Top critical review
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on 20 July 2015
Pretty decent overview of the mother of all jet bombers, the English Electric Canberra, limited to its use in RAF service. Developed in the 1940s, the Canberra was an impressive plane by contemporary standards: as maneuverable as a fighter, able to fly some 800 km/h and reach altitudes of almost 15 km. With its limited range and payload, its main role would have been tactical, attacking the Soviet army if it would invade Europe. Canberras also participated in the British nuclear tests as observers and 'sniffers' (flying through these mushroom clouds to take samples). When nuclear bombs became available, some of the Canberra force was trained to drop 'buckets of sunshine' on both mobile and fixed Russian targets.
The most interesting part of this book is on the use of Canberras during the Suez Crisis. This mission was announced to the RAF by a Chief Air Marshall saying 'the PM has gone mad, he is going to invade Egypt'. The Canberras' job was to perform night attacks to eliminate the Egyptian Air Force on their own airfields. Egypt being way out of range of the network of radar beacons (which covered only Western Europe), the Canberras had to employ WW2 vintage tactics: 'marker' planes lit up the nightly airfields with flares, then threw markers hopefully on the right spot, followed by visual bombing of these markers by the 'main force' from fairly high altitudes. Not entirely surprisingly given WW2 experience (which had already shown that these kind of tactics were only good enough to hit a target the size of a city, not the size of planes parked on an airfield), the damage to the Egyptian air force resulting from this night bombing was disappointing.
I would have liked to learn more about the Canberra's role in the India-Pakistan wars. Each side used Canberra's (in both wars) to bomb enemy airfields at night. But as the title says, this book is only about the RAF Canberra's.
Due to the advent of Surface-to-Air missiles the high altitude bombing tactics originally envisaged, had to be changed to low altitude strike tactics in the late 1950s/early 1960s. The highlight of this period for the Canberras was their use in fighting Malay rebels. Less than a decade later, the Canberra was phased out from its original strike role, being replaced by the Buccaneer. In its photo-reconnaissance role the Canberra flew on until very recent years, its latest 'combat' missions being in Afghanistan - not bad for a plane designed in the 1940s!
As with so many of these books, a large part of the text consists of squadron numbers and designations that are not wildly interesting to the lay reader. Still, one gets a good overview of the service history of this fascinating plane, and the photos and colour plates are fine.