Grub Street, Books reviewed in 2009
A Separate Little War
Edition: Revised and Updated
Author: Andrew D Bird
Publishers: Grub Street
Publication Date: 30th Sept 2008
The Banff Coastal Command Strike Wing versus the Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe 1944-1945.
Every day for nine months from September 1944, young British Commonwealth and Norwegian airmen flew from Banff, Fraserburgh and Peterhead in northern Scotland to target German U-Boats, merchantmen and freighters in the fjords and leads of southwest Norway, encountering the Luftwaffe and flakships every step of the way.
Truly this was a war within a war, bitter and bloody, at low level and close quarters. By recording their crucial contribution to winning the world war, in a compelling, accurate and fascinating way, Andrew Bird has ensured their memory will not be overlooked.
A fully updated edition with new photographic material.
'An impressive study of a largely forgotten air campaign. Thoroughly researched and full of first-hand accounts... paints a vivid picture of a bitter and costly campaign.'Eastern Daily Press
From the Introduction
Germany invaded Norway on 9 April 1940, an operation codenamed Weseruburg'. The occupation of Scandinavia had begun. The British landed troops on 15 April but after several weeks of fierce fighting the men were forced to withdraw when the German Blitzkrieg left Britain isolated in Europe. One of Hitler's desires after conquering these small nations was to guarantee Germany's ore base, as her armaments and munitions factories were largely dependent on the high quality iron ore which was mined in northern Sweden. It was then transported to Germany's industrial centre in the Ruhr by two routes, the most important of which was over the mountains using a rail link to the ice-free port of Narvik in Norway. From the port it was shipped along a route in between the numerous islands, down the rugged Norwegian coastline, then directly across the North Sea to the well-equipped harbours in the Netherlands. Self-propelled barges then carried the ore up the Rhine to the various factories located in the Ruhr and Saar. In return, Germany exported vast quantities of coal and coke, by the same shipping routes.
There were other natural resources to be found in Norway. Nickel, used for armour plating and armour piercing rounds, was mined in the country, further supplies coming from Lapland in Finland. Norwegian molybdenum for hardening steel, iron pyrites for sulphuric acid, and aluminium produced by the power from the Norwegian hydro-electric stations were all invaluable to Germany's bid for world domination.
With Germany's occupation of Europe after the Blitzkrieg, her coastline was extensive, from the Artic Circle to the Franco-Spanish border. Its length was vast. The Norwegian coastline alone was 2,100 miles long, if the Leads and islands were included, the extent was 16,500 miles, half the circumference of the globe. Along the whole of this coastline Germany plied captured merchantmen from France, Holland, Denmark and Norway, almost with impunity in 1940.
Responsibility for attacking enemy vessels from the air resided mainly with RAF Coastal Command and the Fleet Air Arm. In September 1939 the Coastal Command alike force consisted of two squadrons of obsolete bi-planes, in addition there were eight Avro Ansons, which were quite unsuitable for the role as strike aircraft. There tat also two squadrons of Lockheed Hudsons, a twin-engine monoplane, which assumed the assignment of bombing enemy surface ships.
With such an inadequate strike force in the early part of the war, Coastal Command were given three squadrons of Bristol Blenheims by the Royal Air Force.
Illingworth's War in Cartoons
One hundred of his greatest drawings 1939 - 1945
Author: Mark Bryant
Publishers: Grub Street
Publication Date: 31/08/09
Publisher's Title Information
Leslie Illingworth was one of the most distinguished British political cartoonists of the 20th century and remains for many 'the cartoonists' cartoonist'. Yet though his career spanned more than 50 years - longer than either of his great contemporaries Sir David Low and Vicky - very little has been published about his life and works. Some of Illingworth's best cartoons were published for the Daily Mail during the Second World War (examples were even found in Hitler's bunker) and this book collects together for the first time 100 of his greatest to mark the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of the conflict.
Illingworth joined the Daily Mail soon after the war started, and remained with the paper for 30 years. A superb draughtsman and an acute political commentator, he also drew weekly for Punch for two decades. The magazine's editor Malcolm Muggeridge even felt that his cartoons were better than Low's: 'Illingworth's go deeper, becoming, at their best, satire in the grand style rather than mischievous quips'.
A student under Sir William Rothenstein at the Royal College of Art during one of its most brilliant periods - fellow students included Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore and Eric Ravilious - he left to become full-time political cartoonist on Wales' national paper, the Western Mail, at the age of only 19.
