"Royal Navy and Maritime Book Reviews" Provided by Rob Jerrard

Crowood Press Limited

De Havilland Twin-Boom Fighters
Author:Barry Jones
Publishers:The Crowood Press
Price £25
Publication Date: 2004

From the point of view of my Naval service, you could say I enter the narrative of this book a bit late, that is to say Page 143, by the time the Sea Vixen became operational in 1958.  This is certainly a fascinating book absolutely packed with photographs, which are bound to stir the memory of anyone who served in a Royal Naval Aircraft Carrier during the period these particular Aircraft were in use.

For me, this was a ten-month world cruise in HMS Chichester when we accompanied HMS Albion and acted as (Safety Ship) the correct term escapes me at the moment, must be a ‘Senior Moment’. I also served a commission in HMS Victorious, which carried 801 Buccaneers, 893 All-weather Sea Vixens, 849A Gannet 3 and 814 Wessex. There were as I recall Sea Hawks and Scimitars in Albion. 

Above is a photograph taken from Albion on 10th May 1959 and the aircraft are Hawker Sea Hawks, not of course the subject of this book, however the photo may be of interest to readers.

The De Havilland twin-boom fighters were very recognisable because of their obvious shape - hence the name and the Sea Vixen really became the Number One all-weather fighter for the Royal Navy until 1984, which ended sixty-seven years of unbroken service for De Havilland. 

I should point out that this book covers all three twin-boom aircraft in all services, not just the Navy and if you want to see one of these aircraft again Appendix 2 lists all those displayed, eg Yeovilton have a Sea Vampire a Sea Venom and a Sea Vixen.  The complete story is in this book.  It is well researched and worth having.

Rob Jerrard

The History of the Fleet Air Arm From Kites to Carriers

Edition: First

Author: Bill Finnis

ISBN: 184037182X

Publishers: Airlife Publishing Ltd

Price £24.95

Publication Date: 2000

I knew I was going to enjoy this book.  I regard it as a great privilege to have served in a Royal Navy Aircraft Carrier and I would emphasise a well-known one of the Illustrious Class; HMS Victorious.

When did it all begin, really begin?  Kites and early attempts are well documented.  However it begins to take real shape when we read Page 19 and the conversion of HMS Furious from a light cruiser in 1917 and the death of Lieutenant-Commander Dunning attempting a deck landing.  He had succeeded - it was the second landing that went wrong.  HMS Argus is described as the world’s first flush-deck Aircraft Carrier with HMS Hermes being specifically designed, the first in the world to be so. 

Names familiar to us were HMS Courageous commissioned in 1925 and her sister two years later, HMS Glorious.  Then follows Ark Royal,  Illustrious, Victorious, Formidable, Indomitable, Implacable, and indefatigable; Ships that were to play a vital role in WWII.

Chapter 2 covers the bureaucratic battles until the RN finally got full control in 1938.  It began with the naval wing of the Royal Flying Corps, which became the Royal Naval Air Service.  Things moved backwards for a time when on All Fools’ Day 1918 the RNAS was incorporated into the newly-formed Royal Air Force and the naval element was run down.  The Fleet Air Arm was created in 1924, but is must be stressed it was the Fleet Air Arm of the RAF.  Absolute control did not come until 1938 and HMS Daedalus at Lee-on-Solent became HQ.  The Navy never dropped the name of Fleet Air Arm and the title was officially re-adopted in 1953.

The book is everything you would want from the history of the FAA.  It covers both world wars, Illustrious joining the fleet, Taranto, the loss of Glorious and the controversy surrounding her sailing with only two destroyer escorts, Bismarck, the channel dash of Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, Russian convoys and the war against Japan. 

By Chapter 15 the story catches up with me and the advent of the jet.  My first encounter you might say being my first commission on HMS Chichester when we were the faithful companion of HMS Albion (R07) (the old grey ghost) on a ten month world cruise 1958-1959.  A fuller description of which can be found in Neil McCart’s book published in 1995 and now out of print. 

Albion carried Scimitars, Sea Hawks, Sky Raiders, Sea Venoms and Gannets if my memory is correct and was a Centaur class carrier and yes, it was a wonderful ten months.

