HMS Cavalier Book Review

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HMS Cavalier: Destroyer 1944

Seaforth Historic Ships Series

By Richard Johnstone-Bryden

Softcover, 128 pages, bibliography, fully illustrated in color

Published by Seaforth 2015

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1-84832-226-7

ISBN-13: 978-1-84832-226-4

Dimensions:  6.9 x 0.4 x 9.6 inches

HMS Cavalier (D73) was a CA class destroyer commissioned into the Royal Navy in November of 1944.  Decommissioned after the war, she was later modernized and re-entered service in 1957.  She spent most of her operational service in the Far East, eventually trading her torpedo tubes and “X” gun mount for a Seacat SAM system and Squid ASW mortars.  She was finally decommissioned in 1972 and began a long and complicated journey through the hands of various trusts, associations, and bureaucratic red tape which eventually resulted in her being preserved as a museum ship at Chatham.  She was opened to the public in 1999, and was officially designated as the National Destroyer Memorial in November 2007.

The first portion of the book is a brief history of Royal Navy destroyer design and development to the point of the building of the CA class late in the war.  The narrative then shifts to Cavalier’s service history and modernizations until she was paid off in 1972.  Her preservation and eventual restoration as a museum ship close out the book’s textual portion.

The bulk of the content is a series of high-quality photographs of the preserved ship.  The interior is open to the public and has been extensively restored, with many spaces fitted out with equipment and personal items as would be seen in service.  The exceptions are the Engineering spaces, which pose safety obstacles for public access but were photographed for the book.  All photos are captioned extensively and it is obvious the author spent considerable time researching the details. This is a beautiful, well presented book, and certainly worth picking up if you have an interest in warships.  The museum has done an outstanding job in Cavalier’s preservation and the photographs do justice to their efforts.  There are several museum ships preserved in the U.S., I can only hope that a similar series of publications would someday be produced with American warships as their subjects.  Recommended.

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Grumman F6F Hellcat Color Photographs Part I

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An early F6F-3 Hellcat positioned in front of the island of the Essex-class carrier USS Yorktown (CV-10). The first Hellcats were delivered in the standard Blue Gray over Light Gray scheme with national insignia in six locations. This photograph was taken in May, 1943.

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Yorktown again, but three months later. These Hellcats are finished in the graded scheme and feature the barred insignia with blue outline in four locations. The wings have extensive cordite staining from the guns.

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Hellcats recovering aboard the USS Saratoga (CV-3). Saratoga survived the war, only to be expended as a target for atomic bomb tests.

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F6F Hellcats and SBD Dauntless dive bombers warm up aboard the USS Lexington (CV-16) off New Guinea in April, 1944. Close examination of the photo shows kill markings displayed on Hellcats 5 and 20.

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Plane handlers sunbathing on the wing of a Fleet Air Arm Hellcat Mk.1 of the Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Indomitable, 18 January 1945.

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Hellcats warming up on the light carrier USS Cowpens (CV-25) prior to the strike on Wake Island. US aircraft carriers stained their decks Deck Blue to make the ships harder to detect from the air.

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Pilots and deck crew await the order to start engines. (LIFE magazine photograph)

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Rocket-armed F6F-5’s of VF-11 Sundowners prepare for launch aboard USS Hornet (CV-12) in the summer of 1944. Avengers and Helldivers await their turns at the aft end of the flight deck.

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F6F-5’s being serviced on the flight deck. The -5 Hellcats were finished in an overall glossy Sea Blue scheme. Here they are fitted with white drop tanks, a hold over from the previous graded camo scheme.

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An F6F-5 secured to the deck of the USS Randolph (CV-15) with a Fletcher-class destroyer in the background. US carriers typically operated in Task Groups of four aircraft carriers, screened by battleships, cruisers, and up to sixteen destroyers.

Escort Commander Book Review

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Escort Commander, originally published as Walker R.N.

