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4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars
British Aircraft Carriers: Design, Development & Service Histories
Format: Hardcover|Change
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on 8 January 2014
This book, by an ex-Fleet Air Arm pilot and later curator of the FAA Museum, will undoubtedly become regarded as THE authoritative book on British Aircraft carriers and naval aviation.
Cdr Hobbs previously published books include "Aircraft Carriers of the Royal & Commonwealth Navies " and "Royal Navy Escort Carriers" which are already established as standard works. This book virtually supercedes, and greatly expands them to cover the entire history of British naval aviation and it's carriers.
It combines the technical and operational history of the carriers, in far more detail than any prior work, plus considerable information on carrier procedure and comparisons with foreign navies

The Good Points
(which far outnumber the weaknesses)

The book uses the narrative of British naval aviation development as the basis for the ship details, in a very easy to follow way, while still enabling each class and ship to be individually examined. Sometimes by splitting a ship's history etc into sections through two or three chapters - which has been very skillfully done indeed. A considerable improvement on Norman Friedman's otherwise excellent but sometimes difficult to follow " British Carrier Aviation"

The photographs and plans are apposite, well chosen and well captioned. And there are plenty of them. Glossy paper helps.

The author's experience is well used to explain many features of naval operational procedure on board which until now have been unfamiliar to most of us. This is one of the book's great virtues

The degree of technical detail, both in the text and the tables far exceeds that previously available, especially in the post 1960 period. Indeed I am somewhat surprised that much of it has now been made public. And most is of great interest , and very little is too dry, for the average reader.

Indeed the entire post Second World War period is covered extremely well, with much new information, which at last makes sense of a confusing period. The author shows his biases in an unconcealed manner, but as most readers, including myself, will probably agree with his views over the political mismanagement, I see this not as a fault but a virtue! The details of the Queen Elizabeth class are good, and give a good overview of the current state of play.

The Bad Points

The author seems, perhaps deliberately, to have largely avoided the major difference between the American and British navies over the use of the flight deck for permanent aircraft storage. As it affected dramatically the aircraft capacity (the USN carriers had far more capacity due to accepting this) I feel it should have been given more coverage

The photographic reproduction, although acceptable, is not to Seaforth's usual quality. It would seem that most of the out-of-copyright material (all marked, unhelpfully , "Author's Collection" ) is from second generation prints and is slightly "grainier" and of poorer contrast than it should be.

The book sports several beautiful fold-out ships Admiralty profile drawings - the best reproduced I've ever seen. But the reduction in size has rendered illegible most of the captioning and made an always difficult task of interpretation largely impossible.

Seaforth's Attempts to Ruin the Eyesight of its Readers ( SARTER) continues. The typeface has had to be reduced in size to accommodate a vast amount of text. Consequently it can be somewhat tiring to read , especially by artificial light, for prolonged periods . The photo captions are in even smaller type, albeit mercifully in bold. But given the choice of less data or bigger type, I certainly prefer the former. Perhaps Seaforth should have considered a slightly bolder version of this size. But one cannot have everything.

A Personal Quibble

The author's Introduction states that it covers "all those ships which had the operation of aircraft as their primary purpose ". The book includes , quite rightly in my opinion , HMS Ocean, but omits RFA "Engadine " (1967 -1989). Although a Royal Fleet Auxiliary I think her long service deserves at least a footnote. My first helicopter flight was made in 1969 from this ship so perhaps I'm prejudiced!

This is still however a magnificent book and a "must buy "
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on 4 March 2014
(publisher’s review copy)

We could have no better guide to this subject than Commander Hobbs, a veteran of over eight hundred carrier landings and retired curator of the Fleet Air Arm Museum, who has already published extensively on Fleet Air Arm subjects. He has here brought years of research and study together to provide an entire and encyclopaedic account of the development and history of the Royal Navy’s aircraft carriers, from the earliest seaplane-carrying conversions to the Queen Elizabeth class now in build.