The book concludes with Sea Harriers and the Falklands and it is sad that these amazing aircraft will shortly be discarded.

Rob Jerrard

Hunting the Bismarck

Authors: Miroslaw Zbigniew Skwiot & Elzbieta Teresa Prusinowska

ISBN: 1-86126-819-X

Publishers: Crowood Press

Price £19.95

Publication Date: Feb 2006

Publisher’s Title Information

The hunt for the Bismarck in May 1941 is one of the most famous naval operations of the Second World War. This book describes the Germans' preparations for Operation Rheinubung, the battle of the Denmark Strait with the shocking sinking of HMS Hood, the pride of the Royal Navy, the British Home Fleet's tense pursuit of the German battleship across the Atlantic, and the lucky' torpedo hit that crippled her and allowed the British fleet to finish her off.

Hunting the Bismarck gives a complete account of the campaign, including the German plans for their surface raiders to break out into the Atlantic and attack the vital supply convoys, the British attempts to counter this threat, and the entire cat-and-mouse chase across the ocean, where both sides used all their resources of signals intelligence, aircraft and submarines to achieve their goals. Yet in the end it was really a matter of chance that the Bismarck was brought to bay: during the operation both sides made mistakes that were kept secret for years.

Thanks to recently declassified documents it has been possible to introduce new facts in this book.


The Introduction commences by reminding us how important the threat of the German Battleship Bismarck was to the British and this was shown by the statement delivered in the House of Commons by the Prime Minster, Winston Churchill, in August 1940.

It was felt that should she and her sister ship Tirpitz enter service, the Germans would very likely gain a considerable advantage and these fears were also shared by the RAF.

There have of course been very many books about the hunting and sinking of Bismarck.  Here the authors say that both sides had their weaknesses and failures that have not been mentioned for many years.  They say that they have tried to bring some to the readers’ attention without passing comment on them.  They claim that the subject is still not exhausted and think much remains to be added and hint at a second extended edition of this book.

The events still live on in the memory of people who participated in the battle in May 1941 and since top-secret papers have been released, the authors felt able to take one more look at the entire operation.

The book is very heavily interspersed with photographs on almost every page as the story unfolds.  A familiar story to most of us, because we cannot help but be aware of the hunt for the ship that sunk HMS Hood, after which she had to be hunted down and destroyed, as she indeed was.

There are preliminary chapters, which set the scene for the coming Operation Rheinubung, which was for Bismarck and Prinz Eugen to break out of the Norway Sea onto the Denmark Strait and eventually enter the Atlantic.

More familiar names then enter the story – Revenge (some of which was to come later), Renown, Hood, KGV, Prince of Wales, Suffolk, Norfolk, Sheffield and others.  The events are all there in Chapter 4 as are good photographs and some excellent sketch plans of battle areas.

As Suffolk and Norfolk shadow the enemy, keeping a discreet distance from those large guns, Hood and Prince of Wales endeavour to close the distance.

Manchester and Birmingham were also out patrolling a different area.  At Scapa Flow, eventually KGV, Victorious, Galatea, Aurora, Kenya, Neptune and Hermoine set off on 22 May. 

What is of particular interest is a copy of the evidence of AB Robert E Tilburn, one of the three survivors from Hood given under caution and he claimed only Hood’s A and B turrets fired.  At the end of his evidence a note states, ‘it is doubted whether he was correct about A and B turrets firing’.  Presumably the authors had access to all the evidence given, yet they do not include that of Ted Briggs, who to my knowledge is still alive.  In his book ‘Flagship Hood’ published in 1985 his description of Tilburn’s evidence tallies with an account given to him at the time, whilst they waited in the water to be picked up by the Destroyer Electra.  Ted Briggs says in his book that the official papers were released 30 years later and that there were in fact two official inquiries.

This is a very well written book.  To say that I enjoyed it would be to break faith with the Royal Navy.  Hood’s loss, like so may other big or small ships will always be remembered. 