By Terence Robertson

Hardcover in dustjacket, 200 pages, appendices, notes, and index

Published by Nelson Doubleday 1979, Book Club Edition

Language: English

Dimensions: 5.7 x 0.7 x 8.5 inches

This is the biography of Captain Frederic “Johnnie” Walker, Royal Navy, who gained fame as the most successful submarine hunter of the Second World War.  He held simultaneous command of HMS Stork and was in overall command of the 36th Escort Group during 1941-42, and later was Captain of HMS Starling and the 2nd Support Group during 1943-44.  Ships under his command destroyed nineteen German U-boats during the war, and HMS Starling was the ship credited with the highest number of U-boat kills with fifteen, the majority of which were scored during her time with Walker in command.

Walker was an innovator in anti-submarine tactics and was very aggressive.  He determined that the best way to ensure the safety of the convoys under his protection was not to provide close escort, but to pursue and destroy any enemy submarine that was detected.  He often sent his warships several miles from the convoys after reported submarines; captains under his command were under standing orders to immediately attack any U-boats detected without awaiting further orders.  Three of his enemy submarine kills were sunk by ramming after they were forced to the surface.

A favored tactic was the “creeping attack” where sonar contact was maintained by one ship while another approached at low speed to deliver a depth charge pattern.  This was generally employed against a deep-diving submarine which could not detect the screw noise of the slow ship and thus was not expecting an attack.  Another tactic was known as “operation plaster” where two or preferably three ships steaming abreast would drop large patterns of depth charges simultaneously over a target.

While at sea Captain Walker lived on the open bridge of his ship, taking meals there and only retiring briefly for cat naps when the situation permitted.  The stress of combat and exposure to the North Atlantic elements eventually took its toll, he died of a cerebral thrombosis in July 1944.  His honors included the Distinguished Service Order with three bars and was made a Companion of the Order of the Bath.

The only nit I would pick with this book is the author credits the promulgation of Walker’s tactics and innovative leadership style as the cause of the Battle of the Atlantic turning against the U-boats in 1943.  While certainly a factor, the introduction of centimetric radar in patrol aircraft (which the German submarines could not detect) and the use of escort carriers certainly played a major role. Never the less this is a well-written biography, and Walker is worthy of study as an example of inspiring leadership under difficult circumstances.

USN McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II Book Review

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USN McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II

By Peter E. Davies, illustrated by Adam Tooby and Henry Morshead

Series: Osprey Air Vanguard Book 22

Paperback, 64 pages, heavily illustrated

Published by Osprey Publishing March 2016

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1472804953

ISBN-13: 978-1472804952

Dimensions: 7.2 x 0.1 x 9.9 inches

This is the first book in the Osprey Air Vanguard Series which I have read.  Like most Osprey books, it covers a lot of ground in a small number of pages, so it is best thought of as a primer or an introduction rather than a comprehensive history.  The story of the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom could easily (and does!) fill several volumes so it is wise that Osprey have focused on USN F-4s in this work while issuing a separate book on Phantoms operated by the USAF.  Having said that, this volume also covers Phantoms in US Marine, Royal Air Force, and Royal Navy service, so the USN in the title is a bit of a misnomer.

The first chapters are devoted to the developmental history and technical description of the Phantom.  This is well known among aviation enthusiasts but is useful for being concise – an example where the brevity of the format is a strength.  There is a description of all the major sub-types operated by the naval services, and then a history of the type in service.

Like most Osprey books, this one is profusely illustrated, mostly in color.  There are several pages of artwork including portraits of two aircraft and profiles of nine.  The profiles are reproduced to a much smaller format than either those in the Aircraft of the Aces or Combat Aircraft series and there is much less information presented in the captions.  One of the nicer presentations is one which I almost overlooked – the back cover is actually a gatefold which contains an annotated cut-away illustration of the Phantom.

Overall a nice package, the contents and quality of which would not come as a surprise to anyone familiar with this publisher.

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Battleship Ramillies Book Review

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Battleship Ramillies: The Final Salvo

Edited by Ian Johnson with Mick French

Hardcover in dustjacket, 256 pages, well illustrated

Published by Seaforth Publishing June 2014

Language: English

ISBN-13: 978-1-84832-2110

Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.0 x 9.2 inches

HMS Ramillies was one of five Revenge class battleships built for the Royal Navy during World War I.   Her main armament was eight 15 inch (381 mm) guns carried in four twin turrets.  She was quite active during the Second World War.  She was part of the escort for HMS Illustrious during the Toranto Raid, and her presence with Convoy HX 106 was enough to prevent the German battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau from attacking.  She was the flagship for the British invasion of Madagascar, and was torpedoed by a Japanese midget submarine there at Diego Suarez on 30MAY42.  She participated in Operation Neptune, the naval portion of the Normandy Invasion where she expended over one thousand rounds of 15 inch.  Her last major action in WWII was Operation Dragoon, the invasion of Southern France.

