- Book reviewer
- WWII operations, Book reviews, Royal Navy
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- December 2011 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
The book contains so much information that a decent review would itself make a small booklet. The science and techniques of sea warfare advanced rapidly during this period. One major advance was the transition from the old inefficient and frequent failures during astern refueling at sea to underway full speed and in-concert manœvering abreast during replenishment of all sorts of fuels, stores and personnel. The USN took note of a couple of valuable ship design features and soon adopted the ‘hurricane bow’ construction for its carriers, many of them retrofitted. Perhaps the major thing they learned from the RN was that, despite the extra top-weight, armoured carrier flight decks were far superior to wood. Some USN carriers were knocked out of action by Kamikaze attacks whereas the RN carriers were often back in action within hours of such a crash.
Australian support bases for the BPF are well covered in this work, including the Schofields Airfield, HMS Nabstock, which shortly after the war became HMAS Nirimba as an RAN Air Station – an outcome of the aircraft carrier ascendency in WW II. Another Australian connection is that HMS Vengeance, part of the BPF, later became HMAS Vengeance for a short time. Several other RAN ships are also covered.
Hobbs has made a number of strong political comments about how the RN had been allowed to run down before WW II and how many of the lessons from it were soon forgotten. He has defended these comments with extensive references to supporting documentation, reports, enquiries and patent historical fact. Of particular relevance to current RAN policy consideration is his detailed review of the parlous state to which the RN Fleet Air Arm had been allowed to fall between the two world wars. He lays the blame for this squarely at the feet of the RAF and gives abundantly documented support for his criticism. The Inskip Report blew the RAF’s cover on its specious arguments and false claims, or as Hobbs puts it – ‘the blinkered attitude of the RAF’. For years the RAF had managed to convince the British Government that the Navy could never perform strategic strike operations and did not need high powered aircraft since its major task would be to carry out simple routines such as spotting the fall of shot from battleships or reporting on over-the-horizon surveillance. To again quote Hobbs: ‘Reality proved very different … the first enemy aircraft shot down in WW II was by a RN Blackburn Skua of 803 Sqdn from HMS Ark Royal.
Hobbs discusses a number of such politically charged accounts. They can be summarised by this quote in his end notes: There is a parallel with twenty first century British politicians who continue to reduce the numerical size of the Royal Navy whilst saying that it is ‘improved’ by more capable ships in smaller numbers and what are known as improvements in ‘efficiency’. Their shock when the Navy proves unable to cope with a sudden and unexpected emergency is likely to be just as great as that suffered by their predecessors. It is not feasible to recount more of his writing in this vein here but these examples give the idea. Readers of this book will not fail to draw some local comparisons of both recent and current times locally. Unfortunately it is often the current people at the ‘coal face’ who bear the opprobrium of decisions made long before by others.
David Hobbs is a well known author and naval historian. He has written eight books and co-authored eight more. He writes for several journals and magazines and in 2005 won the Aerospace Journalist of the Year ‘Best Defence’ Submission. He lectures on naval subjects worldwide and has been on radio and TV in several countries. He served in the Royal Navy from 1964 until 1997 and retired with the rank of Commander. He qualified as both a fixed and rotary wing pilot and his log book contains 2,300 hours with over 800 carrier landings, 150 of which were at night. He has visited Australia and specifically acknowledges assistance in preparation of this book from the NHS, particularly (but not only) by two retired RAN officers – the President, Captain Paul Martin, and former President, LEUT Vince Fazio.