My only other comment is about ranks.  Ted Briggs is shown as an Ordinary Seaman when in fact he was an Ordinary Signalman.  On Page 156 Naval Officers are referred to as Pilot Officers - Pilot Officer AW Beale who was Sub-Lieutenant (A) AWD Beale RN of 810 Squadron.  Pilot Officer JW Moffatt was temporary Sub-Lieutenant JWC Moffatt RNVR.

Having said that, a copy of this book, which really does have some stunning photographs of every ship mentioned along with aircraft and crewmembers would be very useful to students studying this battle.

How different it might have been if AB Newell of HMS Norfolk had not shouted as he did, at 7.22 pm on 23 May "Ship bearing Green One-Four-Oh degrees", then "Two ships bearing Green One-Four-Oh"?  Radar was still in its infancy, Norfolk’s Radar was not as good as Suffolk’s.

As to whether there is anything new in this book, I leave that to the experts.

Rob Jerrard

Supermarine Fighter Aircraft

Author: Victor F Bingham

ISBN: 1861266499

Publishers: The Crowood Press

Price £19.95

Publication Date: 2004

The Publishers information on the Book

The Firm Of Vickers Supermarine is rightly famous for the Spitfire, per­haps the best-loved and most recog­nizable aircraft in the world. It was a fighter par excellence, continually updated and modified to keep up with or ahead of Axis aircraft development. This development kept the Spitfire in active service through­out the war, and is recounted in fascinating detail in this book.

However, the Spitfire was not Supermarine's only fighter and this deeply researched book also discusses the Spitfire's experimen­tal predecessors and, more importantly, the aircraft that came after it. These include the navalized version of the Spitfire - the Seafire - and the ultimate developments of the Spitfire theme, the Spiteful and the Seafang, which made use of new laminar­ flow wing technology.

Supermarine was one of the first manufac­turers to harness the new technology of jet propulsion. By combining the wings and undercarriage of the Spiteful with a new fuselage accommodating a turbojet engine they created the Attacker, the first jet air­craft to fly operationally from British air­craft carriers. The Attacker design was then adapted, via a series of experimental types, into the swept-wing Swift. Though unsuc­cessful in the fighter-interceptor role, the Swift served with distinction as a low-level tactical-reconnaissance fighter and played an important role in the early development of air-to-air guided missiles. Supermarine also developed a series of larger twin-jet experimental aircraft from which the Scimitar fighter-bomber, Supermarine's last production type, was developed.

Covering every fighter product of this famous manufacturer, and illustrated with archive photos and superb cutaway art­works by Lyndon Jones, Supermarine Fighter Aircraft will be required reading for fans of the Spitfire and anyone interested in the heady early days of jet-aircraft develop­ment in Britain.


I can claim to have something in common with the Supermarine Spitfire, which this book covers very fully along with Supermarine’s other models; as the introduction says, from the birth of the Spitfire to the demise of the Swift.

It is our birth we have in common.  I was born at Eastleigh, Hampshire and the first test flight of Prototype Supermarine K5054 took place on 5 March 1936 from Eastleigh airfield.

I have flown from Eastleigh in a twelve-seater to Alderney and it is by modern standards a very small airfield, but you have to remember that in about 1937 Croydon was the largest airport in the world. 

The Spitfire was and still is a very attractive-looking aircraft.  I have a copy of a book called "Sea Flight A Fleet Air Arm Pilot’s Story" by Hugh Popham, which has a picture on the front page "A Seafire takes off from HMS Illustrious"; this captures the graceful lines with a sunset behind.

There are of course very many good photographs on Internet Web Sites.

To a boy of my generation who’s first real memories are of age seven when we lived at RAF Hornchurch, Essex and I sneaked past the RAF Police to watch aircraft land and take off, two machines live on in my mind more than any other - the Supermarine Spitfire and the Hawker Hurricane. 

By Chapter 3 the book has moved on to the Seafire and the Fleet Air Arm’s part in the life of the Spitfire.

The RAF had proved by landing unhooked Hurricanes on HMS Courageous, that these sort of fighters could be of use to the Navy to replace their uncompetitive machines.  In 1941 the Admiralty requested Spitfires and subsequently the Seafire originally called the Sea Spitfire was born.  In December 1941 Spitfire VB BL676 fitted with an arrestor hook and slinging points started deck landing trials on HMS Illustrious.

