This book provides a concise and yet expansive history of one of the Luftwaffe's most active fighter units in the Second World War: Jagdgeschwader 1 (JG 1). The unit came into being in 1939 as a result of a reorganization within the Luftwaffe. Upon the outbreak of war in September of that year, JG 1 played a minimal role in the invasion of Poland. Furthermore, between 1940 and 1942, JG 1 was deployed over Northern Europe and on the Western Front, where it saw action during the Battle of France in May and June of 1940. JG 1's main opponent (following the French defeat) was the Royal Air Force (RAF), which made incursions into its airspace which encompassed the defense of Northern Germany from its bases in Holland.
By late 1942, with the United States now in the war, JG 1 became increasingly a vital part in the defense of the Reich. The United States Army Air Force (USAAF) was now fully committed with the RAF to the Allied air offensive with its growing numbers of bomber and fighter groups to help destroy Germany's capacity to wage war.
This book has plenty of first-hand accounts from many of JG 1's pilots, which recount in considerable detail, the struggles these pilots faced in taking on the fleets of USAAF B-17 and B-24 heavy bombers (and their fighter escorts). The reader will shudder while reading these harrowing accounts, tangibly experiencing the fright the JG 1 pilot must have experienced from flying his ME 109 or FW 190 fighter plane into tight formations of enemy bombers, braving the streams of defensive fire directed at them from these formations.
From 1943 to war's end in May 1945, JG 1 fought a tenacious battle - which expanded to 2 fronts, West and East. As with any book of this magnitude from Osprey, there are plenty of photos and illustrations in "Jagdgeschwader 1 'Oesau' Aces 1939-45" to give greater clarity to what the Second World War was like for the airmen on both sides who fought in it.
From the moment I read the first 2 to 3 pages of "ANATOMY OF A SCANDAL," I knew this would be a novel I wanted to see through to the finish. I was seduced by the writing, which flows seamlessly and is a joy to read.
Each chapter in "ANATOMY OF A SCANDAL" is told from the vantage point of the main characters: Sophie Whitehouse; James Whitehouse (her husband), an ex-Etonian and Oxfordian (both he and Sophie had met at Oxford, where they were students during the early 1990s), who was "to the manor born" and as an MP (Member of Parliament) and junior government minister is clearly poised for greater things. Besides, he and the Prime Minister - Tom Southern - are both blue bloods and boon companions from Eton and Oxford days. Both are imbued with an overweening sense of entitlement and privilege that gives them the sense that they can get away with just about anything. Besides, James is supremely self-confident, has an unerring knack for ingratiating himself with just about anybody, and has a handsomeness that even in middle age continues to draw women into his orbit. Then there is the barrister Kate Woodcroft, QC (Queen's Counsel), who has been appointed to prosecute James when he is accused of rape by a young woman who had worked for him as a researcher.
A large portion of the novel is taken up with the trial. It is a high-profile trial which forces Sophie (who had given up her career upon marrying James and had contented herself with being the ideal political wife and mother of their 2 young children) to reassess both her marriage and her understanding of her husband, as well as her loyalty to him. Kate, too, is deeply impacted by the trial, which she is determined to win. Old ghosts from Kate's past are resurrected. And there are links between the present-day and Oxford from the 1990s that reveal interesting and unexpected connections among the main characters.
Surprises and twists abound in "ANATOMY OF A SCANDAL" that will keep the reader wanting to know more. This is a novel that won't be soon forgotten by anyone who reads it. It is that GOOD.
"THE KENNEDY BROTHERS: The Rise and Fall of Jack and Bobby" offers the reader various views and perspectives on the evolution of the relationship between John F. Kennedy and his younger brother Robert between 1951 and 1963. At the same time, it also provides, in a large sense, a living history of the Kennedy Administration; the challenges, setbacks and triumphs it experienced; and the roles Robert Kennedy played in that history as Attorney General (e.g. his relentless fight against organized crime and his moral support for the cause of civil rights) and enforcer and protector of his brother, the President.
