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on 29 May 2013
I thoroughly enjoyed this read. Aldridge had to learn the art of aiming a torpedo as he fought the battle! In developing that skill he helped to influence events in the Mediterranean in the crucial months of July around the siege of Malta. As the casualty rate of these costal command squadrons was so high there aren't as many books about their achievements. His comments regarding Gibbs are also very interesting.
The comments from the non commissioned gunner on board gives the book a delightful social balance to the portrayal of events.
You should read this book!
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on 24 July 2013
Mr Aldridge has made a major contribution to the WW2 RAF story. Many have heard the story of Malta, and others know that the Italian fleet was neutralized. This book is written by one of the key players in this deadly campaign. I heard a Radio 4 interview with the author, and got the book immediately. My own father flew in these same aircraft for a time - in a different squadron, out of Leuchars, following up the "Shetland Bus" to Norway (see David Howarth's excellent book) - and was shot down once. So I had an idea the Torpedo Flyers had a hard time. But the opening scene of this book sets the scene - where 3 of Mr Aldridge's colleagues go down in flames in front of his eyes during a routine raid. The book has excellent technical detail, but what sets this apart for me is the blunt discussion of the fear felt by aircrew in the Torpedo planes (with their very low survival rates) and Mr Aldridge's poor opinion of the RAF tag "lack of moral fibre" stuck on to those who could not go on any longer. It was also interesting to read about the failed attempt to torpedo "Scharnhorst" during her famous Channel dash; my father said he was pleased in one way that no-one could find the German convoy - as the chance of survival was virtually nil. Now we know how these Battleships escaped detection. Mr Aldridge also explains why he & many of his colleagues were not eager to talk about their experiences - clearly they felt guilty about surviving when many that they regarded highly did not. The real heroes were those who died rather than the lucky ones who did not. As you would expect from an Oxford-educated man who became a teacher after WW2, this book is really well written - and gives you the feeling of being there with them. Only one comment; in the radio interview, Mr Aldridge described a Catalina depth-charging a U Boat in the middle of an Allied convoy during the Atlantic Battle - and coming under fire from British & US ships. A pity this story was not in the book - as it illustrated the reality so well; lets hope there will be a sequel. In the meantime, savour this excellent volume. Manxman
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In 1940, at the age of 19, Arthur Aldridge quit Oxford and promptly joined the RAF. After pilot training he was assigned to the Bristol Beaufort which were equipped with torpedoes and bombs. Over the following two years this man saw far more than his fair share of active service and, today, he and his former gunner Bill Carroll are two of the last remaining Torpedo Flyers still alive. During that service, Aldridge received his first DFC for continuing the attack on the German cargo ship SS Madrid, was equally lucky to survive the attack on those German warships during the famous `Channel Dash' - in which 40 RAF aircraft were shot down, and earned his second DFC in the defence of Malta where he sank two enemy ships and rescued a fellow wounded pilot whilst under heavy fire. He is also the man who finally sank the Reichenfels and, in so doing, made a significant difference to the war in North Africa!

Those, however, are just the headlines to his war service which included far more than his own fair share of action.

The book itself is carefully divided into 24 chapters which take the reader on a fascinating roller-coaster ride of excitement from beginning to end. These, however, are preceded by a Prologue in which the action commences immediately with an example of what this particular life at war was really like. I shall not enlarge on those chapters - except to say that it was the RAF's Bristol Beaufort Torpedo Bombers which were given missions so dangerous they were actually likened to the `Kamikaze' - with many aircrew entering their aircraft certain they would not return.

Little wonder Aldridge makes the poignant - and very understanding, comment; "Only the names of those who had come off flying due to the strain and horror of war have been changed. None will receive condemnation or judgement here."

And that is another way of saying; if you haven't lived through it, you cannot possibly understand it!

Altogether, I found the work to be of the highest possible calibre. It is a very personal story which is well told without portraying the main subject as a hero but instead as an ordinary man simply doing his job. Well supported with a collection of 24 historic B&W glossy photographs placed together in the middle of the book, I was pleased to see he had included his wife of 63 years...