This book consists entirely of “sea stories” from the crew as collected by the HMS Ramillies Association.  These are very personal accounts and vary greatly as each sailor tells his story from his own perspective.  All seem to have a lasting affection for the ship and shipmates, Ramillies is consistently described as a clean ship and a happy ship.  The Royal Marines are also represented, as are the wives and sweethearts.

Most accounts mention that HMS Ramillies was the first battleship to call on New Zealand, where her Captain was presented with a Māori warriors’ skirt, the piupiu.  It was said to be able to protect the crew from harm if worn in action.  The Captain did indeed wear the skirt, and the Ramillies suffered no losses due to enemy action while he was wearing it.

I enjoyed this book.  It really conveys what life was like in the Royal Navy during WWII, both on the ship and ashore.  Sailors from any navy will recognize much from these accounts, although some of the jargon is unique to the British – the Royal Navy is “The Andrew” and sailors are “matelots”.  The book also contains several photographs, my one criticism is that they should have been reproduced in a larger format to better see the details.  Recommended.

Note:  The dustjacket on this copy is not torn, the “damage” is a rather odd artistic choice of the publisher and is printed on.

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Grumman TBM Avenger Color Photographs Part 2

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An atmospheric color photograph of an Avenger making an arrested landing aboard an escort carrier as plane handlers rush to release the arresting wire and move the aircraft forward.  The large yellow “buzz numbers” indicate a training aircraft.  The national insignia carry the red border which was only authorized from 28JUN43 to 14AUG43.

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A similar photograph showing the buzz number carried on the starboard wing.  Also note where the national insignia further outboard on the wing has been painted over in accordance with directives.  On the yardarm the ship is displaying the two black ball dayshapes which indicate that she is restricted in her ability to maneuver while conducting flight operations.   Escorting ships quickly learn to keep a close watch on aircraft carriers as they will often alter course to steer into the wind with little or no notice.

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As American wartime production became sufficient to meet the needs of the front-line units, older aircraft were rotated back to the States, often to be used in training commands.  This Avenger shows heavy fading and wear to the Blue Gray over Light Gray camouflage along with areas where the paint has been touched up.

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This perspective shows details of the wing fold and landing gear.  The interior of the wing fold is finished in the upper surface color Blue Gray, the landing gear is finished in the under surface color Light Gray.

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Carrier aircraft often displayed small numbers in various locations to help crews in identifying specific airframes when the side numbers were not easily visible.  This aircraft carries the number “7” on the cowl sides and wing leading edges.  Interestingly, this does not appear to correspond to the aircraft’s buzz number on the wing upper surface.

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A sailor ties off an Avenger at the landing gear attachment point.  The decks of U.S. aircraft carriers were provided with slotted steel strips to anchor the lines, one of which is faintly visible in the lower left-hand corner of this photograph.  As soon as the aircraft was spotted on the deck the wheels were chocked and it was secured with lines or chains – aircraft could easily roll of the deck of a ship underway.

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A fine view of the Avenger’s Wright R-2600-8 powerplant.  The engine was rated at 1,700 horse power.  The Avenger was the heaviest single-engine aircraft to serve during WWII with a maximum weight of 13,667 pounds – just 400 pounds more than the P-47 Thunderbolt.  (NASM, Rudy Arnold Collection)

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The Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm was a major user of the Avenger, taking over one thousand aircraft into service.  In FAA service it was called the Tarpon until 01JAN44 when the American name was adopted.  These 846 Squadron Tarpon are shown on a training flight in the U.S. in late 1943, they would be assigned to the escort carrier HMS Ravager.

