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D. Forbes "Donald B. Forbes" (Kidderminster)
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Sea Harrier Over The Falklands: A Maverick at War (CASSELL MILITARY PAPERBACKS)
Sea Harrier Over The Falklands: A Maverick at War (CASSELL MILITARY PAPERBACKS)
by Commander Sharkey Ward
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

5 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Ego Has Landed., 18 Jun. 2012
The Sea Harrier Over The Falklands, the controversial account of what really happened in the South Atlantic skies ....according to Commander 'Sharkey' Ward.

I've been meaning to read this book - about a Cold War navy suddenly thrust into an unexpected conflict - for years but poor reviews had put me off. So the 30th Anniversary of the conflict, and an updated edition, seemed to be a good time to give it a go and form my own opinion.

I found Commander Ward's accounts of British jet pilots in action in the skies around the Falkland Islands to be first class. Sharkey's description of the Sea Harrier at war really put the reader in the drivers seat; I could almost hear the growl of the Sidewinder's acquisition tone and smell the odour of the pilot's sweaty goon suit. However, I felt that a good read was ruined by Commander Ward's continual sniping at other units and personnel in the run-up to, and during the conflict. Instead of coming over as the accomplished commander of 801 Naval Air Squadron who had shot down three Argentinian aircraft, the author came over as a very bitter man who had nothing good to say about anyone other than those in his immediate circle of fellow aviators, fighter controllers and understandably grateful Falkland Islanders.

The reader is given a fine account of the squadron work-up to the conflict during the 7,000 mile journey south from the UK. The author describes rocket firing and VT-bombing exercises, and the practice firing of AIM-9s against Lepus flares. I would have given this book 5-Stars for the description of Sea Harrier operations alone, but the tedious repetitiveness of his continual griping made it very hard to read. No doubt the Task Force's limited air assets could have been better employed in the confusion of a hastily planned war, but the author really didn't need to bang on about it on every other page. I'm sure that Commander Ward did go through the Vulcan/Victor Black Buck fuel calculation many times in his head, but I only needed to read about it once. According to Sharkey the only useful thing the Ascension Victor tankers did was to re-fuel replacement Sea Harriers on their way to the Falklands. The attacks on the Task Force Flag Officer were relentless throughout the book, although I did spot a retraction of sorts in the foreword to the 2005 edition.

Aviation fans will enjoy the discussions on equipment in the Sea Harrier FRS1. The use of the Navhars is described in some detail. Commander Ward sung the praises of the Blue Fox radar throughout the book; I was left wondering if it could even have detected the bee in the author's bonnet!

The author's whining tone made Sea Harrier Over The Falklands at times read more like Adrian Mole than C. S. Forester or Cecil Lewis. This is one book that would really have benefited with a co-author, if only to put a check on Sharkey's bluster. I was inclined to take some of the author's rants with a large pinch of sea salt; perhaps there was more than just a bit of bravado in his writing. He certainly seemed to relish describing himself as a 'maverick' several times throughout the book.

I suspect Commander Ward wanted to put himself up on the pantheon of great wartime fighter pilots. However, the only parallel I could find between the author and other flyers was with Douglas Bader; both being legless, Bader in his Hurricane and Ward drunk at the wheel of his Lotus in which he nearly wiped out a family in another vehicle.

Over the years I've had the pleasure of meeting many fighter pilot veterans of WWII, Korea and Vietnam. Whilst being aggressive is a necessary character trait of the fighter pilot, Commander Ward's description of his own conduct outside the cockpit made him come across at best as being petty minded; at worst nasty and neurotic. I found his continued attacks on the competence of 800 Naval Air Squadron to be very wearing; he even seemed to doubt their basic standards of airmanship. The author's own account of his petulant popping off at junior ranks in the junior service in the final chapters painted a picture of him as as a deeply unpleasant and out of control wee man.

I'm sure that in real life Commander 'Sharkey' Ward is a delightful chap but he's not going to come over that way in the annals of aviation history; and unfortunately he has written his own character as being a little less than admirable. Never in the field of autobiography was so much damage done to someone's reputation by so many of their own words.

Donald B. Forbes 18th June 2012.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 12, 2012 12:57 PM BST


Ultimate Pilot's Operating Handbook - Robinson R44
Ultimate Pilot's Operating Handbook - Robinson R44
by Bastian Jakob Liebermann
Edition: Paperback
Price: £15.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars R-44 Helicopter Ultimate Handbook, 23 Nov. 2011
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I came across this extremely useful book quite by chance whilst looking for a copy of the R-44 helicopter Pilot's Operating Handbook on-line. As it was considerably cheaper than the factory POH I thought I'd take a chance and order a copy. Having just finished a JAA R-44 Type Rating course I would recommend the Ultimate Pilot's Operating Handbook to any helicopter pilot about to undertake training on the R-44.

