Below you find a growing list of aviation and aviation related books I have read and liked. For my reviews about ‘other’ World War 2 books, check out the ‘WW2 Books Reviews’ page.

Now that my age provides me with more time to read, please check back regularly, for I will add to the list all through the year.

 


Aces, Airmen and The Biggin Hill Wing (Hardback)

A Collective Memoir 1941 – 1942

By Jon Tan, Foreword by Squadron Leader Geoffrey Wellum DFC

Lets get this statement out first: This is one of the very best books I have read lately. Period.

Jon Tan tells the story of his grandfather, David Raymond Davies, who was an armourer at Biggin Hill Airbase in the years 1941-1942, using his grandfather’s memories and stories.

But he does much more than just that. Jon has made it a ‘reading’ book! His great descriptive way of writing takes us THERE. It lets us feel the cold winter nights when the airmen (ground crews) slip through the base’s fence to have a few pints in the local pub, returning through the English nightly fog for a few hours of sleep before preparing the fighters for yet another day of operations over the Channel, England and France.
It shows us the enormous effort going on on the ground to keep the aircraft flying and fighting. It goes way beyond the ‘usual’ descriptions of the Battle of Britain stories that more often than not only tell about the aerial fights from a pilot’s point of view.

Oh yes, the story uses much more than just Davies’ memories. It also draws extensively on other documentation, eye witness views from pilots and other airmen. It tells about many individual battles in the air, drawn up from interviews with the pilots. And it mentions the famous aces like Sailor Malan and the likes, but it also tells the story of the many other pilots that fought for Britains, and indeed Europe’s freedom alongside those aces.
It also tracks all of the units and their staff based in and out of Biggin in those years, providing a good historical overview in that sense.

But most of all it shows us what life in the south of England was like on an airbase at war, in a most lively way that really sets this book apart !

Get it here from the publisher direct !

Imprint: Pen & Sword Aviation
Pages: 250
ISBN: 9781473881693
Published: 2nd November 2016


Night Duel over Germany

Bomber Command’s Battle over The Reich during WW2

By Peter Jacobs

This is a fascinating book that tells about the Bomber Command’s nightly attacks on Germany, and of the German night fighters trying to prevent that from happening. With our current state of affairs in our digital age, with mind boggling electronics and miniaturization ever progressing, the tools that were invented, developed and used back then during those WW2 years were extremely crude. But, they worked, in an ever increasing way.
And on both sides, too.

The book explains the techniques used in the new radar systems like the British Gee and Oboe navigation systems, the German ground based systems like Freya and Würzburg, the Spanner Anlage in-plane infrared targeting system, the Liechtenstein search radar and others.

But it does not only cover the radars and their technique. The book also describes the strategies that evolved, the people behind it all, the politics and, of course the aircraft used and the units they were used by.

It is a real treasure in that sense, as it covers all aspects of the bomber/defender war in-depth in over 18 chapters, and describes what happened on the TWO sides of the conflict.

Very well researched and well written, with a small collection of photos in the center of the book.

 

Imprint: Pen & Sword Aviation
Pages: 208
ISBN: 9781783463374
Published: 27th February 2017

You can order your copy direct from Pen & Sword Books


Great War Fighter Aces 1916 – 1918 (Paperback)

by Norman Franks

The Pen & Sword Images of War series is a wonderful range of books with many photographs. I love the series as a great source for scale modeling.
This particular title, Great War Fighter Aces 1916 – 1918, deals with the last 2 years of the Great War. I particularly like the many photos depicting the various aircraft models used in that period, although the emphasis is on the portraits of the ‘aces’ of course.

The format of these books is ‘lots of photos with extensive captions’,  interspersed with a few textual parts starting each chapter. Although the texts are not very long, they are concise and covering a lot of the organization of the units and their members.
So one can learn what units were involved where, their composition and used aircraft types, and of course who was flying with which unit.

As mentioned before, the emphasis of the book is on the aces, the pilots with the most ‘kills’, and that’s fine. Also because there are quite a few pilots mentioned that are less well known. This is not only about the Richthofen’s, Guynemer’s and other famous aces!

