Half a new series
Close Call is the first of two volumes from Crecy by Vic Flintham on the history, in the Second World War at least, of the RAF and and ground attack; unsurprisingly I shall look forward to the second volume which should take us to VE Day. Apologies for the delay of the review; the book went and hid in the piles of assorted paper that accumulated from the end of November, and I blame the editor for putting this up before he was supposed to. Staff, eh?
Even before the delay that I'd managed to build in, my plan was to write a fairly swift and encouraging review but I found myself gripped from the start by the introduction, and in particular the way the book came about and grew, and this really needs to be read as a background to the main narrative. Following a brief reference to the methods developed by the RFC/RAF by the end of WW I, the preparations ahead of September 1939 are laid out and the shortcomings revealed by the "Phoney War" and the retreat through Dunkirk fully covered. These gave rise to a joint Army/RAF enquiry which took account of the Blitzkreig tactics of the German forces and the consequential measures taken as results of its findings, and resulted in the formation of Army Cooperation Command by the beginning of December. This lasted for less that two years, and its time was largely spent in devising command procedures and tactics for the expected invasion of Europe, leading to the Second Tactical Air Force whose use is not covered here.
Events in the Middle East with the British and Dominion services fighting the armies firstly of Italy and then Germany had in the meantime led to the evolution by the Desert Air Force and the Eighth Army of increasing joint use of their methods and capabilities. The fighting moved backwards and forwards across Libya, with increasing severity with the introduction of the Afrika Korps; tactics were devloped with experience, and with changes of command at all levels on the ground and in the air, and the arrival of improving equipment. Following El Alamein the fighting continued westward until the allied invasion of North West Africa with Exercise Torch, where the air cover was provided by the British and American navies; this also saw the tentative entry of light aircraft of both countries as air observation posts. This volume ends with the surrender of Axis forces in May 1943, and the next will take the story to Sicily, and to the conclusion of the Italian campaign.
This very informative book is to the high Crecy standards of production. The detailed and fascinating text is accompanied by a profuse selection of contemporary photographs, the considerable number from the author's own collection showing the time and depth of research that's been involved. There are many tables of strength and organisation of land and air forces of both sides and appendices on the levels of management and control, a particular boon to those of us who don't understand how armies work, let alone governments. There are also many colour profiles of participating aircraft to please the modellers among us, who should now perhaps start hunting for Taylorcraft/Auster kits. I look forward to the second volume, which may be with us later in spring - I do hope so - and in the meantime there's a feature in the new Aviation Historian 34 by Vic Flintham on the Rover David system which formalised the "cab rank" and which like so many innovations covered in this story was devised and put to use by those very close to, or involved in, the action.
I'm not prejudiced of course but the photos of 112 Squadron's sharkmouths, especially those in colour, are a real bonus!
Just occasionally a stash proves its worth. A couple or so years I picked up the Alley Cat 1/48th resin kit of the prototype Spirfire with of course the serious intent of getting on with it quite quickly and as always Something Else cropped up - I can't remember what, but as always there was an unexpected change in priorities (aren't they all?). I don't think it got properly stashed; it's box seems to have been sharing my room with the workbench and the laptop ever since if frequently changing resting places, taking lessons I suspect from the cat and copying the feline habit of finding new and slightly more comfortable places to curl up. Cats and modelling have shared my workspaces as you may recall from Tailpieces of long ago, Tallulah being our eleventh. I should have foreseen this activity as the kit is by Alley Cat; every so often the box reminded me it was in my line of sight but never quite persuaded me that I should get to work on it until the beginning of the year, when I realised that timing, as so often, would be important.
It's just about to be - at least, at the time I'm writing this - the eighty-fifth anniversary of the Supermarine 300's rollout at Eastleigh and the beginning of the legend, which gave me one good reason for adding another to my recent burst of Spitfires even if the name with which it became more than just famous wasn't to be attached to it for a little while. The resin kit came with a couple of solutions to recent if possibly self-imposed problems; it's in 1:48th which makes it easier for me to handle and to spot the occasional dropped part, and there are fewer parts to drop. The wing is in one piece, and so more or less is the fuselage, though the interior of the cockpit has to be inserted from below; this offered a slight challenge to my diminishing dexterity, and though I hope you won't see it the headrest and bulkhead behind the seat are slightly out of place. The quality of the resin castings was really very good, with very little work need in assembly and minimal filler.
One of the problems that for modellers making K5054 in its early life was its colour, and interpreting the black and white photos of its day has been a fruitful source of discussion. The kit instructions give very clear descriptions of its appearance in its first few weeks, until it appeared in public at Hendon with a large number 2 and a couple of external changes, notably to its rudder for which two alternatives are included. As so often when I've made Spitfires I spent some time referrring to the Eric Morgan and Edward Shacklady "Spitfire the History" - pages 28 and 29 in particular - and to be indubitabl y informed I consulted Neil Robinson. It's not what you know that counts, it's what who you know knows! The instructions describe a yellow/green zinc chromate primer finish, and after one or two test splodges and light stirring I settled on Tamiya's acrylic Royal Light Grey - does anyone know what makes it Royal? - with a smidgen of Humbrol's 226 interior green; I can see the tinge on the model, but it doesn't seem to show on the snaps I've included.
I like the result, and the flaws that I think are there are my doing rather than anyone elses. I was initially nervous about overlaying the black serials on their white backgrounds and ensuring that none of them appeared slightly offset; I timed their application for good morning daylight with a modicum of sun, and the first serious use of my new reading/modelling glasses. The style is so evident on the photos with which I was working that it would have looked quite wrong, and indeed disappointing, if I'd got any of it a millimetre out, and at the end I sat back with a substantial dose of smug. I have another personal reason for the timing which I've imposed on this, to which I may return in a couple of weeks; but making it did remind me that Eastleigh was where I learned to fly the Tiger Moth only seventeen years after K5054 got airborne; time, as they say, flies!
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