Then we also experience the inner struggles and agonies Robert Kennedy endured after his brother was assassinated in Dallas in November 1963. After years of supporting JFK through his various political campaigns and in the White House, he was faced with having to find his own voice and place. In the process, Robert Kennedy's humaneness and compassion for the poor and disenfranchised - coupled with his fearlessness and the spirit of his character - came to define him in the eyes of millions of Americans as he went on to win election to the U.S. Senate from New York in 1964 and embarked on the path that led him to his last crusade, his run for the Presidency in 1968.
In the words of the author: "... the Kennedys, with all their romance and irony, finally unite in an aesthetic comparable to the Greeks that they read about and quoted: they were daring and they were doomed, and they knew it and accepted it. They would die and make their deaths into creative acts of history. They would be heroes. And they would give their country an imperishable poignancy in its heart."
"OUR MAN IN WASHINGTON" is one of those novels that blends reality with fiction so well that the reader won't be altogether sure of up from down, much less left from right.
The story begins in Baltimore, Maryland during the spring of 1923. James M. Cain, a journalist and aspiring writer (who had done some work for the Baltimore Sun on labor issues), makes the acquaintance of the famous journalist, satirist, and cultural critic H.L. Mencken. Cain is hoping to get a job working for Mencken, who is rumored to be at work in creating a national journal that would bring together several of the nation's finest writers to contribute stories emblematic of the country's cultural values and lifestyles. Both men decide to collaborate on a book that would lay bare the rumors of scandal and corruption in the Harding Administration (i.e. graft, bootlegging, sex, and murder).
In the process, Cain and Mencken spend the whole of the spring and most of the summer of 1923 investigating leads both in Washington and Baltimore, as well as becoming acquainted with some of the principal characters in, near or out of government who would later go down in infamy as the truth began to emerge about some of the scandals associated with the Harding White House. Both men also are able to have arranged for them separate off-the-record interviews with both President Harding and his wife (aka 'The Duchess').
There is a lot more to "OUR MAN IN WASHINGTON" than being both a thriller and a mystery novel. There is passion, subterfuge, and in Gaston B. Means, a real-life shady private-eye/fraudster/thief/confidence man who made this book even more compelling. And I must admit that the book's cover art captures perfectly the spirit and essence of early 1920s America with images of Warren G. Harding, Mencken, Nan Britton (President Harding's mistress who is said to have borne his daughter), Teapot Dome, and the presidential seal --- with the front page of the Sunday, May 7, 1922 issue of The Washington Post serving as backdrop. Anyone who enjoys a political thriller with the elements of a mystery novel will enjoy reading this book.
|I wonder how many people knew that Charles Lindbergh had written a book in 1927 shortly after he accomplished the remarkable feat of flying solo from New York to Paris? Until about a couple of weeks ago, I had no idea that "WE" existed. "WE" in the title was Lindbergh's way of referring to himself and the airplane ('The Spirit of St. Louis') that carried him across the ocean to Paris. He considered what he achieved in that flight not a singular accomplishment for him alone, but also for the plane.
Most of the book is taken up with Lindbergh telling his life story, his brief time as a student of Engineering at the University of Wisconsin, his initial training as a pilot in a flight school in Nebraska in 1922, his experiences barnstorming in the South and Midwest, his subsequent acceptance into the U.S. Army Air Service as an aviation cadet in 1924, his successful completion of his military training the following year (Lindbergh was made a reserve officer), followed by his service as an air mail pilot --- all of which led up to his undertaking the quest to carry out a transatlantic flight. A quest (as represented by the award of the $25,000 Orteig Prize for any aviator who succeeded in flying across the Atlantic) that had already been taken up by many of the world's renowned aviators --- without success. Many died in the attempt.
The remainder of the book goes on to describe the reception Lindbergh received across Europe and the U.S. in May and June of 1927 after his record flight.
I enjoyed reading this book so much. While there are aspects of Charles Lindbergh --- later manifested in his life when he became a controversial political voice with the America First isolationist movement pre-Pearl Harbor --- that I do not like, his achievements in aviation are AMAZING.