At less than 10 British Pounds, this is a great book to own if you are interested in WW1 military aviation !

 

Imprint: Pen & Sword Aviation
Series: Images of War Books
Pages: 123
ISBN: 9781473861268
Published: 2nd March 2017
Order your copy here from Pen & Sword’s webshop


Voices in Flight: RAF Fighter Pilots in WW II (Hardback)

By Martin Bowman

Excellent book by Martin Bowman about the (mostly young) RAF fighter pilots that battled the German Luftwaffe in the second world war. The book consists of scores of first hand accounts by the flyers themselves about their air battles and lives in that period.
Lots of famous names, but also lots of names you’ve never heard of. ALL did a splendid job in a very difficult time in history. It is also interesting to see how many non-UK pilots took part in the battles. Even Americans that volunteered long before the US was officially engaged in the war !

There are no less than 23 chapters in the book and 250 pages. One may think that this is all about the ‘Battle of Britain’ period, the Summer of 1940, but that’s not the case. Other periods and battles are covered too, such as the Battle of Malta, night fighting, the rather strange ‘Defiant’ aircraft and its pilots and many more.

There’s also a ton of interesting photos included, showing many of the pilots and their aircraft !

This is a very well researched book (as the many end notes show!)

Order your copy here !

Imprint: Pen & Sword Aviation
Series: Voices in Flight
Pages: 250
ISBN: 9781783831920
Published: 12th August 2015


HEINKEL He 111 (Paperback)

The Early Years – Fall of France, Battle of Britain and the Blitz

by Chris Goss

A book of the series Air War Archive and chockful with photos from the early years of the war and the faith of many Heinkel He’s 111.
This aircraft first saw action in the Spanish civil war in 1936 and was already ‘old’ by the time Germany invaded it’s western neighbours. But still, it stayed in service and was widely utilized for many types of bombing missions.

As the many photos in this paperback show, many of those sorties ended dramatically. The book gives a good account of the faith of many particular aircraft (and their crews) and is a great source for scale modelers and historians.

Maybe a bit less for aviation buffs and simulator fans, as there is precious little information on the aircraft itself. No photos of cockpits and loads, no colour schemes and indexes of unit markings, etc.

Still, a great book for reference and showing the aircraft’s operational life through many unique photos, with good information accompanying the pictures!

Below are some on-line sources to complement the book, as well as two links to other Heinkel books by Pen & Sword.

A Wikipedia article on the Heinkel He 111

An interesting Youtube clip of the only (then) flyable survivor

Two more P&S titles to check out:

A DVD on the aircraft.

And the story of the Spanish Civil War and the Condor Legion

Frontline Books
Series: Air War Archive
Pages: 146
ISBN: 9781848324831
Published: 30th January 2017

Order your copy here !


American Airline’s Secret War in China (Paperback)

By Leland Shanle

Truly one of the best books I’ve read last year !! Yes, because it is about WW2. And yes, because it is about aviation. And yes, because it is about DC-3’s. Three of my main pet subjects for over half a century…. BUT that’s not all. It is especially good because of the way it is written.
It reads like an adventure novel, and Leland Shanle has a wonderful way of describing things. You really feel THERE all the time.
On top of that he describes the operation of the DC-3 in great detail and with much knowledge, making it all the more enjoyable.

‘Flying the Hump’ is probably a term that many people have heard one time or other, without really knowing what it was about. Leland’s book describes EXACTLY what it was about, what happened and why. It is the story of civilian airline pilots (although most were ex-airforce) taking it upon them to embark on a very dangerous military mission, aimed at keeping the Japanese from overrunning India in their thrust westward.
Roosevelt was hoping to stop the Japanese on the eastern side of the Himalayan range and support the Chinese and Burmese in their fight against the invaders.
The ‘hump’ was the Himalayan range of towering mountains, that the DC-3’s could only just manage.

If you want to learn about that incredible adventure, learn about the challenges of flying old prop aircraft in one of the most forbidden regions of the world AND read a breathtaking aviation novel, this book is most certainly for you !