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The FAA also operated the Avenger in the Pacific.  This obviously staged photograph gives us a good look at the uniforms of both the flight and ground crews which differ little from their American counterparts.  Note the upper wing roundel which has minimized the white area and eliminated the red altogether to reduce the possibility of confusion with Japanese markings.

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A yellow-nosed torpedo is wheeled into position.  Red has also been removed from the Avenger’s fin flash.  Friendly fire incidents remain a problem to this day in spite of precautions to minimize their likelihood.

One Hundred Days Book Review

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One Hundred Days: The Memoirs of the Falklands Battle Group Commander

By Admiral Sandy Woodward with Patrick Robinson

Hardcover in dustjacket, 360 pages, photographs

Published by Naval Institute Press April 1992

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1557506515

ISBN-13: 978-1557506511

Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.8 x 9.5 inches

Admiral Sir John “Sandy” Woodward was the Royal Navy’s Battle Group Commander during the Falklands war, this is his autobiographical account of the Navy’s preparation and conduct of that war.  The first chapter is a detailed account of the loss of HMS Sheffield, ironically a ship which Woodward had commanded earlier in his carrier.  Even though I was familiar with the circumstances of the Sheffield’s sinking there are many details and nuances in this account which were new to me.  With the hooks firmly set, the authors then describe Woodward’s earlier career (mainly as a submariner) leading up to his being on exercise in the Mediterranean at the time of the Argentinian’s seizure of the Falklands.

Woodward’s account describes the various options and difficulties inherent in every decision an Admiral and his staff are required to make.  There are advantages and liabilities in each option, and matters are often decided with incomplete information while under a strict timetable.  These are all well laid out for the reader which gives ample insight into just how hard a job it is, a cautionary exercise for the armchair Admiral who might be inclined to second guess history with the benefit of hindsight.

While the Royal Navy’s Officers and men are superbly trained and did an outstanding job, I was surprised at the number and frequency of technical and mechanical issues suffered by their ships.  Much of the later half of the campaign was fought with ships which were only partially operational due to mechanical failures or battle damage.  I was also quite shocked to see how much valuable strategic and tactical information was supplied to the Argentinians by the BBC.  This included the arrival in theater of the Amphibious Task Group, the timing of the Paratroop Regiment’s assault, and the fact that many of the bombs dropped by Argentinian aircraft were failing to explode after hitting  British ships due to improper fusing.

I found this book hard to put down.  It offers a unique insight into the mind of a battle group commander conducting a sustained campaign at sea.  There are useful lessons for leaders both inside the military and in civilian life for planning and setting objectives.  This is also one of the best historical accounts of the air and naval portions of the War in Falklands, as you would expect from the Admiral in overall command of the effort.  Highly recommended.

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British Aircraft Carriers Book Review

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British Aircraft Carriers: Design, Development and Service Histories

By David Hobbs

Hardcover in dustjacket, 400 pages, heavily illustrated, gatefold plans

Published by Naval Institute Press January 2014

Language: English

ISBN-10: 9781591140740

ISBN-13: 978-1591140740

ASIN: 1591140749

Dimensions: 9.8 x 1.0 x 11.2 inches

This is a massive large-format book that covers a lot of ground – the history of aviation ships in the Royal Navy.  It details every RN aviation effort from the earliest trials with floatplanes and take-off platforms mounted to warships through to the recently commissioned Queen Elizabeth class of today.

Each class of ship is treated to its own chapter.  The ship’s design and specifications are described along with any modifications which may have occurred during her career.  Then the ship’s operational history is detailed.  An interesting and very useful touch is the inclusion of the composition of the ship’s airwing at various times which lists the squadrons assigned and aircraft types.

The book also devotes chapters to comparing the carriers of the Royal Navy with their foreign contemporaries, not surprisingly these are mostly American or Japanese types, with a few nods to the French.  The designs and equipment of each are compared showing the influences the various navies had upon one another and these are fascinating.

While the majority of the carriers covered are familiar to students of military history, the more obscure types are not forgotten.  The MAC ships are prime examples. These were cargo ships or tankers which were modified by adding flight decks while still retaining their ability to transport cargo.  They were able to support 3 – 6 Swordfish for anti-submarine protection of convoys.  An even more unusual concept was Project Habbakuk which was intended to be a massive unsinkable aircraft carrier made of ice.  While this was attractive on paper, the impracticability of actually constructing this vessel prevented her from ever seeing service.