Further carrier trials were carried out aboard HMS Victorious during March-April 1942 while sailing off the Orkneys. The Seafire Ib aircraft were first embarked in HMS Furious.

Although it was obvious that the Seafire was not suitable, needs overcame this and orders went ahead.  Seafires (Ib) were embarked on HMS Furious in October 1942 because she had a larger than normal lift which could accommodate the non-folding wings.  They went down the lift sideways-on.

As this book and other will tell you, this aircraft was far from ideal for this role.  Hugh Popham was in 880 Squadron with HMS Indomitable and flew hurricanes to begin with.

The book explains that it was obvious to any aircraft engineer that the Spitfire airframe was not suitable for the rough and tumble of carrier landings, and its nar­row track undercarriage spelt trickery and doom for anything other than a good landing.  However, such logic did not come into the equation: there was a war on and the Fleet Air Arm needed a viable, fast fighter.  BL676's trials on Illustrious were deemed to have passed off satisfactory, and so orders were placed for two variants.  The first was the Seafire Ib based on the Spitfire VB with ‘B’-type wings, the second the Seafire IIc based on the Spitfire Vc with ‘C’ wings.   The name Sea Spitfire had originally been used, but the carrier's crew soon reduced this to Seafire, and this was later officially recognized.

As three of the Royal Navy's major armoured air­craft carriers (HMS Illustrious, Formidable and Vic­torious) had small lifts they could not accommodate the early fixed-wing Seafires in their hangars, which meant that the aircraft had to be arranged on-deck on outriggers exposed to the elements-whose salty contents were far from kind to aeronautical objects and materials.

From the conception of the Seafire, Supermarine had been quite aware of the need for wing folding, and had retained the first production Seafire IIc for the necessary development work.   Folding wings on the Seafire were first intro­duced on the EIII, which was powered with the Merlin 55 driving a four-blade propeller.

Later in the war Hugh Popham moved to seafires as they replaced hurricanes. They trained with a handful of old RAF Spitfires, delayed briefly on their way to the knacker's yard in order to provide them with experience on type.

He gives us some first-hand experience of the seafire as a suitable aircraft for a Carrier.  He says the Hurricane was a good aeroplane, on land, on a deck or in the air.  “The Spit was adequate on a runway, bad, as it turned out, on a deck, but in the air one of the most exquisite machines ever made by man.  It was beautiful to look at with that knife-fine wing-section and the two sheer ellipses of its leading and trailing edges, and with that flowing line from spinner to fin. And it was beautiful to fly, light and quick on the controls, without vices.  It was always said that Mitchell's wife designed the lay-out of the cockpit; whether it was true or not, it was a pretty compliment, for it was as neat as a new kitchen.  Against its incomparable virtues could be set its silly little undercarriage, which was quite inadequate against the rough and tumble of deck-landing, and the long, long nose which stretched away in front of the pilot and made him practically blind in the traditional, nose-up, deck-landing attitude.  In so far as it had never been designed for a deck, it was unfair to charge the designer with these disadvantages: they were the outcome of a makeshift policy towards Fleet Air Arm aircraft which threw us on to the doubtful mercies of obsolescent RAF machines, hastily modified, or on to the Americans.  After the August Malta convoy, Admiral Syfret had reported: ‘It will be a happy day when the fleet is equipped with modern fighter aircraft’-a lament which held true of the Seafire I, which we were due to get, just as it did of the Sea Hurricane of which it was written and which they were replacing. The Seafire was faster than the Hurricane, but it was still not fast enough.”

Hugh Popham also tells that there were practical disadvantages as well: the difficulty of maintenance in the open air, and of perpetual handling of aircraft up and down the deck.  These would have been quite acceptable if they had not coincided with our first experience of the Seafire's special faults as a deck-landing aircraft.  Minor damage was frequent, for apparently faultless landings often buckled an oleo-leg or bent a propeller tip: major prangs were not unknown: and what with one thing and another, Commander Flying quickly acquired a strong aversion to using us if he could possibly use the Wildcats. And so we struggled to keep the aeroplanes serviceable, or to make them so, subject to the recurring necessity of pushing them up and down the deck, and watched the Wildcats, of which there were two squadrons on board, come bouncing in from absurd heights with complete impunity.