Imprint: Pen & Sword Aviation
Pages: 244
ISBN: 9781473887718
Published: 31st October 2016

Click here to buy it directly from the publisher !


cover-airfields-dday-101538Airfields of the D-Day Invasion Air Force (Paperback)

2nd Tactical Air Force in South-East England in WWII

By Peter Jacobs

A book for researchers, tourists and history buffs alike !
For most people when we say ‘D-Day’, the pictures of the French beaches, smoke, men running through waves, landing craft and bunkers come to mind. The actual landings. But BEFORE that morning of the 6th of June a LOT of preparations were needed and these started well over a year ahead.

One of the things needed to make it a success, was air superiority. And once that was achieved, the tactical use of aircraft, i.e. supporting the troops on the ground, was paramount. That meant many aircraft overhead, long before the actual landings took place, just to take the German Luftwaffe out of the game. But also to bomb any fortress, bunker and machine gun nest known that could interfere with the landing troops.

For this the Allies needed many airfields, in England, from which the air forces could reach France. This book by Peter Jacobs is about those, mostly temporary, airfields in the South-East of England, used by the special 2nd Air Force !

The book starts with a really interesting overview of how 2nd Tactical Air force came to be, who its leaders were and how it developed. Chapter 2 is about D-Day itself and the effects of the 2nd TAF’s operations in particular. An interesting read too.

From Chapter 3 onwards Peter Jacobs starts telling about the specific airfields. In alphabetical order within geographical chapters. Chapter 3 is called ‘Airfields of Essex, Hertfordshire and East Anglia and covers 5 airfields. From here on Peter describes each airfield in detail, its history, where it was and what is left today (if anything), the operations that took place and the units that used it. Every chapter has many photos, from yesteryear AND of the current situation on many of these (former) fields.

This was a great read and a wonderful ‘look-up’ book when researching or visiting England !

Imprint: Pen & Sword Aviation
Series: Aviation Heritage Trail
Pages: 224
ISBN: 9781844159000
Published: 17th September 2009
Last Released: 14th October 2009

Get it DIRECT from the publisher – Click This Line

 


 

cover-apache-12390Apache over Libya (Hardback)

By Will Laidlaw

After the Bell UH-1D ‘Huey’ – my favorite – the Apache is probably the most distinct ‘army’ helicopter in the world. We see them quite often in news flashes and magazines. But reading about their actual combat use is rare. So Will Laidlaw’s book most certainly fills a gap here.

This is the story of a British pilot who wanted to prove the capability of the Apache being flown from Navy ships instead of from ground bases. When he finally gets his way and they head out to an exercise and ‘proof of concept’ training mission in the Mediterranean, they soon find themselves in the midst of the armed conflict in Libya, where the NATO starts an air campaign to support Gaddafi’s opposition in the local civil war.

What follows is the account of many hair raising missions over Libyan territory, behind enemy lines, mostly at night…. It is extremely interesting to read how the pilots trained, how they prepared their missions and how they managed to beat Gaddafi’s considerable – Russian – air defenses AND inflicted heavy losses on the enemy, thus being instrumental in the progress of the ground war!

Not only are the missions described in much detail, taking the reader along in the cockpit over the dark desert with missiles streaking over and underneath, the book also has quite a number of good maps showing where the action took place and it has a center section with many photographs.

This was so different from WW2 aerial fighting ! Flying at treetop level, facing adversaries driving Toyota pickups with anti-aircraft guns and shoulder fired AA weapons. Not to mention the much more advanced Soviet AA missiles that Gaddafi also had… and used !

The book reads as a breathtaking novel, but everything that is described actually really happened!

Also very much worth notable is that the proceeds of this book will go to two British military charities, the Combat Stress and the SSAFA !

Warmly recommended !

 

Apache over Libya (Hardback)

By Will Laidlaw
Imprint: Pen & Sword Aviation
Pages: 180
ISBN: 9781473867628
Published: 5th April 2016

ORDER it here directly from the publisher !