The scope of the work embraces every ship we have ever had that was dedicated to the launch and recovery of aircraft, even CAM ships, plus fascinating details of ships like the Malta class and CVA01 that never did get built (and Habbakuk the impossible floating aviation iceberg), but excluding those cruisers and other ships for which air operations were and are not the ship’s main purpose, even though their aircraft confer a utility far beyond their hull. There is a good account of the wartime Escort Carriers and their short but busy war in support of invasions and seaborne strike and other service from Norway via the Mediterranean to Japan. As the story progresses we are also given details of the contemporary aircraft carriers of our friends, enemies and neighbours, and of carrier aviation in Commonwealth navies, mostly based on our incredibly successful Vickers-designed Light Fleets which were only planned to last three years but one of which is still afloat.

The presentation takes the form of construction and technical details for each class of ship, followed by the individual history of each vessel. The text is copiously illustrated with photographs and arrangement drawings - several in colour - from many sources including the author’s personal collection, which must be extraordinarily extensive, and which otherwise we should never see.

A selection of the aircraft involved are also reviewed including the way specific aircraft development influenced carrier design and vice versa. Comparisons between the F35 (including an explanation of why it has no buddy-refuelling system) and the Rafaele and the Super-Hornet are followed by discussion of our and others’ airborne early warning and antisubmarine provisions. In that context the USN’s experiments with the Drone Antisubmarine Helicopter (DASH) in the sixties might have merited a mention as the dialogue moves on to unmanned aircraft. The US intend to have such a vehicle in service in 2020, the current projected date for our own re-entry to operational fixed-wing carrier aviation, albeit in a way which excludes us pursuing the unmanned aircraft avenue. The abandonment of RAF maritime surveillance can be contrasted with the USN’s existing unmanned advances in this field, already operational.

While people are not the principal focus of the book, we are introduced to several individual innovators as the story of the many Firsts scored by the Royal Navy unfolds, and also some of the brave pilots who moved the game forward. Sadly under the dead hand of the RAF (Hobbs provides several exact examples), as the RN suffered from the cull of all keen air-minded young officers, the baton passed to the United States, although, carrier aviation firmly back in the Navy’s hands, in the 1950s we produced many vital inventions which are key to modern carrier operations in all navies and the Firsts continued right up to the pioneering of vertical envelopment at Suez, taken up by everybody else. It took until the late sixties for the RN’s professional aviators, aafter the attrition of war and post-war redundancy drives, to reach any sort of major level of influence and as will be seen, by then it was too late.

Hobbs comments as well as describes, and can, justifiably as he demonstrates with impeccable logic and clear facts in a catalogue of missed opportunities and want of forward planning, be witheringly scathing of Government and Admiralty as compromise and sub-optimisation were and are forced on ships that could have been so much more capable. Time and again we see carrier procurement falling into the hands of the uninformed, ignorant or plain stupid both in and out of uniform, with what does emerge less than it might have been for the same money, and often cluttered with gunnery and other junk - usually later removed - to the detriment of the ship’s prime purpose and capability, those last never clearly understood. With hindsight, some major modernisations typically eventually cost as much as a new ship and delivered less. Meanwhile, as with battleships in the 1900s, what we could achieve was constrained by unwillingness to increase the size of the docks in the home yards.

The culmination of all this is the Queen Elizabeth class, treated in considerable detail, where we seem to be acquiring roughly the capability of two USS Americas for roughly twice the money per ship, delivered at least eight years late and locked into a Second Division modus operandi. One of Hobbs’ points is the MoD’s failure to appoint a supremo to drive the process (and similarly the previous Invincible-class project) in the way Rufus Mackenzie was appointed to deliver Polaris.

The full story of the political motivation behind deliberate emasculation of the RN’s offensive strike capability via the cancellation of CVA01 in 1966, the choice of Hermes for commando conversion, and the early paying-off of Victorious in 1967, Eagle in 1972 and Ark Royal in 1978 has perhaps yet to be told. That we should spend vast amounts of money without its delivering appropriate results will have suited our enemies very well.