SOE. The Special Operations Executive. Its remit upon its establishment in Britain during the dark days of the summer of 1940 when the Third Reich bestrode the continent of Western Europe from Norway to the Bay of Biscay: to establish an effective resistance against the Nazis in German-occupied Europe. The author of "UNDERCOVER", Patrick Howarth, was himself a member of this unique organization. With considerable skill, he shares with the reader the stories of many of the courageous men and women of SOE who risked their lives across Europe from Norway to France, the Netherlands, Poland (there the Polish resistance had an autonomy and control over operations against the Germans unlike any resistance network elsewhere), the Balkans, and Italy. Later, SOE would establish itself in the Far East and the Southwest Pacific in the war against Japan.
Anyone who enjoys reading human interest stories and tales of espionage will gain a deep understanding and appreciation for the people who made SOE such a uniquely effective organization, despite the antagonisms it faced from older, more established intelligence agencies in Britain (e.g. the Secret Intelligence Service [SIS] or MI-6), as well as from elements of the British military.
In essence, "[t]he history of SOE's active service in the Second World War may be deemed to have begun when members of a British military mission were retreating hastily from Poland to Romania in September 1939. It may be thought to have ended when the first white man to be parachuted into Sarawak, and future curator of Sarawak's ethnological museum, accepted the surrender of Japanese forces on 31 October 1945."
As Time pushes us further and further away from the days of John F. Kennedy's presidency, it is hard for those with a living memory of his Presidency (and harder still for those of us who were not alive when JFK was in the White House) to have a full perspective of what John F. Kennedy was in life. That is why this book, "CONVERSATIONS WITH KENNEDY", by Ben Bradlee, a journalist who knew Kennedy on a personal level between 1958 and 1963, is so important.
In the space of 244 pages, the reader is given access not only to the 1960 presidential campaign (from the Kennedy camp) and some of the White House parties and dinners to which the Bradleys were invited, but also the outings Bradley enjoyed with President Kennedy at Hyannisport and Newport (where Jackie Kennedy's stepfather, Hugh Auchincloss, had a large estate). The book also has 2 sets of photos, which serve to further illustrate the nature of the relationship Bradley, then the Washington bureau chief for Newsweek magazine, had with Kennedy. Generally, it was an easy, relaxed relationship. But sometimes Bradley would be "frozen out" by President Kennedy for short spans of time if Newsweek printed stories that he didn't like. This was no vindictiveness on Kennedy's part, because he liked journalists (having once been one briefly himself in 1945, when he - as a special correspondent for Hearst Newspapers - covered the San Francisco Conference, which led to the establishment of the United Nations) and was known to read from 6 different newspapers daily. President Kennedy was very knowledgeable about the workings of the press, had a wide-ranging intellectual curiosity, and loved to keep abreast of the latest developments among the leading media establishments.
"CONVERSATIONS WITH KENNEDY" also shows a President who 'had few illusions about human nature but nursed dreams all the same.' There is one excerpt from September 12, 1963, that I found especially revealing, as well as very moving ~
"Dinner was on the dicey side. Jackie's stepfather is not exactly a swinger, and the toasts were pretty much in his image. We were high on the hog again, with much wine, caviar, and champagne, but we all went to bed soon after dinner. Just before we retired Jackie drew me aside, her eyes glistening near tears, to announce that 'you two really are our best friends.' It was a forlorn remark, almost like a lost and lonely child desperately in need of any kind of friend. She repeated the message a couple of times to Tony [Bradlee's wife] during the weekend, citing particularly our letters to them about the baby's death. ... --- it had been a bad summer for our friends, with Patrick's death [Patrick Bouvier Kennedy, the President's and Jackie's son, who died from a lung ailment 2 days after his birth in August 1963] and the sudden, jolting suicide of Phil Graham [publisher and Chairman of the Board for The Washington Post, who was a close friend of the Kennedys and Bradley], whose light finally burned too bright and destroyed him --- but Jackie said it was a description of a instant of love we had seen between a father and a small baby, parting in Naples. They [i.e., the Kennedys] are the most remote and independent people we know most of the time, and so when their emotions do surface it is especially moving."
It is passages like the one cited above that reinforce the enormity of the loss to humanity (even after 54 years) of a brilliant, charismatic and witty U.S. President who inspired people to seek out "the better angels of their nature" and better themselves and the world community at large through public service. Thank you, Ben Bradlee, for this book.