 


 

russhelo-cover-5811Russian Gunship Helicopters

by Yefim Gordon

Recently I was introduced to the FlightCraft series of Pen and Sword Books. This is an interesting series aimed at not only aviation enthusiasts, but more in specific to aviation scale modelers and researchers as well.

I ordered the Russian Gunship Helicopters title, by Yefim Gordon and Dimitriy Komissarov. It covers 3 distinct models of Russian attack helicopters. The ‘obvious’ Mil MI-24 ‘Hind’, but also the lesser known Mil MI-28 and the Kamov KA-52 (that’s one with counter-rotating main rotors).

The book is a great resource with extensive information on the development of the various types and many many great photographs. But that’s not all….. the second part of each chapter is made up of a review of various plastic model kits of the various helos. In this case including a few unknown (to me) Russian kit manufacturers as well as the more obvious ones like Airfix, Tamiya, Revell and the likes.

Also included are 3D drawings showing much detail and scale of the helicopters and reasonably well suited for 3D digital designers.

Last but not least there are pages full of detailed color schemes of each model, allowing the kit builders to properly color their models on completion.

I chose this particular title because there are already so many books about all the more mainstream (read: western powers) military aircraft that it would have been ‘just another book’ to me. But looking into a more exotic subject such as these Soviet machines not only provided me with some unknown information, it also was a good ‘test’ of the book series.

Test successfully completed…. I recommend this book to any (military) aviation enthusiast and especially to all kit builders wanting to dig into some Soviet fighting machines!

In short:

Flight Craft: Russian Gunship Helicopters
by Yefim Gordon

Imprint: Pen & Sword Aviation
Found in: Aviation History Books Aviation Reference Books
Series: Flight Craft Paperback
96 pages
ISBN: 9781781592823
Published: 4 November 2013

Order it directly from the Publisher here.

 


Luftwaffe-Reich-104951Luftwaffe Over Germany

By Don Caldwell, Richard Muller

Don Caldwell and Richard Muller have managed to compile a wonderful book on the Luftwaffe’s WW2 operations (German Air Force) and its struggle to defend Germany from the Allied bomber attacks. The book has a very concise sequence of topics and therefore also greatly enhances the option to ‘look up’ particular periods or events.

The 160 photos included show many aspects of the battle from the German side, and quite a few were new to me! There are always two sides to a conflict and I feel the allied side of WW2 has been more thoroughly documented than the German/Italian side…. of course the conqueror of any conflict defines the documentation and history of it. So this book is a welcome addition to ‘the other side’ of the story.

Not only does it clearly show what the Germans were doing and planning in order to try and win their war, it also shows why they ultimately failed.
Through the stories of the various defense actions and systems, one also gets a good look at the allied bomber offensive, that the Luftwaffe was ultimately trying to stop.

Of course there is much more to be told about the German air force than covered here, but the subtitle of this particular book is ‘Defense of the Reich’, and so the emphasis is clearly on that particular task. Which was a huge task at that and as we now all know, impossible to succeed in.

The book has been excellently researched and I particularly like the appendices that include such interesting parts as the day-fighter order of battle, a very extensive list of used sources (where I already found some more interesting books) and a good index.

A guarantee for many nights of interesting reading !

The book is available here at Pen & Sword Publishing.

Luftwaffe Over Germany (Hardback)
Defense of the Reich
By Don Caldwell, Richard Muller
Frontline Publishing
Pages: 336
ISBN: 9781848327412
Published: 4th February 2014

 


lancastercover

Luck of a Lancaster

by Gordon Thorburn

“….During her career, well over two hundred airmen flew in J. None were killed while doing so, but ninety-six of them died in other aircraft. This is their story, and the story of one lucky Lancaster…..”.

200 pages, hard cover. That may not seem like much. It is less than one page for every man that served on the Lancaster bomber with registration W4964, WS-J, aka J-Johnny Walker. Still, it took me quite some time to read the book. Where ‘read’ is probably not the proper word. I rather ‘researched’ it. And that takes time.

