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Brief History of the Royal Flying Corps in World War I (Brief Histories) [Paperback]

Ralph Barker
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
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Book Description

30 May 2002 Brief Histories
This accessible text tells the story of the most star-studded of fighter squadrons, the RFC, and its part in all the major battles of World War I, from Bloody April 1917, when the squadrons suffered enormous casualties, through Third Ypres and Passchendaele to the chaotic retreat from Ludendorff's offensive. Drawing extensively from letters and diaries of the men who took part, Ralph Barker creates a bird's eye view of the battleground from the menacing skies above France and brings fresh off the page the exhiliration of combat, the debility of the "shakes", the grit of observers and gunners, the strain of low-level flying, the bonding of pilot and ground mechanic, and the awareness of tragedy as brave men gave their lives.

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Brief History of the Royal Flying Corps in World War I (Brief Histories) + Open Cockpit + Somme Success: The Royal Flying Corps and the Battle of the Somme 1916
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Product details

  • Paperback: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Constable & Robinson Ltd. (30 May 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1841194700
  • ISBN-13: 978-1841194707
  • Product Dimensions: 19.2 x 13 x 3.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 326,689 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


'Ralph Barker has written a masterly anecdotal history of the flying war over France, and the courageous 'bird-men', who gave such dedicated support to the regiments deadlocked in the trenches beneath them' - Daily Telegraph

About the Author

Ralph Barker joined the RAF in 1940 after a career as a journalist. He is a well known military aviation historian and author of numerous books and articles.

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
This book is AN ABSOLUTE GEM for anyone with even the slightest interest in First World War aviation.
Ralph Barker has written a highly readable and comprehensive account of the development of Britain's Royal Flying Corps (RFC) between August 1914 and March 1918. From the first pages, the reader is made witness to the growing pains of an air arm which, from the onset of war, worked mightily to fulfil the roles given to it by the British Army in France. Whether it was in the areas of reconnaissance, artillery spotting, bombing, and later in the role of achieving aerial supremacy over the battlefield and beyond the lines, the RFC adapted itself well, and in the process, laid the groundwork for the establishment of the world's first independent air force, the Royal Air Force, on April 1, 1918.
This is not a dry history. Mr. Barker also provides through letters and diaries, vivid and poignant accounts from the pilots, observers, and ground crews themselves into what the war was like for them. Thus, the reader is given a full scope into the history and personalities who shaped the RFC. Highly recommended.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Limited Scope 2 Aug 2011
By Al Day
Like the other reviewers I found this book to be very well written account of the war of the air. It gives an excellent insight into the challenges of daily life (and death!) for pilots and observers on the Western Front. Ralph Barker also sets the scene by outlining the plans and execution of the major land battles which the RFC were supporting. Apart from my difficulty in remembering some of the detail of the cross references from chapter to chapter (mainly when he mentions earlier episodes in a particular pilot or observer's life) I enjoyed it very much. It really brought home the horrible nature of the war for airmen.

My enjoyment of this book was however tempered by its limited scope. The title, "A Brief History of the Royal Flying Corps in WW1" suggests that it covers much more than it does. In fact the book is almost entirely concerned with the Western Front. As I was looking for background on squadrons in Africa and the Middle East I was disappointed. A previous edition of this book was in fact called "A History of the RFC in France", which is what this edition should be called too. I deliberately avoided buying the earlier edition, assuming wrongly the book had been expanded. The publisher probably thought it could make an extra bob or two by re(mis)naming it. My knowledge of squadrons in Africa and the Middle East to date comes from "The Royal Flying Corps - A History" by Geoffrey Norris (which Ralph Barker also refers to) and for German East Africa, Leo Walmsley's biography, "Shells and Bright Stones" by Nona Stead, and a chapter in Walmsley's autobiographical book, "So Many Loves".

Secondly I was disappointed to read so little about the approach to pilot and observer training, in particular Smith-Barry's ideas later on. They are mentioned in passing but insufficiently in my view. Again it is perhaps the revised title which is misleading. Joshua Levine's "On a Wing and a Prayer" is so much better in that regard, and also an excellent read.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent with a capital E! 18 Nov 2007
This covers the same ground as Nigel Steel and Peter Hart's Tumult in the Clouds. In fact as both books are superb introductions to the RFC I couldn't recommend one over the other, so buy them both (although Tumult in the Clouds appears to be out of print) - either way you won't be disappointed. It's rare that a subject finds itself covered by two outstandingly well researched books.

It's easy for modern day readers to overlook WW1 aviation, seduced as we are by Spitfires and Tomcats, but the aerial combat was as nasty, fast and vicious as any ever fought - arguably more so given the lack of training and parachutes. Both books explain exactly why the RFC was THE outstanding air arm of the war - unlike the French or the Germans who tended to spread their forces in a vain attempt to cover the whole front line, the RFC concentrated their aircraft over crucial battle zones and thus, despite appalling losses, almost never lost local air superiority over a battlefield. The Red Baron may have grabbed all the headlines but it was the RFC who consistently won the day.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Detailed but very readable history of the RFC 7 Sep 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I bought this book as we are about to go on a trip exploring the RFC in WW1 , in which my grandfather took part (fortunately surviving the war). I knew very little about the RFC, and was horrified at the tremendous loss of very young and inexperienced lives, and deeply impressed by the understated bravery of the young men who flew these early machines.

The book, whilst very detailed, is still an enjoyable read, and I would recommend it to anyone wanting to know about the RFC, which is a rather under-remembered part of the war.
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