Samuel J. Wilson through this book has brought back to life Bill Lambert (1894-1982), an American fighter pilot who had flown with the British during the First World War. Lambert, who emerged from the war, as America's second ranking ace, had fallen into obscurity in the early postwar years (for a host of reasons, mostly owing to his desire to put the war firmly behind him) and wouldn't be "discovered" by the general public til the publication of his wartime memoir "Combat Report" in the early 1970s. ("Combat Report" - which I read several months ago - offers a fine, gripping account of Lambert's experiences with No. 24 Squadron on the Western Front between March and August 1918.)
The book traces Lambert's life from his wartime experiences (which led to a nervous breakdown which profoundly affected the rest of his life), to his brief stint as a barnstormer and airmail pilot in 1919 and 1920 (which show a Lambert that may surprise most readers), a salesman, a small businessman and inventor in his hometown (Ironton, Ohio), his service as an officer in the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) during the Second World War, and his later life as a First World War aviation artist, author, and sought-after luminary.
My own fault with the book is its glaring typos, which somewhat detract from the quality of the text.
In all likelihood, "BILL LAMBERT: WORLD WAR I FLYING ACE" is a book that will have greater appeal to aviation enthusiasts and history buffs than the casual reader. Nevertheless, it is a book worth reading to get a sense of a world that no longer exists.
A few minutes ago (it's 11:20 AM EST as I write this), I had the satisfaction of finishing reading "THE WIDOWS OF MALABAR HILL." It's centered around India's first woman lawyer, Perveen Mistry, who had received her legal training at Oxford. The time is February 1921 and she has returned to her home in Bombay, where she has a job working in her father's law firm.
Perveen has been given the responsibility of executing the will of Omar Farid, a wealthy Muslim who owned a fabric mill and had 3 wives. In the immediate aftermath of Farid's death, the 3 widows are living in strict purdah (a type of seclusion in which the widows never leave the women's quarters nor see and speak with any man) at the Farid residence on Malabar Hill. Whilst carefully reading the documents, Perveen notices that the widows have signed off their inheritance to a charity. What strikes Perveen as odd is that one of the widows' signature is a 'X', which is a clear indication that the widow who affixed the 'X' probably was unable to read the document. This leads Perveen to wonder how the 3 widows will be able to live and take care of themselves. She begins to suspect that maybe they may be taken advantage of by the legal guardian entrusted by Mr. Farid to handle their financial affairs. Perveen has the welfare and best interests of her clients, the 3 widows, in mind.
Perveen goes on to carry out an investigation. She makes an arrangement with the widows' legal guardian, Feisal Mukri, to come to the residence to visit the widows and to speak with each of them separately. In the process of doing so, tensions are stirred in the Farid residence and a murder takes place there that makes a straightforward matter of executing a family will into something much more perilous and uncertain. There is also something out of Perveen's recent past in Calcutta that intrudes into her present life.
"THE WIDOWS OF MALABAR HILL" is a novel whose prose resonates on every page. It has a lot of twists and turns that will engage the reader's attention throughout. Sujata Massey is a writer who not only knows how to craft and tell a richly compelling novel. She'll leave the reader wanting more. And after almost 14 years of reading Massey's work, I'm already eager to begin reading the second novel in the Perveen Mistry Series.
"THE FUTURES" has all the hallmarks that make for a compelling, well-written novel. It has a palpable sense of time and place that is readily relatable to any reader. And characters - both major and minor - who spring immediately to life within the first few pages or chapters. What's more: for anyone who has gone through and/or graduated from college or university and then found him/herself at a loss what to do with their life for 2 or 5 years afterward, this is a novel that will give some added perspective to that earlier time of being.
"THE FUTURES" largely revolves around the lives of Evan Peck and Julia Edwards. (The reader is presented with the experiences - separate and shared - of Evan and then Julia across different chapters. Kudos to the author for being able to so deftly place herself in a man's mind.) Evan hailed from a small town in the interior of Western Canada, where his parents had a small grocery business. It was the kind of town that maintained its own slow, measured rhythms. Its inhabitants tended to have modest ambitions and most never left town after graduating from high school. Evan, on the other hand, was one of the few who dared to believe that he could become a part of the wider world, and thrive therein. Hockey was his passion and through it, he secured a scholarship to Yale University in 2004. There, he made the acquaintance of Julia, who came from a well-to-do family in Boston with connections. (Her father was a high-powered lawyer.) They - both freshmen - began as friends and, gradually, that seemingly easy and comfortable friendship blossomed into a romantic relationship.
