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Rarely have I been so annoyed!
on 14 February 2014
As mentioned elsewhere, I have been studying the history of Malta and the many ship and aircraft wrecks found there for some years and this allows me to make some explanatory points prior to my review. Because of her strategic position in relation to the war in North Africa, Malta underwent a period of concentrated bombing during WW2 with the Malta Blitz lasting 100 days longer than that on London! Aircraft losses at one point amounted to the equivalent of a Squadron every week. In addition to squadrons being rotated from the UK, replacement aircraft were also flown-in from aircraft carriers. Aircraft staging through Malta on their way to Egypt, were pressed into service - earning the AOC the nick-name “sticky fingers” for using these resources. In addition, some pilots who arrived in brand new aircraft, found themselves continuing their journey in another which was in dire need of service and repair. This assortment of different aircraft and different squadrons meant there really was no distinct colour scheme which might, today, be easily identifiable as being that of RAF Malta! Nevertheless, several different schemes were found in Malta and this book goes a long way to explaining these.
The work is, however, very muddled and commences with Acknowledgement (yes singular! And using 2 pages to mention very few names with several being repeated), Foreword and Introduction. The chapters are; (1) Delivery Operations, (2) Gibraltar, (3) Squadron Operations, (4) Other Relevant Examples, (5) Methods of Over-painting, (6) The Mount of an Ace and (7) Veterans’ Testimonials. These are followed by 9 very different Appendices filling a further 37 pages and yet the individual headings for these are not mentioned within the Contents at all. In other words you have to wade through those pages to see what subjects they cover. The work concludes with a Bibliography.
My first impression was one of opening a well-presented scrapbook. The background for every page is identical and is a double-page spread of a photograph of the sky with buff-coloured cloud covering most of the two pages with a light grey (not blue!) sky across the top. To these are added individual boxes of text (often in different colours such as green and brown), photographs and so forth - with the final product looking as though each box or picture was literally pasted by hand in amongst other text written over cloud and sky. Throughout the work there are also 29 good-quality artistic impressions of Spitfire profiles in various liveries. These, however, are added as though each one was an afterthought. Each of these images is on its side and appears down the outside edge of the page. This requires the reader to turn the page through 90 degrees in order to view and then repeat the process a few words later-on when another point is made. Boring! Add to that the very wide empty margins on the outside edges where there is no artwork and you have a lot of wasted space.
The entire layout is amateurish and creates considerable disappointment. All too frequently I found myself distracted by constantly having to turn the book as described - with my train of thought interrupted each and every time. Ordinarily, a glance from text to image is the norm. All of which is most odd because it would have been easy to find sufficient space for each aircraft profile to be displayed the right way up.
All things considered, I think the author has gone to a great deal of trouble to expose whatever limited information is available on the subject of the colours and markings of the Spitfire V in Malta at the time in question. Instead of remaining within the stated aim of the project, however, the work is padded out with peripheral - albeit sometimes interesting (not always!), facts and figures relating to Malta’s air war. Examples are: Appendix 6 comprises 12 pages of Pilot profiles - which have nothing to do with colour schemes and Appendix 9 which takes up a whole page (12 lines of text and a photograph of US Marines - described as a photo of a US Aircraft Carrier!) to explain something which the author admits is not even known – and yet a sentence or two would have sufficed.
Very rarely have I been so annoyed by a book!