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Eagle At Taranto - Alan  Evans

This is the type of war novel that fully captures the fear, horror, excitement, the palpable sense of people (be they combatants or civilians) living life to the full, and derring-do that characterizes bold and risky operations against the enemy.


One of the main characters of "Eagle at Taranto" is Mark Ward, a sub-lieutenant in Britain's Fleet Air Arm (FAA) in his early 20s serving aboard the aircraft carrier HMS Eagle in the Mediterranean. Prior to the war, he had been a student in the Royal Academy of Music who had abandoned his studies after an agent for a music publishing company in London offered him a contract after hearing some of Ward's popular ditties, which he played on the side in pubs for small change. Indeed, Ward's music was so well received by the general public that he managed to make a tidy sum. Some of which he used to learn to fly, another of his passions.


The novel follows Ward (and to some extent, the crew and support staff of his Swordfish torpedo-bomber, a biplane that, despite its frail appearance, served as the Royal Navy's tip in its spear aimed at challenging the threat posed by Italy's more numerous warships now that she had entered the war on Germany's side) from July to November 1940. The reader sees how an untried pilot and crew learn their deadly trade through a variety of perilous situations in combat.


There are also a couple of American war correspondents who play prominent roles in the novel. One of them --- Katy Sanford, a rookie but a fast learner and a top photographer --- meets Ward by chance in a bar in Alexandria (Egypt) while he's on short leave, and a romance blossoms, fitfully, between them. Yet nothing is assured here. There are some harrowing situations that put both Ward and the correspondents at risk. And "Eagle at Taranto" has a climax (based on a true historical event that proved to be one of the turning points of the Second World War) that had me anxious, worried, and breathless.


Alan Evans knows his stuff. And in "Eagle at Taranto" he has crafted a thrilling, evenly paced novel that will keep the reader spellbound and anxious to know, when all is said and done, how the protagonists will fare.