The book is very well illustrated throughout with several photographs which were new to me.  The center section features general arrangement builders’ drawings of various carriers.  Here the internal details are shown in profile, the star of which is a double-gatefold profile of HMS Ark Royal.

Altogether a fascinating history of Royal Navy aircraft carriers which I can recommend without hesitation and an outstanding reference to add to your collection.  I purchased my copy online at a substantial discount from Edward R. Hamilton Booksellers.

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Pavla Gloster Sea Gladiator in 1/72 Scale

This is the Pavla Sea Gladiator of Lt A. N. Young, 813 NAS Fighter Flight aboard HMS Eagle, Mediterranean Sea, Summer 1940. These are still nice kits, but with all the quirks you would expect from a limited run molding.  One big asset is the Pavla decal sheet provides six sets of markings. The Pavla fuselage is a little more bloated than the newer Airfix molding, but I don’t really notice it much on the finished model.  I had intended to model this one with a closed canopy, but the vacuformed kit canopy was far too small to fit properly and looked better open.

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Grumman F4F Wildcat Mishaps, Part 1

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During testing the XF4F-2 prototype experienced an engine failure on 11APR38 and was damaged in the subsequent forced landing.  The rugged airframe was salvageable, and Grumman rebuilt it as the XF4F-3 with many improvements.

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Another Wildcat on her back, this is an F4F-3 from VF-41 at NAS Glenview.  Note the small size of the national insignia on the fuselage.  The overall Light Gray scheme was authorized from 30DEC40 and superseded by the Blue Gray over Light Gray scheme on 20AUG41.  VF-41 was assigned to the USS Ranger (CV-4).

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Ranger supported the Allied invasion of North Africa during Operation Torch on 08 – 09NOV42.  For that operation U.S. aircraft received a yellow surround to their national insignia, and British aircraft were painted in U.S. markings in the hopes that the Vichy French would not fire on American aircraft.  Those hopes proved to be in vain, VF-41 wildcats claimed 14 Vichy aircraft shot down for the loss of 7 of their own.

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British carriers operated the Wildcat as the Martlet.  Here a Martlet has gone over the side of the HMS Searcher, a Bouge-class escort carrier provided to the Royal Navy under the Lend-Lease program.

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Wildcats were also operated by U.S. Marines from land bases.  This is a well-known photograph of a damaged Marine Wildcat from VMF-221 taken on Midway Island shortly after the battle.  Less than a month before the battle ALNAV97 directed the red centers to the national insignia and the red and white tail stripes be painted out to avoid confusion with the Japanese Hinomaru marking.  Blue Gray paint was apparently unavailable to the Marines on Midway, many of their aircraft had the rudder stripes painted out with a darker blue.  The SB2U-3 Vindicators of VMSB-241 display the same improvisation, as can be seen here: https://inchhighguy.wordpress.com/2018/11/25/the-sb2u-3-vindicators-of-vmsb-241-during-the-battle-of-midway/   Note the bombed out hanger in the background.

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Two shots of an FM-2 Wildcat missing the wire and slamming into the aircraft spotted forward aboard the USS Bismarck Sea (CVE-95).  Bismarck Sea was a Casablanca class escort carrier.  She was sunk off Iwo Jima on 21FEB45 by a pair of Japanese Kamikaze.

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This Wildcat has gone over the side of the USS Charger (CVE-30) on 28MAR43 but has become entangled in the catwalk.  Charger served in the Atlantic, primarily as a training carrier.  The pilot can be seen climbing up the starboard side of the aircraft.  Note the stenciling on his seat cushion still in the cockpit.

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This pilot has found himself in an even more precarious position and is being hoisted back aboard the old fashioned way.  Floater nets can be seen hanging behind the aircraft.

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This Wildcat pilot is less fortunate still.  Going into the water directly ahead of the carrier adds the significant hazard of being run over by the ship.  The ocean immediately forward of the bow is not visible from the bridge, the OOD must guess where the aircraft crashed and turn immediately to avoid hitting the aircraft.