What I loved most about "THE FUTURES" is how skillfully Anna Pitoniak was able to make plain and REAL the lives of both Evan and Julia, and how their relationship developed, flourished, and later fell apart. From Yale to post-graduate life together in a modest, walk-up apartment in Brooklyn in the summer of 2008. I'm not going to say much more than that - except that the immediate impact of the 2008 economic crisis is as much a major factor in influencing the heart of the novel as the characters themselves who strut themselves upon the stage in a city that never sleeps.
Here are a few quotes to give you a flavor of what makes "THE FUTURES" compelling and self-revelatory:
Julia: "I could close my eyes, and the sounds of the party weren't so different from those in college, but I wasn't tricking myself. The feeling in the air had changed. There was a whole world out there, beyond wherever we were gathered. It didn't matter whether it was a cramped walk-up or a tar rooftop or a weedy backyard strung with lights. How you spent your time was suddenly up to you."
Julia: "I suppose, at the time [September 2008], I didn’t understand how rapidly my feelings toward Evan were evolving. ...We’d fought in college, but those fights always felt specific; firewords that faded into smoke as fast as they arrived. But in New York, in the real world, every annoyance and disagreement felt like a referendum on our relationship. The bitterness started to linger. I was seeing growing evidence of why this was never going to work.”
Hands down, "THE FUTURES" is THE BEST NOVEL I've had the pleasure of reading so far in 2018.
"GOODNIGHT FROM LONDON" is a tender-hearted, at turns adventurous and perilous account of the experiences of a young American journalist, Ruby Sutton, who is given the opportunity from her employer to undertake an assignment in Britain during the summer of 1940 to provide both American and British readers with stories highlighting life on the UK home front.
Ruby experiences a lot of what the war was about, endures loss, and much more. Any reader who savors a richly layered, well-told tale will enjoy reading "GOODNIGHT FROM LONDON."
In sum, "GO SET A WATCHMAN" bears out Thomas Wolfe's saying 'you can't go home again.' Jean Louise (better known as 'Scout' from Harper Lee's best-selling novel, "To Kill a Mockingbird") journeys back from NYC (where she has lived for some time) to her family home in Maycomb County, Alabama. It is the mid-1950s and the South is in ferment.
Jean Louise has much to reflect upon and revisits different stages of her life in a Southern society that increasingly becomes too restrictive to her liking. There is family conflict that lays bare the eccentricities and contradictions in people. "GO SET A WATCHMAN" is not a great novel, but it was worthwhile to read as a way of getting a glimpse into a moment in U.S. history when a society based on the 'old verities' and racial segregation found itself compelled to take steps to make a better society for all its citizens.
When I first became aware of the novel, "THE MEMOIRS OF JOHN F. KENNEDY", and its premise, I was highly skeptical. Alternative history novels are hardly my cup of tea. Many of the practitioners of the genre - from my perspective - tend to get carried away with their story ideas and concoct novels that take far too many liberties with established historical timelines and personalities, reshaping them in ways that hardly seem plausible or feasible.
Yet, in the case of this novel by Donald James Lawn, I was intrigued. Its premise is based on President Kennedy having survived the assassination attempt against him in Dallas, TX, on November 22, 1963. JFK makes a slow, painful recovery, runs for re-election (against Barry Goldwater) and decisively wins a second term in 1964. Given a two-term Kennedy presidency, the courses of a host of issues that shaped and defined the 1960s - e.g. Vietnam, Civil Rights, and U.S.-Soviet relations - were altered in some rather intriguing ways. I confess that, as President Kennedy is one of my heroes, I wanted so much to believe in what this novel was about. Which is why I read it with a highly critical eye.
