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on 24 June 2012
The Battle of the Somme, 1st July 1916 - entrenched in the minds of many thanks to various television programs and films as many thousands of men pointlessly going 'over the top' and walking slowly towards the German trenches and getting slaughtered by German machine guns. Whatever your views on the Battle of the Somme and as to whether it was a victory or defeat for the British (and French - who were also there in very large numbers), it cannot be denied that it was a victory for the British in the air. The Royal Flying Corps enjoyed aerial superiority which meant it was possible to conduct bombing raids behind enemy lines, disrupting lines of communication, transport links and killing the enemy before they got to the front line. Observation Patrols were able to operate in relative safety, spying on the German positions from above and able to direct artillery fire onto machine gun posts, large concentrations of troops, and especially artillery positions. Photography from the extremely stable BE2 aircraft meant accurate trench maps were able to be produced, and the men on the ground were able to know exactly what lay over the parapet and beyond the horizon. All of this was possible thanks to the new breed of aircraft that were entering service in 1916 to combat the Fokker Eindecker with it's forward firing machine gun, firing through the propeller arc thanks to interrupter gear.

'Pusher' aircraft, featuring a rear-facing engine and propeller meaning machine guns could fire forward with their Lewis guns without needing any interrupter gear such as the DH2 and FE2b (an FE2b is shown on the front cover), as well as the Nieuport 16 featuring a Lewis gun mounted above the wing clear of the propeller arc or a synchronised Vickers gun, were used to clear the skies of not just the Fokker Eindeckers, but also German observation aircraft which attempted to do the same all-important observational and photography work which the Royal Flying Corps was using to such devastating effect for the Germans. Towards the end of the Battle of the Somme as winter set in, new Albatros single seat scouts were being brought into service which started to turn the side against the British, however the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service were starting to bring in a new range of single seat scouts like the Sopwith Pup, which would eventually culminate in another aerial battle for air superiority to be known as 'Bloody April' in 1917.

Peter Hart's book 'Somme Success', which is fortunately now available again in paperback format after being out of print in it's original hardcover format, fills an important gap between Ralph Barker's 'The Royal Flying Corps in France, from Mons to the Somme' and works covering 'Bloody April' in 1917. This is not just a dry history of facts and figures like more official histories - a large number of personal accounts are used to bring the action to life and helping to explain the constraints and reality of the war in the air, whilst also relating what was happening in the air to the situation on the ground, which, at the end of the day, is what the fight was about. Peter Hart also correctly emphasises the importance of the work of the two-seater observation aircraft, working in the aerial photography and artillery spotting roles. Although the single-seat Scout pilots, zipping around the skies in their streamlined, handsome machines, the fastest things on earth and the daring, thrilling, deadly dogfighting capture the imagination and are the first thing one tends to think about when considering the war in the air, the reality is that even the best of aces shooting down dozens of aircraft did not affect the situation on the ground - their role was to clear the way for the two seaters to operate in comparitive safety, able to direct artillery fire and take important photographs which would enable advances to be made and artillery and infantry to kill, injure and capture not dozens but hundreds if not thousands of enemy troops
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on 12 April 2015
As a life long enthusiast for all things connected with aviation up to the 1950's, I read this book with a mounting admiration for the (usually) very young men who went up day after day, sometimes up to seven times a day to carry out the work of reconnaisance or "scouting", prior to and during the Battle of the Somme.

The life expectancy of the young pilots, without the benefit of parachutes, as the High Command thought the provision of such an item would encourage the pilot to leave his aircraft too early, (!!) was in many cases very short indeed. Some of them arriving at a squadron and being killed on their first operational patrol.

Peter Hart has done a superb job of providing all the detail one might want and yet managing to keep it in a very readable format, and without ever allowing the subject to become in any way tedious.

I loved the book and if you have any interest in WW1 aviation I am sure you will as well.
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on 23 July 2013
I bought this book after reading Aces Falling and other books by this author. An excellent book, well researched with the usual combination of factual data interspersed with personal accounts. The cover shows an observer firing over the upper wing of an FE2b and there a couple of accounts of this in the book, made my feet sweat just reading it. Another excellent book by Peter Hart, well worth a read or two
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on 20 November 2013
This book is required reading for anyone who has an interest in the Great War. It provides an excellent insight into the men and machines from both sides who fought and died above the trenches of the Somme battlefield in 1916. Using quotes from participants such as Albert Ball & Lanoe Hawker VC from the RFC and Manfred Von Richtofen and Oswald Boelke from the GAF. This is well written. I would recommend.
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on 30 June 2012
One of the country's top historians gives a readable and well researched book on the first world war, essential for anyone with general interest. Good background for teachers. Debunks myths on flyers
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on 17 April 2014
Concise and thorough, I have found this to be an invaluable book that I am using as part of my research for a fictional account of WW1.
A real bargain at this price too.
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on 9 December 2012
A multitude of books have been written about the war on the ground but this is an eminently readable account of the war in the sky.

The first successful ever flight had only taken pleace a few years prior to the start of the Great War yet Peter Hart expertly guides us through an account not only of the campaign but the development of flying itself.

The Allies, for the most part, had control of the skies and through a series of pictures and fascinating personal accounts we see how the Royal Flying Corps developed its role and contribution as the capabilities of their machines progressed.

We have contributions from the Allied and German sides; the Germans made full public use of their pilots successes whilst the British pilots success was kept more underwraps - the names of German aces like Oswold Boelck and Manfrd evon Richtofen being well known to the British public.

I would fully recommend this book, now available in paper back, for it's thriiling account of the Royal Flying Corps Somme Success.
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on 10 May 2013
Excellent book by an excellent author. A very detailed and accurate account of aerial fighting and artillery spotting in 1916.
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on 18 March 2016
A brilliant book, a real page turner.
The excerpts from pilots's letters home to their parents gave such a real insight into the excitement and the horrors of watching one of the worst series of battle the British army had to fight.
This is the true and real story of what happened in the air and the men who gave their lives during that terrible summer of 1916.
Clare Head
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on 6 February 2014
Superb mix of history, technical information and many first hand accounts from both sides brings to life the vital part played by the RFC in the skies over the Somme in 1916.
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