Lancaster W4964 beat all the odds, seeing that it performed well for over 2 years – from April 1943 till October 1944, made 107 operational flights in that period, and survived the war….. and even the century ! Average lifespan for a Lancaster in front-line duty at that time was 22,75 flights only !

Gordon Thorburn has researched the book well and takes the reader on a chronological trip through the aircraft’s life, explaining backgrounds of missions, telling the story of quite a few of the crew members, sidestepping every once in a while to tell more about the war that was going on and also mentioning other flights and aircraft that Johnny Walker crews served on.

When I said I ‘researched’ instead of read, I mean that it takes concentration to read the book. I put it down a few times because just continuing to read of one mission after the other can get tedious. Also, I found that it worked best to look up some of the places described when going through the chapters. The places they flew from and the places they flew to and over! The book has quite a few good and interesting photographs itself, but I used some other sources next to it to see where it all happened.

Apart from a huge range of bare facts and figures that could be read as a timetable of operations, Gordon also describes a lot of the action in such a way that the sheer magnitude of the operations is made clear to the reader.

After finishing the book one cannot but admire these pilots and crews for their bravery, and in most cases, yes, their sheer luck to survive. In that respect W4964 sure beats them all ! A remarkable tale of history!

In short:

Luck of a Lancaster
107 operations, 244 crew, 103 killed in action

by Gordon Thorburn
Imprint: Pen & Sword Aviation
Hardback
200 pages
ISBN: 9781781590737
Published: 20 May 2013

£15.99 instead of   £19.99

You can get it direct from the publisher here !

 


PS-3832Pen & Sword from the UK sent me another bunch of books to review and I’ll be happy to share my findings with you. One of them is by Don Berliner, titled

Surviving Trainer and Transport Aircraft of the World

This is actually part three of a 3-volume series on surviving World War 2 aircraft. The reason I like it is that not so many people know about these wonderful aircraft that in many instances were even MORE important to the outcome of the war then all the iconic and better known aircraft such as the Focke Wulfs, Spitfires, Hurricanes and Messerschmitts together!

Let’s face it; without trainer aircraft there would not have been pilots to fly the fighters and bombers….. or not enough aircraft remaining in one piece to fight with. And without transport aircraft those huge armies would have been starved of food and ammo long before they got to end their fights.

Don Berliner’s book covers surviving aircraft like transports, trainers, recce planes, liaison and utility aircraft, gliders, amphibian and even a few early helicopters. And not only from the US. Countries of origin and/or location vary from the US and UK to Germany, Russia, Spain, Italy and many others. Obviously the book is by no means covering ALL types and models, but it does give a very reasonable overview of everything that was used in the above categories.

The order of subjects is by category and within each category by country of origin. Of course the US is best represented since after all they must gave had the largest arsenal and highest volume of production, even before the war started. Since it is relatively cheap to own and fly an aircraft in the US compared to most other countries in the world, it is also the country were most old aircraft could be restored and kept flying…. even today! And yes, us European (vintage) aviation enthusiasts are suitably jealous of that.

Don provides a description of each aircraft, including the history of coming into being. The depth of these descriptions vary. Of some of the aircraft not much is known, or knowledge has been lost over time. Others are well documented. The same is true for the pictures.
A little disappointing is NOT to have a picture with EACH aircraft. I guess it has to do with copyrights, because on today’s all-knowing Internet there certainly are pictures of everything ever produced. I also found it a pity that none of the photos have captions….. as to where and what is portrayed.

A definite bonus is the fact that surviving examples are listed including the location and organization owning them. I already have made some notes of places I MUST go some time in future! Together with the usual specifications list the book provides a very good overview of these type of aircraft and no doubt will also pop up a few aircraft that many of us had not heard of before !

The book comes in oblong format, has many colour photos, albeit a bit small, has 185 pages printed on excellent paper and is now available at GBP 15,99 instead of 19,99. It can even be had for only GBP 13.59 if you sign up to the Platinum Membership of Pen and Sword !

The book is available from the Pen and Sword on-line shop here.

By Don Berliner
Imprint: Pen & Sword Aviation
Pages: 186
ISBN: 9781781591062
Published: 20th May 2013