A founding member and the first President of the British Cartoonists' Association in 1966, he was made an Honorary Doctor of Literature by the University of Kent in 1975. In addition he drew for American publications - including a famous cover for Time magazine - and was officially presented to US President L.B. Johnson in 1968.
This unique collection is divided into chapters covering the war year-by-year and the book draws extensively on archive material held at the National Library of Wales and only recently catalogued in association with the British Cartoon Archive at the University of Kent. It also contains the first biography of Illingworth based on unique access to hitherto unavailable family records.
By the author of World War II in Cartoons.
Dr Mark Bryant was born in Dorset, is a philosophy graduate of London University and has a PhD in History from the University of Kent. After more than a decade as an editor in literary and academic book publishing he turned freelance in 1987, working as an editor, writer, journalist and exhibition curator. He is a former director of the London Press Club, of which he was Secretary (and editor of its magazine, Press News) for eight years. He has written regularly for History Today (since 2005) and contributed to the Independent, Tribune, Art Quarterly, Guardian, Press News, Parliamentary Brief The Oldie, The Lady and Journal of European Studies amongst others. In addition, he is the author of several books, including Dictionary of 20th Century British Cartoonists & Caricaturists, Dictionary of Riddles (Special Commendation in Best Specialist Reference Book Awards 1990), Private Lives: Curious Facts About the Famous and Infamous and World War II in Cartoons. He has also edited/compiled a number of short-story anthologies and contributed articles to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Encarta Encyclopaedia and other reference works.
From the Forward
Illingworth applied for the post of cartoonist in 1939 and throughout the war he produced four cartoons a week for the Daily Mail and occasionally some for Punch: that was a demanding schedule. His cartoons became so well-known that the Nazis put his name on the Gestapo death-list. The actual cartoons are very finely drawn they are the work essentially of an illustrator: precise, careful and meticulous for, after all, he had earned his living as an illustrator in the 1930s.
One of his great advantages was that he had actually seen Hitler and Goering in person which made his drawings more vivid and accurate. Hitler is shown as an over-active maniac and Goering as a relentless juggernaut. The Nazis were generally depicted in his cartoons as a bunch of slaughtering tyrants, often in the guise of Death. One of the most chilling was in 1941 when the figure of Justice, dressed in a Nazi uniform, weighs the balance between Nazi oppression and the execution by firing squad of fifty French citizens as a reprisal for the murder of Lieutenant-Colonel Holz, the German Commandant of Nantes.
There are many other memorable images: after the fall of France in July 1940 Hitler advances as a dentist upon John Bull, the last, awkward, aching tooth, but he will never be pulled out; Napoleon's ghost on the shore at Calais saving, 'That's as far as I got, Adolf'; and after the Battle of Stalingrad Stalin is a great porcupine resisting Hitler's German Shepherd.
These patriotic cartoons remind you of their powerful impact when our country was fighting for its life. There are no shades of grey: black and white are the colours, and black and white is the choice between good and evil. The Nazis were evil and had to be stopped and that can be portrayed more vividly in a drawing than five column inches of print. There is no doubt that Illingworth's constant reminder of the threat facing us in 1939-45 helped to galvanise the national spirit of the British people. We should all be grateful to Mark Bryant as the pioneer in bringing the work of Leslie Illingworth to a wider audience.
Ship Busters! - A Classic Account of RAF Torpedo-Bombers in WWII
Edition: 2009 (1st Published in 1957 by Chatto & Windus Ltd London)
Author: Ralph Barker
Publishers: Grub Street
Publication Date: May 2009
Publisher's Title Information
Low-level strikes against enemy shipping by torpedo-carrying aircraft were perhaps the most dangerous forms of air attack developed during WWII, and few isolated actions had such a direct impact on the outcome of the war. This book tells the story of the RAF men involved, from the early attacks by single Beauforts off the Dutch and Norwegian coasts to the massed assaults of later years by the famous 'strike-wings'.
The author, who joined the RAF in 1940 as a wireless operator/ air gunner, and served in the UK, Middle East and West Africa, and whose career on torpedo work ended in a crash in which his pilot and navigator were killed, is eminently qualified to write this book. He includes many historic actions; the lone moonlight attack by a 22-year-old flight sergeant on the pocket-battleship Latzow; the torpedoing of the Gneisenau in Brest harbour; the Channel Dash of the Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Prinz Eugen and the heroic Swordfish attacks; and the vital strikes from Malta in 1942 against the Italian fleet and the supply shipping of the Afrika Korps.
The result is a fascinating book, vivid in its true picture of aircrew life, stirring in its descriptions of heroic actions, intensely moving in its record of human endeavour.