After leaving the RAF, Arthur Aldridge became a teacher at a boys' school in Worcester. Mark Ryan - who is a critically acclaimed author of biographies, was once one of his pupils. This collaboration is an excellent combination of their respective skills in which they provide an illuminating and very readable insight into yet another aspect of WW2.

Fully recommended.

NM
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on 17 September 2013
A beautifully constructed account of some staggering war-time heroics. These stories need to be told and told in just this sort of style- first-hand accounts with no embellishment or artificial dramatisation. The modest, matter-of-fact tone and conversational style draws the reader in and emphasises the reality of what is being said. A fascinating and humbling book which should be read by anyone with even a passing interest in aviation, war-time history or just life in general!
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on 11 April 2014
"Mr Aldridge" taught me French at King's School, Worcester in the 1970s. We knew he had flown bravely during the war, but little did we guess how bravely. This is a book which brings the war to life (or perhaps "death" would be a more appropriate word) more than any other book I have read. Rather like Anouilh's "Antigone", a set book for A level which I studied under AFA, he has a calmness about him in the face of a death rate of 80% for torpedo flyers, based on acceptance of what seemed his inevitable demise. That calmness enabled him to think clearly in desperately dangerous situations, to carry out acts that were vital for his country and to bring him and his crew home alive. It all goes to underscore that it is not events that shape one's life and achievements, but how one reacts to them. Thanks "Mr Aldridge".
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on 16 July 2013
I received the book from amazon on time and just the flyleaf looked very interesting. Once I started to read it I thought I was I the cockpit with the pilot, I just could not put it down. Any one who is interested in WW2 aviation I would highly recommend it.
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on 11 July 2013
A fascinating insight into a little known world. Author was my French master and til now apart from knowing he had amazing experiences in the war knew nothing of what I suspect has remained unspoken for nearly 70 years.
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on 11 April 2016
Arthur Aldridge passed away early in 2016, but his book is an excellent insight into the vagaries of war. In effect this is 2 war biographies, because pilot Arthur also has the story of his gunner Bill, to give the office-NCO perspective (while the US forces institutionalised racism in WW2, the British institutionalised the "class system"). Clear examples are given into the poor decision making "at the top" (e.g. the Channel Dash fiasco, and the stopped-at-the-last-minute 1-way attack on the Tirpitz), and the luck of war (from the maelstrom of Malta to the serenity of Ceylon). Great autobiography!
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on 14 October 2013
Fantastic , the courage of those brave men has to be admired. Knowing that the missions were mostly suicide and then to go out and complete the job deserves the thanks & admiration of the whole nation. We must never forget what they did for this country against a Nazi monster. Also remember that not all Germans were in favour of the Nazis.
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on 6 July 2013
Attracted to this book as the author lives locally. Starts off with early life, with a lot of cricket and study at Oxford which can become tedious in many such books. Not so this one in my opinion, and certainly first two thirds read almost like a novel; except its true.
Co author Mark Ryan has very skilfully entwined historical records like squadron Operational Record Books with Mr Aldridge s story in a manner which knocks spots off many similar works, and interspersed by recall from the crews gunner, which gives a different viewpoint on many of the topics. The two seem like chalk and cheese but are apparently life long friends, and both aspects come over very well.
Mr Aldridge s service on the Beaufort torpedo bomber incredibly includes action in the Uk, against german capital ships culminating in participation in the Channel Dash fiasco. Posting to Malta follows during which he torpedoed an Italian Cruiser and sank a German freighter. AND survived an absolutely horrendous campaign which very few of his contemporaries did. Many little asides about some of the "better known"characters give fascinating insights, especially as Mr Aldridge and his gunner often have diverse opinions.
The story then moves to Ceylon to await the japanese, who of course fortunately never arrived. This last bit is of interest but meanders slightly and perhaps overlong but this maybe just reaction to the pace and story of what goes before.
So well done Aldridge and Ryan, a very enjoyable read and a fabulous personnel record of a piece of history which deserves to be recorded and better known. Probably the most dangerous part of the RAF to have been in.
Thank you Arthur Aldridge for this book and for what you did ............Enjoyable read, fascinating and recommended.
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