This paperbacked sized publication expands on all the sections of the factory POH such as Normal Procedures, Checklists, Loading and Performance, etc. There is also discussion of the R-44 variants throughout the book including the float-equipped Clipper and the electronic news gathering Newscopter.

Differences between the R-44 Raven I and II (both systems and performance) are discussed in some detail and the text is accompanied by lots of useful photographs to illustrate the items described in each section. Images of everything from the hydraulic fluid reservoir to headset jacks and warning light test switches are included.

The chapter dealing with checklists uses numbers to cross-reference between the relevant items on the checklist and the actual aircraft part as shown on a sequence of 10 photographs. Ab initio students will be able to get familiar with the R-44 before they even get near the actual aircraft. Pilots who did their initial training on the two-seat R-22 will be able to locate items which are now hidden behind panels on the R-44.

The book concludes with a discussion of energy management, low G hazards and blade stall. A very satisfactory index section will quickly direct readers to the relevant page in the main text.

Hopefully, in future editions the author will expand the book to cover additional topics such as limited power take-offs and landings, and confined area/sloping ground operations as they relate to the R-44. I found a few very minor typographical errors which will no doubt be corrected in the second edition.

Bastian Liebermann has produced a nicely readable book on the R-44 and the author clearly knows his subject. If you are about to spend a lot of money on learning to fly the R-44 make sure you buy this book first.

Donald B. Forbes.

23rd November 2011.


Dam Buster Manual: A guide to the weapons technology used against the dams and the special targets of Nazi-occupied Europe (Owners Workshop Manual)
Dam Buster Manual: A guide to the weapons technology used against the dams and the special targets of Nazi-occupied Europe (Owners Workshop Manual)
by Iain Murray
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £17.28

25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dam Busters. Haynes Owners' Workshop Manual., 11 Oct. 2011
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Having already read Dr Murray's excellent first book on this subject, Bouncing-Bomb Man: The Science of Sir Barnes Wallis, I was half expecting the Haynes Dam Busters Manual to cover very similar ground. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that this new publication covers new subject matter such as the earthquake bomb raids and a very detailed look at high-level bomb aiming. For readers wondering why earthquake bombs and high-level bomb aiming have been included, 617 Squadron "The Dambusters" employed both until the end of World War II. And as the book reveals a river barrage and a dam were attacked with these weapons in late 1944, and the Sorpe dam was revisited (by 9 Squadron, RAF) in October 1944 and attacked with Tallboy bombs.

The first three chapters cover the development of the 9,250lb bouncing bomb, codenamed Upkeep, and the preparation for and execution of the raid on the Ruhr dams (Operation Chastise) by 617 Squadron, Royal Air Force. The reader is provided with many fine diagrams of weapon parts, targets, etc. I particularly like the nicely annotated Avro drawing of a Type 464 Lancaster with all the modifications required for the operation. There are also separate tables in Chapter 3 with signal code words, crew duties during the attack and a list of five secondary targets, although one of those dams mentioned was apparently attacked in error as it may have been misidentified by the crew as the Ennepe reservoir which was further up the bombing list. The description of pre-raid activities by 617 Squadron reveal some fascinating facts: in order to allow night flying training to continue during daylight blue and yellow celluloid was applied to the cockpit glazing and crew goggles respectively.

For many readers whose only knowledge of the raid on the Ruhr dams was gleaned from the 1955 film The Dam Busters this book will explode a few myths about the raid, such as the origin of the methods used for setting the release height and release distance of the Upkeep bouncing bomb. The nail-and-string method used by 617 Squadron described in the book would have caused a modern-day Health & Safety person to take a fit.

After the Dams Raid, 617 Squadron became a special operations unit armed with high-capacity Blockbuster bombs. Chapter 4 covers these weapons, and as with Upkeep, their assembly, fuzing and loading procedures are covered in some detail. There is also a sub-section dealing with the subject of target marking and a brief mention of 617 Squadron's acquisition of P-51 Mustangs for this purpose. The chapter concludes with accounts of raids on the Anthéor Viaduct, the Michelin factory at Clermont Ferrand and a number of other targets selected for these 4,000lb and 12,000lb weapons.

Chapter 5 looks at the development, testing and production of Barnes Wallis's Earthquake bombs. Again the author has included plenty of photographs and drawings to describe the Tallboy and Grand Slam weapons. There is also a brief look at bombing tactics; it's interesting to note that 617 Squadron flew a quite different formation compared with 9 Squadron during the run in to the target. Modifications required to produce the Lancaster B.I Specials that could carry 21,500lb bombs to Germany, and in some cases back to the UK, are also examined.

The next chapter covers the Earthquake bomb raids against railway tunnels, E-boat pens, V-weapon sites, U-boat facilities, viaducts, canals, etc. The attacks on the V-weapons sites at Éperlecques, Wizernes, Siracourt and Marquise-Mimoyecques are described especially well and the author has even covered the raids on the V-weapon storage sites at St Leu d'Esserent and Rilly-la-Montagne. Profiles of all the targets are given which include construction dates and details, number and types of bombs dropped, and the targets' current status. Geographic coordinates are also provided.

