the most curious and serious; at least for this reviewer),  concerns the Contents page. On it there is a complete absence of reference to the volume’s ‘support services’. That the Acknowledgements. Bibliography, Picture Credits and Index sections appear within the book is easily verifiable, yet the Contents page contains no reference to their existence. Why this is so is unknown. In addition, an un-named (but two-page) section has been placed immediately after the Contents page. Exactly what it is, and why it has been placed where it is, is unexplained. To this reviewer, that section appears to be a ‘grab-bag’ of the material that will later appear within the body of the volume, but in the absence of a title, its function is uncertain. Regrettably, the authority of the Index is also doubtful, with a random search for ‘Park, Keith within it indicating that an entry to Park Keith would be found on page 99. No such entry was found. Have other, similar, omissions occurred? There is no way to know. As previously-noted, this book contains numerous personal reminiscences and quotes from those personally involved with the aircraft. Regrettably, little effort has been made to indicate when one individual’s quotes end and another’s starts, or of their sources (whether published, personal documents, or conversations). Page 35 is but one example, with the absence of quotation marks and citations making it initially difficult for this reviewer to determine where the ‘Beurling’ section ended and the ‘Lacy’ one commenced. Similar examples appear elsewhere. Readers seeking further information about the origins of such quotes will also have no idea where to look as no citations are provided to indicate their sources. The author certainly uses the Acknowledgements section to thank those who helped him by providing ‘…Quoted and other material’.

However, this is a ‘blanket’ thanks and in the absence of specific sources for specific quotes it likely to be of little use to a researcher.  A list of the abbreviations used throughout the volume would also have been useful. No maps appear within the volume.

The volume can be considered a ‘Potted History’ of the Spitfire and its military and civilian service, with particular emphasis being placed on the restoration of AR213. On that basis it will probably appeal to Spitfire aficionados in particular and to aviation and war-bird enthusiasts in general. Aviation historians may find it worthy of their perusal, while ‘generalist’ military historians may also find it of interest. Pilots and ‘Aviation buffs’ of all persuasions may also find it worth a look. Aeromodellers specifically interested in the Spitfire (especially the early marks as exemplified by AR213) are also likely to find the colour images useful.

On a Rating Scale where 1: very poor, 10: excellent: I have given this volume a 7.




Book Review: ‘The Spitfire: An Icon of the Skies’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘De Havilland Enterprises: A History’

39. DSCF9234 (2)

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: De Havilland Enterprises: A History

Author: Graham M. Simons

Total No. of Printed Pages: 318

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 7


For many years the De Havilland Aircraft Co. Ltd, of Hatfield, England was a builder of aeroplanes of quality and in quantity. . As the author summarises ‘… There was a time when every small biplane was a ‘Moth’, an entire air force trained on a ‘Tiger’ and a new Elizabethan age dawned with the introduction of the world’s first jet airliner’. This volume is a record of those aeroplanes, of the company itself, and of the design projects that were never constructed.

This volume’s primary focus is on De Havilland’s aeroplanes. All De Havilland aircraft from the Company’s No. 1 to its final DH.130 design are described.  These descriptions include both those actually constructed, and those created as ‘design concepts’.  Experimental types and the products of De Havilland’s Australian and Canadian factories are also included. To provide background to the aircraft, a Chapter titled The Men… records the Company’s history. This section serves as a ‘catch-all’ for anything that is not ‘aeroplane’. Within it a small section is devoted to De Havilland aero engines, but only in the context of the general narrative.

Due to the large number of designs involved, the Contents section is three pages long. Within each page four columns appear. These are titled: Type No.; Name; Quantity built* and Page No. Curiously, the headings only appear on the first page of the Contents section. Within the columns where no name was allocated to a specific type a – has been placed adjacent to the appropriate design number. In addition, where a design was an ‘idea’ only, and not proceeded with, the phrase design concept only appears in the Quantity built column alongside the appropriate design number, The * placed beside the Quantity built column-header is duplicated at the bottom of the third Contents page rather than a the bottom of each page as might be expected. It marks a paragraph which cautions that ‘Total built should be considered very much an estimate only as ‘records that date back over one hundred years are not totally reliable…’. The Contents section is in turn followed by a Dedication. Although this dedicates the volume to all those involved in the aircraft preservation movement, particular reference is made to one John Stride. An Introduction then summarises the volume. It is followed by the previously-noted chapter titled The Men…As already stated, this provides a short history of the Company. The main portion of the volume is concerned with the aircraft that De Havilland’s built. Titled The Machines…, it describes the various aircraft that De Havilland’s either produced or envisioned. A separate section is dedicated to each individual aircraft type. Within it, the specific type is both described and accompanied by a three-view line drawing. Type-specific technical data accompanies the line drawing.  Where applicable, the description is accompanied by at least one monochrome photograph. Although these are largely sourced from De Havilland archives, several are from other sources. Where variations to the basic airframe are detailed, subheadings are used to describe these. There are however no drawings for either the Company’s experimental aircraft or for the products of de Havilland’s Australian and Canadian factories.  There is also no Bibliography per se’, as according to the author `…This title is unusual in that is based entirely on contemporary material from De Havilland…’.  There is instead a chapter tiled And Finally… This is placed after The Machines… and contains reproductions of various De Havilland-related brochures and images. Curiously, it also contains a somewhat-vitriolic attack on those who have, in the past, criticised the author over the materials he has used and his sources. An Acknowledgments section completes the book. In it the author thanks those who have assisted him in its creation. Although several half-tone images and technical diagrams appear within the volume, the Contents pages contain no reference to either these or the photographs the book contains. There are no maps or an Index.

