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4.0 out of 5 stars49
4.0 out of 5 stars
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on 6 May 2008
No idea what these bad reviews are about - I found the book absolutely fascinating, well-researched and engagingly written. Nothing can take away from the sheer guts these women had, and the book inadvertently gives a vivid picture of just how much death permeated everyday life during the War: colleagues, friends, loved ones - and one's self, of course - could cease to exist at any moment, frequently quite horribly. It very eloquently shows women living under such terrific strain while behaving with almost incomprehensible bravery in fulfilling their own missions.
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on 29 August 2008
By coincidence I'd just read Diana Barnato Walker's autobiography when I came across this book. Very much enjoyed the additional insights from other pilots and also it helped that the author was also able to put things in historical context. I found the book a real "page-turner" and full of amusing stories and gossip.

I enjoyed reading it even more than I did DBW's own account and also Jeffrey Quill's and Alex Henshaw's biographies which I also read in the past few months.
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on 19 April 2010
This is not a technical book about flying, but a piece of social history about a small group of women who were determined to utilise their flying skills, both for the personal experience it gave them and to assist the war effort. The battles with authority and prejudice represented the social attitudes of the time. The ferry pilots flew without radios and other aids and had only a brief period to learn a new aircraft from notes they nwere given for each aircraft. The women pilots were not taught how to fly on instruments, a particular hazard when flying in bad weather. Although some it appears were taught on an ad hoc basis by male pilots who were had the opportunity to assist them. They were a singular group of women, some insular and some forceful, all brave, a number lost their lives. They flew missions on practically a daily basis, including taking aircraft in poor condition to be broken up. A situation that proved highly dangerous on occasion and called for a high level of skill when things went wrong. All of them wanted to fly a Spitfire, and some undoubtedly would have made good operational pilots. Although this was never considered.

I would have liked a bit more of the politics of the situation in the Air Minstry as background. But still a fascinating piece of war and social history.
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on 18 December 2010
This is an excellent and moving read describing the, possibly, little known contribution made by women pilots from all over the world in transporting aircraft during the second world war. Although experienced light aircraft pilots they flew all types of aircraft from Tiger Moths to Lancaster bombers with very little training and without use of instruments or radio, and usually alone. Often, these flights were undertaked in appalling weather conditions in which other fully trained fighter pilots would probably not fly. Many of the planes were badly damaged ones being flown to scrap yards and accounts of failed engines and strucrural failures are many. Loss of life was common and they were vulnerable to enemy attack and unarmed. I am in no doubt that they performed an important job in very difficult circumstances. The book title is slightly misleading but is used to emphasise the significance of graduating to flying the Spitfire; an ambition of every pilot at that time and the women felt that it was a lovely plane to fly, and made just for them!
The book paints a vivid picture of the lifestyle (including partying and a good social life!) enjoyed by namy of these pilots during wartime and the tragedies and loss of loved ones which occurred.
Many of these women were still alive when the book was researched and their accounts and anecdotes greatly add to the accuracy of the book.

An excellent book.
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on 14 October 2008
This is one of the most fascinating stories I have read this year, no it's not highly technical (There are many technical Tours de Force on the Spitfire). Instead it concentrates on the politics and personalities surrounding the remarkable decision to allow women to fly combat aircraft in WW2, and the uniquely challenging conditions under which they did so, traveling from as far away as South Africa and Chile.

It also contains some superbly evocative photographs. (Even though the front cover shows not just a Spitfire & a Hurricane but an ME109! (Actually, it's a Spanish built HA-112, with a Spitfire engine!)
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on 17 September 2009
I'm defnitely a flying enthusiast, and a history enthusiast, and I loved this book. It does focus on the 'first 8' women, as well as the first that came from North America. There is a demographic skew simply because the majority of the early ATA female intake were middle- upper- classes, well educated, and had flown for their own amusement before the war.
However, this book is not a history of the ATA, it is a history of the women of the ATA who flew the Spitfire, and then the other class IV and V aircraft. These were the first women who joined, those with the greatest experience with aircraft, and longevity in the organisation.
The book is interesting, well written and easy to read from a range of angles: WWII history, women's history, flying.......
There is certainly more that could be done with the subject, but that would be another book.
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on 26 February 2015
I am perhaps a little unfair giving this book only three stars, because it depends what you think you are getting. From the title and cover image I thought this book would be about the flying exploits of the female pilots of the ATA. In fact the book is more a social history about their background and goings-on away from the flying.
You do get some brief flying anecdotes in the latter half of the book, but they are in a minority, and some of them are covered in another book which I think is a much better buy if you want to read and experience the dangerous and sometimes near fatal situations that arose for the female pilots of the ATA, bearing in mind that quite apart from mechanical issues, they could be caught out by weather conditions, in aircraft that often had no radio, and situations where they had not been trained to fly on instruments.
The book I am referring to is Diana Barnato Walker's " Spreading my wings", which if you skip the early chapters about her childhood and privileged upbringing, is packed with her flying anecdotes.
I am sure "Spitfire Women" is well researched, but I feel a little uncomfortable with the actual title.
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on 30 November 2012
War is a bad thing by definition, but it does create unusual circumstances in which unusual things can happen.

When Britain prepared for and then joined WW2, it had enough pilots to fight the war but not enough pilots to ferry aircraft to the squadrons. Hence the ATA (Air Tansport Auxiliary) was founded, and soon it was seen that more pilots would be needed for it than were readily available.

This crack was forcefully hammered wide open by Pauline Gower in the UK and Jackie Cochran in the US, and women entered the ATA. Originally they were allowed to fly docile aircraft such as the Avro Anson, but bit by bit Gower managed to grow the stable of airplanes her pilots were allowed to fly. Soon she had pilots taking to the skies in Hurricanes and Spitfires, and eventually gargantuan Lancasters and B-24 Liberators.

This book brings us delightful stories of such classic aviation heroines as Diana Barnato Walker, who flew a Tempest when it shed its air scoop and much of the lower part of the plane with it. The squadron officer who was to receive the plane chided her for delivering just half of the plane. There's Maureen Dunlop, who exited a Barracuda just as the reporters from Picture Post took her picture (see [...] for that great shot) and who flew many a hazardous delivery. And of course, Ms Duhalde, known as Chile for her native land, who promised to knock a Polish woman pilot's teeth off for jumping the landing pattern.

These ladies delivered thousands of airplanes but also died in the rapidly changing British weather, when they were surprised by a cloud, or flew into mountainsides when they became lost. The balance between a successful delivery and a fiery death in a crash is well told in this book. What is also well told is the incredible callousness of the all-male military aviation establishment, which refused to give the women pilots even rudimentary instrument flight training, which resulted in many deaths directly attributable to loss of spatial awareness.

The author has done a good job in presenting the big picture, but it could be structured better. Now we often are led from one situation into another which has no other connection to the grand narrative than the person we started with, and that makes it a little hard to follow the action. Also, in the Kindle edition, quotes were not indicated: many times you'd start reading a fist person narrative right after a third person viewpoint and it takes some time to figure out who is talking.

Nevertheless, these minor quibbles aside, these ladies deserved this book and all publicity they could possibly get. Now in their nineties, some of them still remember the ATA days as the best of their lives, and after reading this book, you will understand why.
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on 22 March 2011
A very enjoyable book. I bought the Kindle version and it loses a star for not having any photographs. Why? It's not as if its difficult to add photos to a Kindle book.
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on 8 December 2011
I read this after watching the television programme and I was enthralled by both. It was fascinating to read the reminiscences of the women of today looking back at their extraordinary experiences of so long ago. They were, and are, marvellous women.
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