Saturday, 9 May 2015

A History of the Mediterranean Air War 1940-1945, Vol 2: North African Desert February 1942-March 1943 - Christopher Shores and Giovanni Massimello

Title: A History of the Mediterranean Air War 1940-1945, Vol 2: North African Desert February 1942-March 1943
Author(s): Christopher Shores and Giovanni Massimello
ISBN: 978-1-909166-12-7
Publisher: Grub Street
Pages: 736
Photo’s/Maps: 100’s b/w//6 

Building on the success of their previous volume in this series, Shores and Massimello have compiled a massive amount of data and detail into a book outlining the experiences of the varying combatants as they head into their second year of desert fighting. Written as a calendar compilation, they provide both a synopsis of the day’s activities and highlights of the unique or noteworthy events of the period.

Photographs are incorporated throughout the narrative providing a stunning visual representation for the reader and, what’s more, they are not centrally printed but co-located within the storyline they are representative of. Each of the discussions are broken down into an outline of the day’s events followed by a detailed rendition of the casualties of the British, Germans and Italian adversaries (broken down into unit and a brief synopsis of the engagement, results and crew status) and claims (broken down into columns signifying unit, crew names, attacking aircraft type and designator, damaged or destroyed aircraft type, location and time). 

The extent and breadth of the research is truly remarkable while the presentation is such that the book does not read as a dry rendition of facts but leaves the reader with a true sense of the adrenalin, terror and courage of the aircrew involved. The authors also incorporate stories of those aspects of the conflict that have received, relatively speaking, very little attention. Take for example their discussion of the unique JU-86 pressurized reconnaissance aircraft (with an operational ceiling of over 48,000 ft)  that operated out of Kastelli, Crete. These aircraft undertook high altitude reconnaissance over the Nile Delta and all along the northern coast of Africa. Specialized Spitfires from 103 Maintenance Unit specifically stripped down were able to intercept and neutralize this Luftwaffe capability. Another excellent example of this is the story of Capt J.E. ‘Jack’ Parsonson and his first hand related experience of combat on the 10 November, 1942 when he was involved in a harrowing dogfight with, ultimately nine ME-109’s. He ends his recollection with a German Lieutenant pleasantly offering him a cigarette and food; telling him sardonically: “Well, for you the war is over. Here, would you like this egg?” This after he had just slammed his Kittyhawk into the desert floor and evacuated it as the 109’s circled above. 

Shores lead a team of researchers each with a specific national affiliation (German, Australian, Italian and American) who have each contributed a phenomenal amount of detail and anecdote towards the final publication. The book commences with a synopsis of the tactical and operational situation in the desert at the beginning of 1942; it sets the stage for the narrative that follows. Additionally, a number of noteworthy veterans (such as Ernst Dullberg, II Gruppe JG 27, John Waddy, 4 SAAF, James ‘Stocky’ Edwards, 260 Sqn and Neville Duke 112 and 92 Sqn and many others) provide lengthy and detailed recollections about Squadron life and combat operations in the desert. The reader is provided an intimate introspection by these men of their experiences and the respect that they shared not only for each other but also their adversaries and ground crew. One is definitely left with the sense that war in the desert was not personal but a deadly business. 

Grub Street has published a book of outstanding quality. For those looking for a book outlining the experiences of the air war in the desert, it would be difficult to find a better source. This is volume two and volume three will focus on operations around Tunisia. While the book may be read in isolation from volume one, I would strongly recommend reading in order to get a real sense of the ebb and flow of the desert air war.

No comments:

Post a Comment