First published in 1957 this is an absolutely epic account brought back to entertain a fresh audience, with a new introduction by the author.
Ralph Barker was born in 1917 and educated at Hounslow College. In 1940 he joined the RAF as a wireless-operator/air gunner, but a brief career on Coastal Command Beauforts in the Middle East was cut short by a crash in which his pilot and navigator were killed. After hospitalisation he was grounded, but he got back to flying with overseas ferry units and in Europe with Transport Command. On demobilization, he returned to banking for a year, then went into civil aviation as a radio officer. At the end of 1948 he rejoined the RAF and was posted to Germany as a Public Relations Officer on the Berlin Airlift. He worked on the official airlift history. After two years broadcasting with the British Forces Network in Hamburg, he was transferred to the Air Ministry in 1953 to work on war narratives. In this period he published three books. After various postings as an Intelligence Officer, he retired in 1961 to write full time.
In 50 years as a published writer, his best-known RAF books are Down in the Drink (1955), The Ship Busters (1957), Strike Hard, Strike Sure (1963, recently republished) The Thousand Plan (1965), The Schneider Trophy Races (1971), The Hurricats (1978), The RAF at War (1981) and That Eternal Summer (1990). From 1955 to 1988 - over 30 years - he was a regular feature writer for the London Sunday Express.
Ship Busters! is the exciting story of the RAF torpedo-bombers and the men who flew them. Here is a vivid picture of aircrew life - stirring in its descriptions of heroic actions; intensely moving in its record of human endeavour. A hitherto unsaluted band of heroes emerges as the epic story unfolds.
"A first-class story...some of the bravest stories ever to emerge from the Second World War." RAF Flying Review
This book was first published in 1957. It says on the inside fly-leaf of the cover that it is now published with a new Introduction by the author. However, there is an exciting preamble - 'The Beauforts', which sets the scene to describe the book, which will hold your concentration from start to finish.
The story starts not far from where I am sitting now, at Chivenor, North Devon. These are the men who attacked ships with the Beauforts, a development of the Bristol Blenheim, armed with Torpedoes.
The Prologue tells us that the attack on Scharnhorst used bombs, because torpedoes were not available. Next it was the turn of the Lutzow (which started the war under the name of Deutschland) a German Pocket Battleship, to be attacked. With a combination of skill, persistence and a little luck, one aircraft found her and damaged her enough for docking for five months. The Pilot was Flight Sergeant Ray Loveitt, a 22 year old from Coventry. He is described as 'just a little young Englishman, little more than a boy, the down on his cheeks scarcely turned to stubble the fair hair still crinkling under the grease-laden forage-cap, not a square-jawed, steely-eyed ready-made hero'. Maybe not, but he did the job.
Some of these (22 Squadron) operated out of Thorny Island, where for a time in WWII my father was stationed. As a young man I often went that way by motorcycle and I seem to recall that it was just out of Hampshire, over the harbour bridge into Sussex. It seemed a long way to me, but Dad told me he cycled home to Portsmouth.
We are told that the Beauforts carried out 'Rovers' 'Four days later came the first Rover, which became the standard form of routine operation for many months. The Rover was a roving commission, an armed reconnaissance against enemy shipping in a chosen area, carried out by a small number of aircraft working independently, each with its own area of search. It was born of a general shortage of both strike and reconnaissance aircraft, the Beauforts seeking out their own targets in the known shipping lanes'.
Most Pilots acted with bravery, combined with common sense. However on Page 55 the author referred to 'going hunting' when referring to a Pilot Dick Beauman, who against all odds attacked the Bremen and Europa at Wilhelmshaven. The Pilot got a back-dated DFC. What about the crew? What were the feelings of crew-members towards pilots who exposed them to every imaginable danger? 'A man like Beauman attracted men of a similar temperament into his crew. Crews felt no bitterness towards their drivers. Rather they took a pride in their idiosyncrasies. If their pilot was the kind who sought rather than avoided danger, it was a matter for shooting a line rather than for disaffection. Gibbs had been surprised at the fatalistic way in which his crew had accepted their injuries that night in the dyke. For them, a crash which had been their pilot's fault had been all in a day's work. Being crewed up with a pilot was like marriage. For better, for worse. Till death do us part.
This is a well-written exciting read, which includes details of the 'Channel Dash'. The Scharnhorst and Prinz Eugen got through and we lost a lot of brave men including one Swordfish Pilot Lieutenant Commander Eugene Esmonde, who was awarded the VC.
A book well worth re-publishing.