Lawn has crafted a novel that realizes a credible scenario that might have come to pass had JFK not been assassinated and juxtaposes it brilliantly with the relationship Kennedy forms with a Washington Post journalist (by the name of Patrick Hennessey) who came to his attention both through Hennessey's book (an exposé of the McCarthy trials, which JFK much admired) and from the time he briefly covered JFK's re-election campaign on Air Force One during the late summer of 1964. Four years later, as JFK's tenure in the White House draws to a close, Hennessey is enlisted by the President to help in writing his memoirs. This is done discreetly because JFK doesn't want to be seen (by some members of his administration) as tipping his hand towards the type of story he wants told of his Presidency, as well as the legacy he wishes to leave the country and the world at large.
In this novel, Lawn takes the reader both through the first crucial weeks after the assassination attempt, and also through the developing personal relationship between both JFK and Hennessey during September and October of 1968. To keep these 2 interconnecting stories both in one novel in this way, isn't easy. But the way JFK, Jackie Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, LBJ, and several of President Kennedy's closest aides (Dave Powers, Pierre Salinger, and Kenny O'Donnell) are fleshed out, lend considerable credibility to this novel. I really felt that Lawn had captured through several of the JFK - Hennessey conversations (in the White House, on the golf links at Glen Ora, or at Hyannisport), the essence and spirit of JFK the man. Lawn could easily have made a mess of this novel. But I salute him for making a novel that made me want so much to experience the world as it might have been had President Kennedy not been so cruelly taken away from us.
In "A Matter of Honor: Pearl Harbor: Betrayal, Blame, and a Family's Quest for Justice" Anthony Summers has written what is likely to be the definitive account of the events that led to the Pearl Harbor attack (on the U.S. Pacific Fleet) of December 7th, 1941 and the failures among the U.S. political and military leadership that helped make the attack likely.
Summers has a deserved reputation as a journalist/writer who leaves no stone unturned and scrupulously explores every source available to him, checking thoroughly for the veracity of various documents and data he finds on a subject that is his prime interest. Some years ago, I read his biography of J. Edgar Hoover - 'Official and Confidential, The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover' - which made me a fervent fan of his work. (The way he was able to marshal facts and personal accounts from people who both worked closely for Hoover or suffered as the result of his unjust acts, absolutely captivated my interest in the book.) And here in "A Matter of Honor", as a way of giving a further scope to the common narrative of the Pearl Harbor attack that has been perpetuated for decades, Summer provides the reader with a compelling account of the life and career of Admiral Husband E. Kimmel - the commander of the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. Here was a man who devoted his whole life to the U.S. Navy, from his time at Annapolis in the early 1900s, to the various commands he served - always earning the highest commendations from his superiors. He truly epitomized through his personal conduct and service all that could be asked for from an officer.
Yet, from the time, Kimmel was made commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet in February 1941, there are factors that Summers brings to light that show that Kimmel and his Army counterpart, General Walter Short, were not provided with all the resources they needed to defend Hawaii against a possible Japanese attack. This was during a time when diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Japan were deteriorating, and by the latter part of 1941, it was judged likely by both Washington and the top military leadership that war between the 2 countries would result. (Indeed, the U.S. military had broken the Japanese military and diplomatic codes - and so, had some sense of what Tokyo was contemplating as a resolution to its impasse with Washington.)
This is a book that anyone who wants to know the definitive account of who(m) is (are) responsible or culpable for the tragedy of Pearl Harbor should read and then quietly reflect upon. I know that I will never again judge Admiral Husband Kimmel as guilty as dereliction of duty. In my view, he was a convenient scapegoat (which is not easy for me to admit, as someone who had earlier accepted wholesale the official stories behind Admiral Kimmel's and General Short's "neglect" of Hawaii's defense).
For both its conciseness and scope, "He 162 Volksjäger Units" offers a fascinating story of the development and deployment by the Luftwaffe in combat of a remarkable jet fighter. The He 162 'Volksjäger' (People's Fighter) was developed and tested in the latter part of 1944 (continuing into the Spring of 1945) in response to a call for a fast, nimble fighter jet that would be easy to build and fly. An aircraft that would be built in the shortest amount of time with basic construction materials (both steel and wood) and also an aircraft in which Hitler Youth glider pilot trainees could be easily trained to fly in combat.