In the History of the Fleet Air Arm, Bill Finnis, Airlife Books 2004, we are told that the use of one kind of aircraft in an operation like this was intended to simplify matters as far as spares, repairs and maintenance was concerned. The idea was good but the Seafire was the wrong plane. The Spitfire was never designed to go to sea.  Adding an arrester hook and calling it a Seafire did not change that fact.  The propeller on a Seafire was quite long and had a distressing tendency to hit the steel flight-deck if the landing was less than per­fect.  The undercarriage was narrow and fragile and frequently collapsed and its tyres were prone to burst when subjected to a heavy landing. They were doubtless good enough for landings ashore but in the more robust conditions encountered aboard a carrier's flight-deck they were far from adequate.  The Escort Carriers' top speed was such that it needed to steam into a reasonable wind to help generate enough airflow over the flight-deck to enable a Seafire to land safely.  If this was lack­ing, and the wind can be fickle in the Med., then the Seafire was prone to a high rate of accidents. The Fleet Carriers, with their greater speed through the water, were a safer bet for Seafire landings on days when there was little wind.

This is of course a book about Supermarine and all its aircraft but I hope I will be forgiven for concentrating on the Naval side, I will end where the book ends with the Supermarine Scimitar which were still in service with the Royal Navy during my time.  In 1963/4 in HMS Victorious there were Blackburn Buccaneers onboard.

If like me you have boyhood memories of Supermarine and want to know more then this is the book for you.

Rob Jerrard

Avro Shackleton

Author: Barry Jones

ISBN: 1861264496

Publishers: Crowood

Price £29.95

Publication Date: 2002

The Avro Shackleton made its first flight on the 9th March 1949 and was the mainstay of  COASTAL COMMAND until it was superseded by the nimrod in the 1970s.  The Shackleton followed in the tradition of aircraft that had served the Command in WW2.  In September 1939, COASTAL COMMAND began this war with one advantage.  It had been fully mobilised a fortnight before the outbreak of hostilities.  This was due to a fortunate circumstance. The authorities had decided to carry out an extensive exercise during the last fortnight of August 1939.   For this purpose a large number of officers on the Reserve had been recalled and they were all at their posts when war broke out.  Many patrols were in the air over the North Sea, the Channel and the Western Approaches when they received a wireless signal notifying them that Great Britain was once again at war with Germany. 

To meet the menace of the U-boat, Coastal Command had at its immediate disposal five Flying Boat Squadrons, seven Anson, two Vildebeest and a part Hudson Squadron.  On the day on which war broke out there were in fact 171 aircraft available for action with their crews.  The flying boats went out farthest from bases in Wales, Devon, Cornwall and the Shetlands.  They were capable of covering great distances, and they did so. 

Beyond their range, protection was provided by the aircraft carriers of the Royal Navy.  In doing so, their aircraft covered 7,516,550 square miles in the first four months of war.  Without them our position in the Atlantic would have been serious.

As the merchant ships drew nearer to these shores they came under the protection of the spider-web patrols of COASTAL COMMAND, which were flown over the approaches to Great Britain, especially those of the South-West.  They were carried out by aircraft of limited range and endurance, the principal among them being the Anson.  They said of these aircraft, "Anson is as Anson does."  Reliability and powers to manoeuvre particularly adapted them for convoy protection.

In addition, during the war years, Coastal Command used  Sunderlands, Hudsons, Liberators, Beauforts, Whitleys, Northrop Float Planes, and Catalinas.

The battle of the Atlantic was fought over somewhat more than ten and a half million square miles of sea.  The rough boun­daries of this area were, to the North a line of latitude beyond the Arctic Circle, to the South the Equator, to the East the coasts of Western Europe and of part of West Africa, to the West the Eastern coasts of Canada, Newfound­land, the U.S.A., Central and certain of the South American States. 

