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Informative, readable and acessible

The Fleet Air Arm and the War in Europe 1939-1945

Author: David Hobbs

Publisher: Seaforth Publishing, 2022. Hardback, RRP £35

ISBN: 978-1-5267-9979-1

David Hobbs writes excellent books recording the history of naval aviation. This new work, “describes the operations of naval aircraft from aircraft carriers of the Home Fleet and from airfields ashore in the European theatre of operations between September 1939 and May 1945”. A further book is promised with coverage of Atlantic convoy operations by aircraft from escort carriers and MAC (merchant aircraft carrier) ships.

The structure of the Fleet Air Arm in 1939 is detailed and each year of the war is then covered. The work is informative, readable and accessible to someone who is not a naval specialist.

When it comes to the Battle of Britain, however, Commander Hobbs falters. Relying on another author’s work, he claims as a “fact” that confusion over the exact entitlement (to the “immediate” Battle of Britain award) “has led to some naval pilots’ names appearing on the London Embankment and Capel-le-Ferne memorials who do not meet the 1960 criteria.”

It is true that if the Christopher Foxley-Norris Memorial Wall at Capel-le-Ferne and the London Monument were to be put up in 2022, there would be significant changes to the names included. For one thing there has been so much additional research in recent years. However, the assertion of confusion over the definition is not true.

Both lists, as they stand, were based on a master list compiled by a loose-knit and changing group of people, four of whom I spoke to. All of them could quote the final definition for inclusion without problem, they were steeped in the matter. When I asked one about the appearance of the naval pilot who seems to represent possibly the most blatant error, his response was that the mistake made was to give in to lobbying from various naval officers.

Later David Hobbs makes a sweeping statement. He writes, “After the event the Battle of Britain acquired legendary status, although those who describe it as a victory fail to explain how the Luftwaffe was able to bomb London every night or destroy a succession of cities including Plymouth and Portsmouth”.

I will forego a debate on the semantics, including the definitions of “destroy” in various dictionaries. However, I will note that I have often read and heard explanations of why the Battle of Britain might be considered a victory. Usually they make some reference to no invasion taking place. Many may disagree with the opinion but to say that that the case has not been put is clearly incorrect.

Fine points are made about the sacrifice of so many people in 1940, not just the Few, and the lack of acknowledgment of the Merchant Navy role.

I will continue to regard Commander Hobbs as a considerable authority on naval aviation in the Second World War but I will seek guidance on the Battle of Britain elsewhere.


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