The author points out, by worked example, the weakness of employing embarked aircraft and aircrew that are not worked up for carrier operations or into its ethos. I would add Sharkey Ward’s comments on the Sierra Leone operation to this genre. As to the historical narrative, Hobbs disposes of various myths, for instance demonstrating that it was not Indomitable’s grounding that cost us the Prince of Wales and Repulse, as she would not have arrived East until after their sinking anyway.

What else could have been included? The real costs of re-engining the Whirlwind and the Phantom? The temporary reprieve granted to Centaur? The ‘Warship Eagle’ TV programme? Triumph’s Sea Balliols making the very last RN axial-deck landings? Counsels of perfection.

The text is supported by a comprehensive index and an extensive bibliography (but I was surprised to see none of the Fleet Air Arm related works of John Winton mentioned). The volume measures 11½” x 9¾”. The spellchecking imp has left his calling card in a few places (e.g. sighting for siting on p.256). Altogether this is a superb production; but in many places, read it and weep.
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HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERon 28 January 2014
This is an exceptional product of the highest quality. Not only is it a large book (289 x 245 mm), it is packed with detail in every one of its 384 pages and, just to ensure we can trust the content, it is written by a leading expert in the field with many years of personal experience of working on aircraft carriers. Author David Hobbs spent 33 years in the Royal Navy to 1997. Qualified to fly rotary and fixed wing aircraft, he completed over 800 carrier landings - 150 of which were at night. At other times he was responsible for developing carrier operating techniques and drove forward a particular sight which facilitated the recovery of Sea Harriers during times of bad weather and at night. He was also chosen as an exchange officer with the US Navy during which he was closely involved with sea trials for the McDonnell Douglas AV-8B Harrier II.

Divided into 40 chapters, the work commences with “Admiralty interest in Aviation 1908-1911” and, thereby starts right at the very beginning. With the many developments and innovations through the years - including two world wars being fully explained, this complete life-story of a particular type of ship in the Royal Navy is told in a manner which allows the ordinary layman to appreciate the technical issues and associated problems involved.

Working its way steadily through the years, many of the chapters are dedicated to either a particular ship or class of ship and, of course, none are overlooked. In amongst these are other chapters on such peripheral subjects as; seaplane carriers, the development of carriers in other navies, escort carriers & MAC ships, Project Habbakuk, a comparison with aircraft carriers in other navies, maintenance carriers, aircraft and their operation, post-1945 designs not built, reconstruction of Victorious, Hermes & Eagle, the Queen Elizabeth which was not built, Ark Royal controversy, small carrier designs, short take-off and vertical landing, HMS Ocean, carriers in Commonwealth navies, British carrier concepts, carrier-borne aircraft in the 21st century, unmanned aircraft and, finally; Future prospects.

These are followed by six appendices; Royal Navy carrier aircraft 1912-2012, aircraft from other services which have operated from RN carriers, proposed aircraft carrying mail steamer of 1923, fighter catapult ships and CAM ships, British carrier losses and pennant numbers and deck recognition letters. The work concludes with Bibliography, Glossary and Index.

Lavishly illustrated with approx. 200 B&W images of the best possible quality, these are all carefully positioned so that they are relevant to the adjacent text. The biggest treasure, however, is found between pages 224 and 225 and comprises an additional 8 pages of plans and line drawings (deck view and side profiles) - with two of those pages folding out to provide a centre spread of HMS Ark Royal (Starboard side profile) across four pages - seen as a single item.

In short, this single book contains just about everything from the first 100 years of British aircraft carrier operations - including the history of each vessel and all the peripheral information which goes with that history. It should, therefore, be recognised for the immense undertaking it is and the author should be congratulated without condition. Personally, I am simply grateful for such a complete package in which all the required information appears together.

Thank you!