Those were the war years.  The Avro Type 696 Shackleton was designed after the end of World War Two.

This book traces the Shackleton's history, from conception to retirement 45 years later.  The Shackleton was the last member of the famous family of aircraft, that started with the Manchester and included Britain's most successful heavy bomber of WWII, the Lancaster.  All designed by Avro's gifted Chief Designer, Roy Chadwick, these aircraft were followed by the York transport aircraft, the Lincoln, Lancastrian, Tudor and finally the Shackleton.

Built to Specification R.5/46 for a long-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft, the Shackleton entered service in 1951.   It served in this role until the late 1960s, when the Nimrod began to take over.   No-one could have foreseen then, that the aircraft would go on to become Britain's only airborne early warning defence system for detecting low-­flying enemy aircraft and remain alone in that role for almost two decades, until its retirement in 1991.   When the end came, the Shackleton had for some years been distinguished by being the RAF's last multi­piston-engined operational type.

The love/hate relationship between the aircraft and its crews, has over the years, evolved into a rose-tinted nostalgia that has forgiven the hours of vibration and high-decibel noise ratings that were endured.  Nicknamed the 'Growler', or Shack; Flying Spark Plug; Old Grey Lady; Shacklebomber; Contra-Rotating Nissen Hut; Bear-Hunter, the Shackleton is one of the most popular of all British post-war aircraft.

This complete history of the Shackleton covers its history from wartime roots to the present day and Shackleton survivors.   It also provides a history of RAF Coastal Command - the Shackleton's principal operator and gives an overview of the history of British maritime reconnaissance aircraft.  Full of detail and illustrated with many previously unpublished photographs, including some in colour, this book will be welcomed by all enthusiasts for this charismatic and popular aircraft, in particular those wishing to research Coastal Command.

Rob Jerrard

Fairey Swordfish and Albacore

Author: W A Harrison

ISBN: 1861265123

Publishers: Crowood

Price £25 RRP UK

Publication Date: 2002

Someone wrote a song about the Swordfish,  (‘Stringbag’, as it was nicknamed,) to be sung to the tune of ‘Bring Back My Bonny’.  It soon became an FAA favourite and has been bawled out around wardroom pianos ever since:

The Swordfish relies on her Peggy,

The modified Taurus ain't sound,

So the Swordfish flies out on her missions,

And the Albacore stays on the ground


Bring back, bring back, Oh bring back my Stringbag to me - to me!

Bring back, bring back, Oh bring back my Stringbag to me!

Built to Air Ministry Specification S.15/33, the Swordfish was designed as a spotter­ reconnaissance and torpedo aircraft for operations from land bases and aircraft carriers.   It was powered by a 690hp Bristol Pegasus radial engine and was designed to accommodate a crew of three.  The aircraft could carry a torpedo or up to about 1,5001b of bombs and mines.  The Swordfish entered service in 1936 and by 1938 was the only torpedo bomber in front-line service with the Fleet Air Arm.  Though it was widely held to be obsolete by 1939, WWII presented the ‘Stringbag', with its greatest successes.

By September 1939, Swordfish, were already embarked in six of the Royal Navy's seven aircraft carriers.  Ark Royal had four squadrons - 810, 820 and 821, as well as 818, which had replaced 814, transferred on the outbreak of war to Hermes.  The remaining four ships had two squadrons apiece: Courageous with 811 and 822; her sister Glorious with 823 and 825; their half-sister, the recently refitted Furious, with 816 and 818; and Eagle with 813 and 824.  When she was commissioned in May 1941, Victorious carried 825 Squadron who took part in the Bismarck operation.

Flying from Royal Navy fleet and escort aircraft carriers and also from the so-called Merchant Aircraft Carriers of the Merchant Navy, brave Swordfish crews made numerous daring attempts on enemy shipping and the type's remarkable successes include the virtual destruction of the Italian fleet in Taranto harbour and the disabling of the Bismarck that allowed that vessel to be sunk by British ships.  Flying so slowly that paradoxically, enemy fire was difficult to fix on the venerable machines, their successes surprised everyone.  In the maritime conflicts of World War Two the Swordfish became a legend.

