The late Mike Crosley has the distinction of being not just a bold pilot but surviving to become an old one. He joined the Fleet Air Arm from the police on what was to become Taranto Night, and after a year of training joined Eagle as a Sea Hurricane pilot at the beginning of 1942. Surviving the HARPOON and PEDESTAL Malta reinforcement convoys, and Eagle's sinking, he flew from Biter (and the ill-found and ill-fated Dasher) for the TORCH landings at Oran. Transferring to Seafires he flew from Lee in support of the Normandy landings and then, as a 24 year old Acting Lieutenant Commander, was appointed in command of 880 squadron. 880 flew in operations off Norway from Furious and then from the grossly overcrowded Implacable, reembarking in the latter in March 1945 and sailing for the East, where she and 880 commenced operations against Japan four weeks before the surrender.
Crosley's skill, determination and leadership more than earned him the two DSCs and the Mention with which he emerged from the war. He went on to a regular RN commission and retired as a Commander.
Besides taking the reader through the details of operations and training Crosley gives us, drawing on his deep technical insights as the test pilot he later became, intimate details of the Seafire and the problems arising from the huge improvements made in a very short time to Mitchell's original and perfect design. He shows how many of the aircrew losses attributed to pilot error or flak were in fact due to defects in the aircraft itself, which in many circumstances could be a death trap. The most obvious was the effect of slamming down onto a carrier an undercarriage designed for wheeler landings on grass. But there was nothing else; the superior American aircraft could not be stowed in the ‘improved’ hangarage in Implacable and Indefatigable.
We also get detail on the RN’s inferiority to the USN in almost equipment aspect that comes to mind (and the FAA's poor relation status vis á vis the RAF). As far as the FAA is concerned this is laid squarely at the door of admirals and a naval staff who simply didn’t understand naval aviation, and so also defects in the use, management and leadership of naval aviation and aviators during the war, culminating in worked examples with Vian in the Pacific. Crosley’s analysis of the causes of our losing ships in the Falklands War of 1982 is not pretty, but should be essential reading.
It's not all work and no play; Crosley's finely honed sense of the ridiculous is a joy to read and beautifully expressed as he brings us the level of farce that supervenes in all naval affairs, and spins us one anecdote after another; I don't often end up laughing out loud when I read a book but it happened with this one. The personal and technical accounts are very skilfully interwoven.
Battleships, Gunnery Officers, admirals, the regular RN and fish heads generally did not cut it with the young RNVR(A) Crosley, but he does explain why, very plausibly.
The photographs are interesting and add to the book, but seem to be placed in no particular order, and in one of them 1950s Seahawks and Wyverns are masquerading as 1940s Seafires.
This edition concludes with a brief narrative by his widow of Crosley’s personal life, illustrated by some of his letters home, which bring us more of Crosley in the round.
I enormously enjoyed this very welcome reprint of the 1986 original.