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Enemy Coast Ahead- Uncensored: The Real Guy Gibson (Soft Cover) Paperback – 8 Mar 2006
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Guy Gibson wrote this book while being rested from operations in 1944. By then he had flown two full tours on bombing ops with 83 and 106 Squadrons, another one as a night-fighter pilot with 29 Squadron and, of course, the Dam Busters raid with 617 Squadron on 16 May 1943. It was serialised in the Sunday Express during the winter of 1944-45, by which time Gibson was dead, the Mosquito that he was flying having crashed near Steenbergen in Holland on 10 September 1944. It was first published in book form in 1946, to much critical acclaim.
There has been a certain amount of comment since then regarding the authorship. It is such a well-written book that there was speculation that Gibson was assisted by a ghostwriter. This contention has been comprehensively refuted by his biographer, who examined the original manuscript (Guy Gibson by Richard Morris, Penguin Books 1995).
This edition of the book, published by Crecy, has used that draft, restoring some of Gibson's more robust and less than tactful opinions and comments on personalities, tactics and the course of the war, which the censor and his original publishers omitted. It has the feel of authenticity, of Gibson's thoughts being poured out onto the page.
It is a highly readable, enjoyable and at times, moving account; giving a rounded picture of
just what it was like to be a young man at that time (Gibson was only a month over 26 when
he died). He was brought up when the Empire was a part of daily life, he grew to manhood
in the age of the dictators and the appeasers, joining the RAP pre-war when it was the best flying club in the world. The early years of the war seemed at the time to be an almost hopeless struggle against the odds with setbacks and disasters on all fronts. Gibson was part of the only force, which for a period of several dark years, seemed to be the only means of taking the war to the enemy. He recounts this learning process with great clarity, as he himself grew in experience and maturity, rising from rather bumptious Pilot Officer to a highly decorated Wing Commander, just as Bomber Command grew from its somewhat amateurish early days into mighty force bringing death and destruction to the enemy on a nightly basis.
The descriptions of the aircraft, preparations, operations and social life are well drawn and evocative. The character studies of individuals are brief but very much to the point. The bomber war from 1939 to 1943 is described with great insight and shows a penetrating, analytical mind at work.
Gibson was a remarkable, talented and forceful man, like many warriors he was at his best
when at the forefront of the battle, back in England he was hero-worshipped by many, respected, loved, feared and cordially disliked by others. He had immense responsibility thrust upon him and deserves to be remembered as a hero. I found that I had developed a
liking for Gibson as I read the book, he would not perhaps have been the easiest to work for
but he was to say the least an interesting person, whom it would have been rewarding to know.
The book itself is produced to a very high standard, with an excellent selection of crisply reproduced photographs, two useful appendices on the Dams Raid and an index (none of which were included in the Pan paperback which my father purchased in 1955). At £10.95 it is excellent value for money and I would recommend it highly.
Guy Warner -- Ulster Airmail - Jan 2009
About the Author
Guy Gibson joined the RAF in 1936, and by 1942 was a Wing Commander in Bomber Command leading his squadron on raids on major German targets. He was awarded the VC for his gallantry and inspiring leadership on the Dambuster raid in May 1943 before being shot down and killed while flying a Mosquito of the Pathfinder Force.
Air Marshal Sir Harold Martin flew on the legendary 'Dambuster Raid' of May 1943.
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He had wanted this book for ages and at first I couldn't decide which version he would prefer. In the end I chose the uncensored version so that he could read Guy Gibson's story in its full historical context, rather than reading the edited version that Dam Busters was based on. When you read it you can guess which bits might have been cut, which provides its own insight into the machinations of political censorship. And not only is this honest account of one man's experience packed full of facts, but it is also very well written which makes it a very touching and human read as well.
It starts flying out to the lakes on the Dambusters raid and quickly changes to several years before as the War breaks out as he reminises about hois life as a pilot in both bombers and fighters them comes full circle back to the Dambusters.
Gibsons account is not emotional, in fact far from it. It is instead a factual account telling the real stories of himself and those flying with him. The most emotional it gets is some 18 months into the war when he realises he is the only one still flying from his friends he flew with on the day war broke out (most are dead, one a POW).
It covers 1939 to 1943 and has the stories of flying getting things wrong and the struggle to improve as well as life on the ground with lots of drunken parties etc. as they all believed today they would die so we live life to the full. One exceptional part involves a Dunkirk survivor asking where the RAF had been at the beach.
Other reviewers have said Gibson perhaps didn't deserve the reputation he has, I am not one to say if he does or doesn't but he certainly lacks real emotion in his writing, its is all matter of fact, which makes this such a remarkable book. There's nothing else quite like it, a fitting tribute to Gibson and all the other fliers of WW2.
The immense power of this book lies in the story of unbelievable courage shown by the men of bomber command. Gibson takes us through the early days of the war, the tragic waste of the skilled aircrews thrown away in obsolete planes and flawed tactics, the tremendous spirit shown by these young men in the face of almost inevitable death and the deep sadness of seeing their comrades lost with such regularity.
After defying the odds and completing one tour of duty, Gibson transfers to night fighters rather than resting, before going back for another tour on 'heavies' and eventually forming and leading the elite 617 squadron on the famous Dams raid.
Yes it is jingoistic, yes it is bullish, what else could it be from a warrior and leader of this nature at time when total war was still raging? Indeed, it is these traits that give us great insight into the prevailing feelings and attitudes of the men involved that make first hand accounts so valuable in our assessment of history. We should be thankful that this document encapsulating the spirit of the aircrew was written by one of their greatest leaders before he too gave his life to the cause.
After reading this book maybe a dozen times over the last 40 years, I recommend it unreservedly to all.
Gibson started right at the beginning of the war in Bombers, did a stint in nightfighters (he was due for rest, but wouldn't accept the genuine break from the war that his superiors wanted him to have), then went back to Bombers through to his being killed in a raid over Germany after he returned to front line duty post Dambusters' raids.
This autobiographical book chronicles the aerial bombing campaign, and, as well as recording Gibson's personal experiences, the people he knew, and some of the scrapes that they got up to on base, charts the developing sophistication of RAF Bomber Command's tactics and aircraft.
As you'd expect, a good chunk is devoted to the Dambusters' raid. The build up to this is also good, and is written very much on the basis of what Gibson was told and "needed to know" at the time. He wrote the book before returning to active service after his post - Dambusters' break, and is very much written so as to not give away any secrets of the time.
This - I believe - provides additional atmosphere to the story.
I've heard that Guy Gibson was thought to be big headed and arrogant - well, it's hard to accomplish things if you don't have a degree of self belief, and at no time in this book do I recall him appearing to self - aggrandise.
It's a great read, and I thoroughly recommend this to anyone interested in the period.
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