This volume is both well researched and well-written, with the author’s passion for his subject being very evident. While there are some ‘imperfections’ the majority of these are minor. However, for this reviewer, the lack of an Index severely reduces the book’s  usefulness. De Havilland’s exported many different types of aeroplanes to many countries around the world  An Index would have provided the information as to what, where, why and to whom. Its lack reduces a reader to time-consuming, frustrating (and at times fruitless) searching through innumerable pages, with no guarantee of success when doing so. Were that that was not the case!

Due to the high regard accorded to the products of the De Havilland Aircraft Co. Ltd. this book is likely to have wide appeal amongst aviation enthusiasts of many persuasions in many countries. Aero-modellers will also be likely to make use of the drawings and the images for their own purposes.

As already noted, this volume has several ‘imperfections’; the lack of an Index being the most important of these. As a result, on a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given it a 7.



BOOK REVIEW: ‘De Havilland Enterprises: A History’

BOOK REVIEW:’The Desert Air Force in World War II: Air Power in the Western Desert 1940-1942′

35. DSCF9232 (2)

Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title: The Desert Air Force in World War II: Air Power in the Western Desert 1940-1942

Author: Ken Delve

Total Number of Printed Pages: 282

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 7


Historians have tended to view the conflict in the Middle East during World War II as being largely a sideshow when compared to the more militarily-important events in Europe. It was however a contributor towards the ultimate Allied victory and an area where air power played a significant role. The nature of that role is discussed within this volume.

Within this volume, the author describes the development of British air power from its pre-World War II beginnings to the end of 1942, when the British Imperial Military Forces in North Africa were facing defeat at the hands of the German Afrika Korps under the command of General Irwin Rommel. It is a tale of the Royal Air Force (aka The Desert Air Force), the military air arms of Italy and Germany and, to a lesser extent those of Australia, South Africa, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), and the United States of America. It is a tale of men and machines operating in extremely difficult conditions and, ultimately it is also a tale of the desert itself and its local climatic peculiarities.  However, and despite its title, this volume is not a complete history of Allied air operations in the Middle East during World War II. It is instead concerned with only part of those operations, and is evidently ‘Part One’ of a multi-volume series. Regrettably the title does not convey this information, which only becomes evident in the final sentence of the final chapter. That sentence states: ‘…The clearing of North Africa and the invasion of Italy are the subject of a forthcoming book’. Whether or not that detail is an important one is something that only the reader can decide.

Within the volume, an Acknowledgements section placed immediately behind the Contents page thanks those who contributed towards this volume. It is in turn followed by 6 Chapters, with Chapter 1 being subtitled Introduction. This both summarises the volume’s content and outlines the reasons for its creation. The remaining Chapters provide detail of the aviation-based operations undertaken by the Desert Air Force until 1942. Seven Appendixes follow. Appendices I-V cover such items as Battle Honours and Awards, pets, aircrew who survived crashes in the inhospitable desert, aircraft supply route and airfields. Appendices VI and VII present a Chronology and an Order of Battle relating to the over-all narrative. Although Maps, Photographs, Tables and Technical Diagrams appear throughout the volume, there is no reference to their existence on the Contents page. No Bibliography or Index is provided. A list of the numerous abbreviations that appear throughout the volume would have been useful.

This book is likely to appeal to a variety of readers. These could include those interested in the Royal Air Force and its history, those interested in the North African military campaign of World War II, and those with a general interest in aviation. Modellers of both aviation and military persuasions could find the many photographs useful as a resource.  It is also possible that genealogists seeking information about the military service of family members within the British Military Forces may find it of use. The lack of an Index could however make this searching both difficult and tedious.

As previously noted, and contrary to the title, this is not a ‘complete’ work in respect of its subject, Although to some this will be little consequence, that fact when combined with the absence of both a Bibliography and Index, has served to reduce this volume’s value as an ‘Authoritative Source’. On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given it a 7.


BOOK REVIEW:’The Desert Air Force in World War II: Air Power in the Western Desert 1940-1942′