617 Squadron Lancasters also dropped 500lb Johnny Walker underwater 'walking' mines during operations against the battleship Tirpitz so they are included in the Haynes Dam Busters Manual. The book lists a total of 80 Tallboys dropped against the Tirpitz including 17 during Operation Paravane flown by 9 and 617 Squadrons from Yagodnik in Russia.

Chapter 7 covers high-level bomb aiming, concentrating on the Mk.XIV and SABS Mk.IIA bomb sights which are both described in some depth. There is a brief introduction to the mathematical principals of hitting a target, then the internal mechanism of the analogue computers and the sights are described in some detail. I was very impressed with the author's collection of 20 or so photographs and diagrams which are included here. As in previous chapters the author has filled in gaps in the photographic record by including pictures produced using 3D modelling applications and dioramas, the image of the V-2 complex at Wizernes being one of my favourites.

The book concludes with four appendices: (i) names of all the crew members who took part in the attack on the Ruhr dams on 16-17th May 1943, (ii) a list of all the Type 464 Provisioning Lancasters and subsequent history of each airframe, (iii) a list of Lancaster B.I 'Specials' with targets and weapons used, and (iv) a list of bombs currently on display.

The binding of these new Haynes Manuals is identical to the car Workshop Manuals that they have been publishing for many years now. This initially put me off buying one until I saw the Apollo 11 Owners' Workshop Manual in my local bookshop. Rather than being a blow-by-blow account of how to de-construct and reconstruct the subject, the books are in fact an enjoyable and highly informative good read.

Dr Murray has clearly thoroughly researched this subject. I thought I had found one error on page 46 where it states that Gibson's radio operator signalled 'Goner 68A' on observing their Upkeep explode at the Moehne dam. I thought the code would have been 'Goner 68X' but it transpires that the target designation letters were changed very close to the actual raid.

And for those interested in British aviation during WWII who have ever wondered why the Type 464 Lancasters used on the dams' raid initially had their serial numbers suffixed with a G, you will just have to buy the book to find out.

Donald B. Forbes, 11 October 2011.


Bouncing-Bomb Man: The Science of Sir Barnes Wallis
Bouncing-Bomb Man: The Science of Sir Barnes Wallis
by Iain Murray
Edition: Hardcover

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Science of Sir Barnes Wallis by Dr Iain Murray, reviewed by D. Forbes., 11 Mar. 2010
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Bouncing-Bomb Man: The Science of Sir Barnes Wallis by Dr Iain Murray was an absolute delight to read. The book is much more than a detailed description of the development of airships, geodetic structures and Wallis's other work; it tells the story of modern engineering in the pre-computer age. Dr Murray's narrative paints a clear picture of a genius of engineering working in a world where new designs were developed by (mainly) gentlemen with slide rules, paper, pencils and drawing boards. In those days a computer was someone they could have taken out to dinner. The subject's character comes over as being larger than life and very driven. I don't imagine that Vickers (Aviation) Ltd had a Personnel Department in the 1930's and the descriptions of Wallis's relations with collegues has to be viewed in the context of that time, but with the right team Wallis was clearly a capable and productive leader.

The text could have been weighed down with pages of calculus and calculations. However, the descriptions of Wallis's work will easily be digested by anyone who has a casual interest in engineering or aeronautics. The most demanding calculation I could find in this book was the Breguet range equation which would be understood by anyone studying school maths.

The entire volume is delightfully illustrated with photographs, maps and diagrams which range from the highly detailed, such as those of Upkeep (drawings interestingly produced by the Germans during World War II), to the frivolous. I especially liked the picture of the Wild Goose on its trolley at Predannack with the technician sitting under the jet pipe enjoying a cuppa.

Dr Murray has clearly proven that Sir Barnes deserves to be described as a genius, not only by the fact that all of Wallis's creations that went into production clearly worked, but by the sheer originality of the man's ideas. He was able to apply geodesic principles to produce unique structures in airships, aeroplanes and radio telescopes. Sir Barnes Wallis was a man bursting with original and novel ideas who applied for scores of patents on ideas as diverse as The Mooring of Lighter-than-Air Aircraft to Improving Radio Telescopes.

I was fascinated to read about Wallis's post-war career. Although not involved in any big way in mainstream production he was nevertheless feted by Vickers, and its successors, for another quarter of a century. Sir Barnes finally retired in 1971 at the age of 83. Even then he felt that he had been pushed out of the company. At the end of his working life he was still involved in producing plans for very radical all-speed aircraft. For those aviators flying today's subsonic airliners rather than supersonic, wing-controlled aerodynes or universal aircraft, the future certainly ain't what is used to be.

Donald B. Forbes.


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