This is a rattling good read, as history and as a Boys' Own adventure story. Rowland White manages to draw together the big picture of the Falklands War and the personal experiences of the crews into a coherent, compelling whole. You will not regret time spent with this book.
Hitting back after the Falklands invasion by the Argentinians in 1982 was always going to be a tricky business, but this book explains just how tricky - and how damned dangerous too. As world events unfold the book sets out the RAF idea to bomb the airfield at Stanley to stop any Argentine fighters using it during any campaign to recapture the islands. The problem is that attacking the Falklands means flying an insane distance in 20-year-old Vulcan bombers that were not designed to drop conventional bombs, refuel several times on the journey, penetrate modern NATO-style air defences in a bomber that has very old electronics designed to counter Warsaw Pact AA weapons, hit a small target without having adequate maps or intelligence - and a dodgy navigation system - and then get home again. Easy. Not.
The run-up and the mission itself have all the elements of a techno-thriller. The Red Flag exercises in the US set the scene by showing that the RAF's antiquated best can give even the highest of hi-tech air forces a run for its money. The crisis erupts, and suitable Vulcans have to be found with the right mix of avionics, engines and airframe - not easy, given that each plane was virtually hand built and bits from one don't necessarily fit on another. When the right planes are found, they have to be improved from spares, scrap and museum displays. There's more than a touch of the Star Trek-style "I canna change the laws of physics" in the way the ground crews make-do-and-mend-with-Araldite to get the planes in the air with the right gear. Meanwhile, the bomber crews have to learn how to do air-to-air refueling in the dark at high speed and with only a couple of weeks' practice. The Victor tanker crews have to do the same, because they are used to refueling small aircraft - they also have to practice Victor-to-Victor refueling as well, because the misson profile calls for tankers to be used for the tankers which in turn refuel a tanker for the final bomber run in, otherwise everyone's mission will become horribly one-way.
The heroes are the RAF crews, air and ground alike. The heroine is the V-bomber itself - an old warhorse, finally used in anger just before it is due to be scrapped. And as you might expect, this kind of thing is now beyond UK defence capabilities.
At the end of it all, you're left with a sense of gratitude that people will set off on missions like this, and then press as things go wrong. I wonder if the movie rights have been sold yet...