The book goes into considerable detail in showing the reader how the ideal and the reality behind the He 162 did not always coincide. Photographs and illustrations are aplenty, which will delight any aviation enthusiast and model builder. Osprey has again produced a first-rate book on an aircraft, which despite its limited combat use, incorporated features (e.g. the first ejector seat to be successfully deployed on any aircraft) that would later be adapted by a future generation of jet planes.
"Sonny" Ormrod epitomized both the unflinchingly honest and scrupulous diarist, as well as the dedicated & courageous fighter pilot. During his service in the Royal Air Force (RAF) - which he joined soon after finishing school in 1940, age 18 - Ormrod kept several diaries, detailing his experiences and impressions of his fellow pilots. It was his intention to make those diaries into a memoir after the war. Thus, this book by Brian Cull constitutes a belated (though abridged) memoir.
The book takes the reader from October 1941 - when Ormrod was in the UK with 605 Squadron awaiting an imminent posting overseas - to April 1942 - when Ormrod was serving with 185 Squadron on the besieged Mediterranean island of Malta. Not many people perhaps know that, at one point during the Second World War, Malta was the most heavily bombed piece of real estate on earth. It was the lynch pin in Britain's efforts to retain a presence in North Africa and the Mediterranean against the Axis Powers. From Malta, British air and naval vessels would harry German and Italian ships sending supplies to Rommel in the Western Desert during the height of the fighting there in 1941-42.
Ormrod arrived in Malta with 605 Squadron during November 1941. At the time Italy's Regia Aeronautica alone was bombing Malta, which the British were generally able to cope with. The Luftwaffe, who had had a presence over Malta earlier that year, had withdrawn its units to take part in Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. This somewhat relieved the pressure on Malta for several months. As a result, sinkings of German and Italian ships became almost prohibitive to the Axis, so both the Germans and Italians resolved to destroy Malta through air assault. This is reflected in Ormrod's diary from December 1941 onwards, when the Luftwaffe returned to assist the Regia Aeronautica in trying to neutralize Malta.
Indeed, for Ormrod and his comrades, their job of helping to defend the island became an increasingly difficult and perilous undertaking. (The Maltese people also suffered greatly. Nevertheless, they endured the increasingly daily bombings from January 1942 with good grace. Ormrod's descriptions of the island, both aloft and on the ground, made tangibly real for me the stresses and horrors of what it must have been like to be in Malta at that stage of the war.)
Many pilots like Ormrod bravely and faithfully met their responsibilities, while others were malingerers and made excuses not to fly on certain missions. This angered Ormrod and several diary passages reflect his disgust and disdain for those squadron mates who were willful shirkers. Flying Hawker Hurricane fighters, they were outmatched in terms of performance and speed by the latest German and Italian fighters: the Messerschmitt 109F and the Macchi MC 202, respectively. One passage for me - from Tuesday, April 14, 1942 - illustrates the challenges and terrors of trying to cope with the daily attacks by what were now swarms of enemy aircraft:
"[Wigley - one of Ormrod's closest friends] landed with but eight gallons of petrol remaining. His bravery and contempt for the enemy almost at times approaches madness. If ever a pilot in this war deserved a DFC [Distinguished Flying Cross], I consider Plt. Off. Wigley to deserve one. No odds deter him. Whose courage surpasses his? Few could out-fly him. Yet since he has not an aircraft in which now here it can well be done, he is unlikely to win a DFC because he is unlikely to win six confirmed victories. Most probably some newly arrived Spitfire pilot, who has never taken the odds that Wigley has, nor at such a disadvantage will, if he has the luck and a little skill, mount a score of six soon, be awarded a DFC and acknowledged by the world as Wigley's superior; a hero of the Malta battles. Hurricanes without speed and cannon cannot hope, except rarely, to bring down fast and heavily armoured German aircraft. Whereas the Spitfires can do it often in spite of the opportunities their pilots waste. This is our moan. We love the old Hurricane that has carried us gallantly and saved us on innumerable occasions but we know that old age has now overcome it."
Sadly, Ormrod's luck would run out 8 days later, on his 20th birthday.