At the outbreak of WW2 in 1939, only four countries operated aircraft carriers. These were Britain, USA, Japan and France - although the single French carrier Béarn remained interned in Martinique until 1945 when she was used briefly as a transporter and never launched an aircraft in action. Germany did launch the first of two intended aircraft carriers (Graf Zeppelin) in 1938 but that ship was never completed and was eventually scuttled by retreating German forces. Only Britain, USA and Japan, therefore, operated effective carrier forces during that war. Of these, both the USA and Japan employed a far more effective aircraft with single wings whereas the Royal Navy remained loyal to a particular type of biplane called the Swordfish which was commonly known as a `string bag' on account of the construction material and the fact that the double wings were supported by wires.
Nevertheless, in an age where the, then, modern battleship was king, it was this aircraft which attacked the Italian fleet in Taranto harbour in November 1940 destroying one battleship and damaging two more in return for very light casualties. This was the first ever aircraft attack on ships in history where the aircraft were launched at sea. In spite of using obsolete aircraft (Hurricanes and Spitfires were already in service with the RAF), the damage they were able to inflict on the Italian Navy is now accepted as being the first indication of the coming supremacy of naval aviation. In 1941, these same aircraft attacked and disabled the Bismarck - one of the finest and most modern battleships afloat, and, in so doing, brought that mighty ship to the mercy of the chasing British fleet.
In this work, author, historian and former Vice-Admiral B. B. Schofield traces the development of British naval aviation which goes all the way back to involvement with the Wright brothers! At every juncture we have a fascinating account as we learn of the opposition to change, the trials and tribulations with airships and early aircraft and the continuing story all the way through WW1 and the inter-war years. Having set the scene so skilfully, we now find a book divided into two separate accounts. Part One - the Attack on Taranto 1940, is divided into six chapters followed by an Epilogue, a series of plans and eight Appendices which cover such subjects as honours and awards, torpedoes fired, ammunition expended, personnel taking part, details of various aircraft and so forth. This is a book in itself and provides the clearest possible explanation of what occurred.
Part Two - the Loss of the Bismarck 1941, is equally as engaging and commences with its own expertly written introduction which, again, sets the scene perfectly. Another 6 chapters provide a full account of the most famous of all sea-chases - explained from both sides of the conflict. Appendices include senior officers, commanding officers and ships taking part, ship's data (both British and German), air data, torpedoes fired, ammunition expended and honours and awards followed by six diagrams. Both parts of the work have their own acknowledgements and bibliography. The book concludes with an Index. In short, we have two books for the price of one!
I was trying to find a single word to describe my enjoyment of having read the book - riveting, enthralling, fascinating, intriguing all sprang to mind. Truth is, this book is supremely well researched and equally as well written. As an example, the only error I found throughout was the most ridiculous `typo' where Appendix VII is shown as Appendix III on the Contents page. If you can live with that, you really will enjoy this book - and learn a great deal about an obsolete type of aircraft into the bargain.