Crecy Publishing Limited, Books Reviewed in 2010
Eagle's War - Aircraft carrier HMS Eagle 1939-1942
Edition: 2009 Paperback 1st Published 1995
Author: Peter C Smith
Publication Date: April 2008
Publisher's Title Information
HMS Eagle was already old when war was declared in September 1939 and her new Swordfish biplanes were soon flying escort to vital Australian troop convoys in the wastes of the Indian Ocean. When the war moved to the Mediterranean, Eagle's meagre air group bolstered by a few Sea Gladiator biplanes held the ring with Cunningham's superb fleet through the dark days of 1940 to 1941. Her aircraft took part in the naval victories of Calabria and Taranto; worked from desert air strips with great success and hounded the Italian Navy out of the Red Sea.
Following further ocean patrols in the South Atlantic, Eagle joined the famous Force 'H' at Gibraltar and did more than any other ship to sustain Malta during the islands' greatest ordeal. Before being lost in action during the greatest of all convoy battles Operation Pedestal, in August 1942.
This almost day-by-day account of her battles and actions as seen through the eyes of its former crew members is a fitting tribute to all who served aboard her or flew from her decks.
This is an excellent book, which tells Eagle's story mainly as her crew lived it from 1939 to 1942. Just this week I was watching some old film, which had been converted to DVD by the Imperial War Museum and in many instances there is no mistaking HMS Eagle. Why, because she was converted from the hull of the Battleship Almirante Cochrane laid down in 1913 for the Chilean Navy. The photograph on the front cove of the paperback edition is clearly the old Eagle, but the one on the rear cover must be the more modern Eagle commissioned in 1951.
At the beginning of 1918 the Board of Admiralty was fully convinced of the value of seaplane carriers and little effort was spared in looking for suitable hulls for conversion. The incomplete Chilean battleship Almirante Cochrane, on which work had stopped at the outbreak of war and (whose sister-ship, Almirante Latorre, had been completed for Royal Navy service as 'Canada',) was still available.
The carrier was fitted out for flying trials before being completed, and was moved to Portsmouth in the spring of 1920.
She was reboilered in 1931-32. During the war she was fitted with Types 290 warning and 285 gun radar.
During Operation 'Pedestal', the supply of aircraft reinforcements to Malta, she was hit by four torpedoes fired from submarine U-73 on 11 August 1942, and sank within five minutes.
The author states that in order to give full flavour of life aboard he sought the views and memories of those who served. This formula works well, and her crew liked to serve in her. She was unique in having an upper deck around which you could walk (Carriers can be a bit claustrophobic). In fact when the time came to leave we are told:-
“Again looking back over the years to that moment, it now seems uncanny that with the ship listing so badly there appeared to be no urgency to leave the ship. I have many times tried to arrive at an explanation why this was so, and the one answer that seems reasonable is that none of us had experienced anything of this gravity before, and the shock was taking a few moments to sink in. Besides we had some doubts whether the ship would actually go down so fast and I think it more logical to accept the fact that a sailor doesn't abandon his ship until so ordered. The consequences of abandoning a ship that eventually stays. afloat are that serious charges can be brought and no one was keen to put himself in the position of being the first over the side. A young engineering sub-lieutenant, not appreciating the situation, forced his way past the men on the upper deck shouting orders, 'Get away to your action stations' and disappeared down the hatchway from which I had emerged only moments before. He was not seen again.'
Then a tubby seaman, more concerned with survival than consequences, dived over the side and as he surfaced he looked up at us and in coarse but persuasive naval language got the message over: 'Get off of it, she's going down.' Immediately evertone else sprang into action and there was a mass evacuation.”
From start to finish a story well worth reading because it's told by the crew and remains a fitting tribute to all those old 'Eagles'.