The Albacore, introduced into Naval service in 1940, was intended as a direct replacement for the Swordfish.  More modern in appearance, but retaining a biplane layout, the Albacore equipped several FAA squadrons.  It was widely held to be a less satisfactory aeroplane than its predecessor and indeed, was withdrawn from service while the Swordfish soldiered on.

We get an idea of the views of the time from the preface.  The following was sent as a letter by Derek Empson, CO of No. 814 Squadron, operating Fireflies, to Fairey on 16 November 1949, just over ten years after the Sword­fish went to war as an already obsolescent biplane.  What a tribute to a biplane in the monoplane era!

‘I must tell you that during the last Home Fleet exercise in the Atlantic, in normal Atlantic weather, we found it quite impossible to operate Fireflies and Sea Furies without breaking them, and our Admiral stated at the post-exercise discussion that he didn't think the GR.17 [Gan­net] was the complete answer.  We needed some­thing slow and robust, even more, approaching the Swordfish type, if we were to conduct continuous anti-submarine operations from light fleet carriers in the Atlantic’.

But the remarks of Mike Lithgow in his 1954 autobiography ‘Mach One fairly well’ summed up what they, as naval pilots at the time, thought of it:

‘The Swordfish, or ‘Stringbag' as it was affectionately called, was the standard torpedo bomber of the day-and for that matter, of many a day thereafter. It carried a prodigious load of bombs, mines, torpedoes, depth charges or anything else that could be thought up for it- and a great deal was - without, to any marked degree, prejudice to its handling qualities other than to knock a few more knots off the speed, if such a term can be applied.’

Of the Albacore he remarked:

‘We took to the Albacore with mixed feelings; it was certainly faster-it could be persuaded to fly at 130kt (just) and it was capable of carrying a heavier load.  The cockpits were enclosed, and there was a large fuel tank between the pilot and observer. It thus lacked the personal touch which had so endeared us to the Swordfish.  The engine, a Taurus, took some time to settle down, and we had several failures in early days.  Luckily, the trouble was sorted out by the time we went to sea, when it was phenomenally dependable’.

John Kilbracken's view was, ‘The Albacore was never popular.  Despite its more modern appearance, it never had the guts and manoeuvrability of the Swordfish and its Bristol Taurus II engine wasn't a patch on its stablemate, the much loved Peggy (Pegasus).'

Bill Harrison looks at the history of Fairey and of British naval aviation before describing the design, evolution and operational use of the Swordfish and the Albacore.  Including first-hand accounts from aircraft crews and a wealth of archive photographs.  This is a book that deserves a place on the bookshelf of all enthusiasts of naval aviation; indeed it would be difficult to study naval aviation without including this in your list.

This book has gathered together an amazing amount of photographs and diagrams which will captivate enthusiasts of different generations.  The book includes a chapter on the history of the Fairey Aviation Company.  During my service in HMS Victorious (1963/4) and earlier in company with HMS Albion, one aircraft I remember well is the Fairey Gannet, particularly the airborne early warning type AEW3.  The last Gannet did not retire until 1978.  

After reading this book, I am sure you will watch those old movies with renewed respect for the men who flew these machines.

Rob Jerrard

Celebration of Sail

Author: Roy Cross RSMA

ISBN: 1861267150

Publishers: Crowood  Press

Price £29.95 RRP UK

Publication Date: 2004

Publisher's Title Information

BRITAIN'S AFFINITY with the sea has given birth to a long and distinguished line of artists depicting the nautical scene.  This is a book about marine art, featuring paintings by one of the foremost practitioners of that traditional genre working today.  Over more than thirty years Roy Cross has created a volume of work celebrating the peak of the development of the naval and merchant sailing vessel, from the late eighteenth to the late nineteenth centuries.

This book is a pot pourri of fine paintings of sailing craft of this great historical period, featuring not only the famous sailing ships of their day, the names of which were on everyone's lips, but also the ubiquitous smaller craft: brigs, schooners, cutters and sloops, which carried the bulk of everyday world trade. Featured here also are some of the splendid specialized racing and sporting yachts which, refined by intense competition in the America's Cup races, achieved a pinnacle of power and splendour with the mighty J-class yachts of the 1930s.