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on 8 March 2017
A very interesting book about the history of the aircraft carriers, and as to how they kept on evolving as new ideas in how to use them, and new aircraft designs required new solutions to allow them to be integrated into the fighting capabilities of these special ships.
Aircraft Carriers in the modern world of the 21st Century make some of the older designs look like toys, and with nuclear propulsion alongside jet turbine and modern diesel powered carriers carrying aircraft that can reach just about anywhere on the planet, it makes you think as to what those who first thought of having aircraft on ships would say if they had still been alive, as some carriers carry not only supersonic aircraft, but the carriers themselves are more like floating airfields that have thousands of men crew them.
Unfortunately it seems that the cost of having to build, maintain, and operate modern day carriers means that there are very few such vessels in service, and with modern technology ever developing new weapons and delivery systems will some day quite possibly see the end of such vessels that were instrumental in winning WWII, and helped fight many land battles that land based aircraft were not able to provide the rapid intervention required until airbases could be found nearer to where they could safely operate from.
A very useful book that is full of interest to those wanting to find out about the subject.
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on 29 March 2016
Half decent book on the subject that in my view is coloured by Mr Hobbs own view on the politics surrounding the RN. However, if you are looking to find out the basics of where the ships served in the war, you can get the same data from the internet... free. On the other hand, if you need to know about the weapons and so forth shipped by the carriers, and like to see some commentary on the design of the vessels, this is a critical resource.
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on 30 October 2017
British Aircraft Carriers: Design, Development. I will be adding this book to my extensive collection of books regarding the Fleet Air Arm. It's so full of information and quality photographs through out being printed on coated papers. It's a quality product, full of information on the subject, the best I've seen on the subject.
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on 21 September 2015
Everything you need to know in one volume. Written by an inside expert not afraid to air his personal professional opinions. Just get it. You won't regret it. Hours and hours of fascinating reading and looking and understanding and thinking. Makes the present MOD and its procurement policy look like a bunch of geezeers who couldn't organise a *iss up in a brewery. What ever happened to RN carrier design and procurement? I tell you what: taken out of the navy's control and passed to civil servents in the MOD in Whitehall. No catapults. No arrestor wires. To put that stuff back in would have costed an estimated £1.5bn. What! for a couple of steam catapults and a few arresot wires?! The French have sought to build the same design carrier under licence for just the same price - for the whole ship including cats and traps. God, it makes the £13m it cost to strip out a 6-inch gun turret and build a hangar and deck for a couple of helicopters on HMS Tiger in 1965 look cheap. I'm losing the will to live now around UK Navy ship design, development and delivery. You know why? Because there is no competition. BAe systems have it all wrapped up. Just as in the 1930s their predecessors, Vickers, had the whole army tank design and manufacture wrapped up. The result? Totally rubbish tanks. So we will now have totally rubbiush ships.
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on 9 January 2014
An excellent book,well presented and a great supplement to Friedman's British Carrier Aviation.

Any Aircraft Carrier and/or Royal Navy enthusiast must buy this book...not only great plans and photos but content I've never known of are included.

Most interesting fact I've found so far..only had two days perusing so far...the clarification of the Eagle/Ark Royal class ships...the fact the third ship was so near completion to launch before work was stopped and all was scrapped is new to me. A missed opportunity for the RN..if this ship had been completed to launch status and preserved to complete later then the massive and expensive rebuild of the Victorious would have never been necessary...complete the third hull...HMS Audacious perhaps and have a 3 ship class of updated Fleet carriers.

I'm sure there is much other treasure to be discovered in this great book...Buy now and enjoy.
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on 7 January 2014
It is many years since Friedman's book on British Carrier Aviation and so this book is very welcome.

I have no hesitation in saying that this is a great book and well worth the money for the amount of new material and information it brings to the subject.

The original Ships plans for CVA 01 in colour are worth the money alone!

My only criticism is not really a criticism. You do need the Friedman book for the excellent drawings and info. This book is almost a part 2 of the Friedman book rather than a replacement.

The author is a passionate expert on the aircraft operating side of things, so there are some good new drawings showing aircraft operations, eg on CVA 01.
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on 8 January 2015
This is one of the best publications on British warships produced. High quality photographs, ships histories and plans and drawings. The book even includes text about aircraft carriers which were not proceeded with, along with comparisons with foreign carriers.. All in all one for the collector.
Davie Easton
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