IT is well said that you should never judge a book by its cover, however you may safely make an exception in this case, as the marvellously evocative depiction of a Fokker Eindekker in combat with an FE2b is fully matched by the content of this really excellent book.
The author is an oral historian with the Imperial War Museum Sound Archive and has made brilliant use of extended quotations from the stored memories of many of those who flew over the battlefield in 1916, in a BE2c, Morane Parasol, Martinsyde Elephant, Nieuport Scout, FE2b, DH2 or Sopwith 1½ Strutter, as they met the German Fokkers, Albatrosses, Halberstadts, Rolands and LVGs over the fields of northern France.
By this means he conveys to the reader a real sense of what it must have been like to be a pioneer air fighter carrying out reconnaissance, artillery observation, contact patrols, interdiction, longer range bombing missions and air-superiority work – all beyond the British lines.
Events in the air are not described in isolation, with the result that the book contains one of the best concise explanations of what the British High Command was seeking to achieve on the Somme in 1916 and why it did not turn out exactly as either hoped or planned.
The author’s own linking passages reveal his excellent grasp of the evolution of strategy and tactics both in the air and on the ground.
I particularly appreciated the way in which the author focused on the core task of the RFC to support the troops on the ground in every way possible and to maintain the offensive spirit at all costs, despite the balance of power in the air shifting dramatically in the autumn with the introduction of the Albatross single-seaters.
The text is supplemented by many well chosen illustrations, some familiar but others much less so. I have but two minor quibbles – an index would have been nice and the bibliography is not on page 224 of my copy (as the text finishes at page 223).
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would recommend it to serious scholars of First World War aviation history, but also to those just embarking on a study of this ever-fascinating topic and indeed anyone who wishes to be informed, enlightened and entertained.
Somme Success: The Royal Flying Corps and the Battle of the Somme 1916 by Peter Hart. Published by Pen & Sword, Paperback, priced £12.99