Like so many artists, Roy started his career as an illustrator, initially as a technical artist in the Technical Publications department of an aircraft factory, where he began work as a youngster during World War Two.  During the next thirty years Roy progressed from line illustration, via colour work, to top-class advertising art for the aircraft industry and other companies.  His first commission for a boardroom oil painting, however, gave him much to think about and led him to spells in well-known art colleges to develop his skills in the traditional painter's medium of oils.

These periods of study and other brushes with ‘fine art' and artists steered him towards broader fields of artistic endeavour, but an intriguing series of occurrences finally brought him to the doors of a specialist marine gallery in St James's, London, the owner of which recognized a unique talent and started Roy on a career in maritime art which he continues with distinction to this day.

In 1976 Roy submitted four paintings to the prestigious annual show of the Royal Society of Marine Artists.  All were accepted and such was their quality and impact that he had the unique distinction of being voted in almost immediately as a full member of that distinguished body.  This book is the first review of Roy's marine paintings to be published.  Dozens of his best paintings are showcased in full colour and accompanied by detailed and readable captions giving historical information on each of the vessels featured.  Roy also gives a fascinating insight into his painting methods and materials, and the techniques of research and study which make up his pictures of historical subjects.  This is a book to be treasured by anyone who loves marine art, and who is seduced by the romance of the sea and the tall ship.


There are some fine sailing ships, many of them quite old, to be seen on special occasions at ports around the world. Most are square-rigged, many 'ship'-rigged, that is with 3 masts with square sails on each mast, all quite lovely to behold.

In just one respect they do not seem convincing. In this 21st century the sails of most, if not all, of these fine vessels are made from modern materials created in chemical plants rather than being made from vegetable sources. The old-time sailor would have given a years wages to be able to handle the modern, white, lightweight, strong sails of today instead of the heavy, stiff, coarse canvas sails of 200 years ago. Apart from all of these helpful advantages, these sails just do not look right. They are too light and white and do not convince. Open Roy Cross's book at almost any page and one can see what canvas sails looked like in many situations from storm to calm. Then note the details on each sail. Never just a flat piece of canvas, but many carefully tailored strips plus reefing points and lines, etc. Unlike so many marine artists, Roy Cross has researched his subjects until the most ardent rigger, sailmaker and shipwright could not find technical fault with his subjects. Then he puts them into weather situations. Every sky is diff­erent but right for the strength of the wind. Open any page and one can almost hear the sea, so realistic are his brush strokes. It is interesting to note that Roy Cross has been equally at home producing aviation paintings. Many an aviation model- builder will have seen his paintings that adorned the boxes of kits more than 30 years ago. His companion volume, Celebration of Flight should seriously be considered to sit on the shelf with this celebration of sail.

Apart from displaying that he is most likely the best marine artist alive today, Roy Cross goes to the trouble to explain how he goes about producing such complex paintings. From the moment of commissioning he explains in detail about researching the historical background, which would include getting the important matter of flags right, setting of the scene, deciding on the weather conditions even before setting about the ship. There are many types of rig and over the centuries rigging has changed in many respects so a marine artist specialising in historical sailing ships has to have a vast knowledge of standing and running rigging and when and what changes were made.

He handles the matter of references of every sort and how he changes a large quantity of drawings, etc. into a handy file that does not overwhelm his studio. In the chapter on reference and research he shows examples of his initial sketches and even simple paper and balsa wood models which indicate light sources and shadows. This book is about sails in all conditions, so sketches of how sails are folded or furled are included as vital elements in the production of a marine painting. The subject of materials is covered well. Various types of paper, boards and canvases are discussed along with the medium to be used, ink, watercolour, acrylic, oil paint, etc.

Above all, Roy Cross makes his ships 'sit' in the water as if they are displacing their weight in this element, not looking as if they are about to take off: This book is a firm must for any budding marine artist, illustrator, ship modeller or anyone who just enjoys beautiful, realistic ship paintings by an artist who has an obvious love of his subject.

John Batchelor: Wimborne, Dorset