5.0 out of 5 stars
I wouldn't change a word of this book, 22 Nov 2013
I was given a copy of Empire of the Clouds by a friend who was a Navy Commander flying helicopters and, latterly, Hunters and Canberras and the glorious aircraft of the Navy's Historic Flight before embarking on an airline job. Both of us are passionate about our country, its aviation heritage and our involvement in it; he urged me to read this book.
Even as a boy growing up in the 50s and 60s aviation played a large part in my life and it gave me a long and exceptionally rewarding career and pastime. I was only 5 years old when the infamous Sandys 1957 White Paper was published but by the time that the Wilson government came to power on the back of their promise to cancel not only the TSR2 but various other projects as well, I was becoming well aware of the incompetence and duplicity of politicians. We could have sold that aircraft to the USAF in the hundreds; quite possibly it would have been a bigger success than either the Canberra or the Harrier. But it was more important that the UK's aircraft industry should be decimated.
Because of the tiny-mindedness of our politicians we were without a proper aircraft carrier when this great country of mine was held to ransom in 1982; that decision to scrap Ark Royal and not to replace her with proper aircraft carriers led directly to the loss of many serving military staff, ships and equipment in the South Atlantic because we had inadequate fighter and airborne early warning cover; but we saved a few bob by scrapping the Ark Royal so that's ok then. The chances are that just the mere act of owning a proper aircraft carrier would have meant that the Falklands War would never have happened in the first place; it's called deterrence and is a basic principle of avoiding war, something which today's politicians refuse to understand.
James Hamilton-Paterson mentions the handing over of drawings and examples of Derwent and Nene engines to the Russians by Stafford Cripps, one of whose advisors, by the way, was Harold Wilson. Incompetence? Wishful thinking? Treason? You decide; I know where my opinion lies. Korean skies were soon filled with British engines. And we never made much capital out of selling our technology to the USA either considering how many of their jet fighters were powered by British engines or their US-built derivatives.
One thing that James Hamilton-Paterson does not cover was the chaotic, illogical and incompetent procurement decisions that led to our Navy and Air Force acquiring squadrons of the most expensive and slowest F-4 Phantoms as they had to be redesigned at great expense to accept the Rolls Royce Spey engine. That inglorious episode in itself would fill a couple of chapters in a book. That the Navy and Air Force used them well is irrelevant; it should never have happened. And, having paid way over the odds for them, they weren't there when we needed them in The Falklands!
Empire of the Clouds is a book that has lain unwritten in the back of my own mind for as many years as I can remember - probably since the Wilson days - but James Hamilton-Paterson has actually written it and, in my own experience, I can say that I would not alter a single word of what he has to say. I would only add extra chapters on the British car industry, motor cycle industry, the shipbuilding industry, the steel industry, the clothing industry - in fact just about all our industry except the coffee shop industry! Future Hitlers will shake when they try to attack us; but it will be because they have drunk too much caffeine!
The shame of it all is that this incompetence has not stopped. British Aerospace sold off the HS125 (sorry but I can't call it the BAe125 and it really ought to be the DH125) production to the USA because `it is not part of our core business' - one of the world's most successful biz-jets `is not part of our core business'! You couldn't make it up! Today we are still without an aircraft carrier, again because of political incompetence. It seems possible that both of our new carriers presently under construction may be cancelled or `mothballed' - same thing! We have spent a fortune on these two carriers already and yet again we are possibly going to cancel them because of indecision and incompetence, financial as well as political, on the part of our politicians. And, strangely, the Argentinians have been rattling their sabres again recently; better open up a couple of coffee shops in Port Stanley and Goose Green; that should frighten them off.
This country has been very poorly served by incompetent management, frightened of appallingly badly behaved unions and union members and last, but certainly not least, a continuous and, with the debatable exception of Margaret Thatcher, still continuing, (particularly so over the last 20 years) series of atrocious governments and politicians more interested in feathering their own nests and looking at the next election rather than making it a land fit for heroes.
Even if you have absolutely no interest in aviation you should read this book as it depicts the decline of our once great country at the hands of incompetents. If you buy this book, buy a box of paper tissues and weep for what ought to have been.