What are you reading at the moment?

Discussion in 'Books, Films, TV, Radio' started by Gage, Mar 12, 2006.

  1. Waddell

    Waddell Active Member

    Wimpy Wellingtons.jpg

    On a bit of a RAF memoir binge at the moment. Recently finished Maurice G. Lihou’s ‘It’s Dicey Flying Wimpy’s Around Italian Skies’, the title of which comes from a line in a mess song made up about Lihou. I quite enjoyed this book once I had overcome the hurdle of it being a personal memoir written in the third person. Lihou refers to himself as Lee throughout the book and I found it a bit distracting at first.

    The book starts with Lihou’s initial flight with his green crew in their Vickers Wellington flying from Cornwall to Morocco and then to Foggia in Italy where they served with 37 Squadron RAF. Conditions there were quite rudimentary and they felt they were a forgotten part of the RAF. The book is set later in the war and covers his initial 40 operations with 37 Squadron, a brief period spent with the Parachute Training School in Southern Italy, and another 12 operations he later made with 40 Squadron, where he finished flying. The period covered is March 1944- March 1945 and he flew in the last operation made by Vickers Wellingtons in the war.

    He initially had some problems self-doubting his abilities and dealing with his conscience over civilians being killed during his operations, however, he talks himself through these difficulties and by the end of his first tour he realised that he needed to concentrate solely on flying to get through the operations. He had a good crew but as you travel through the book you realise that they became very superstitious about how they entered the aircraft before missions and who flew with them. When he began his second tour (with 40 Squadron) he chose a crew who had difficulties with their previous captain and built confidence in them and steered them well clear of the superstitions his initial crew had developed.

    The missions he undertook were quite varied but mainly consisted of bombing targets in Northern Italy and Yugoslavia. Among the missions were several laying mines in the Danube. Enemy night fighters were present but not encountered in the numbers that crews flying from England encountered. The main threat to them was not the enemy. It was the weather and Lihou describes two close calls due to weather conditions.

    As Lihou wrote- ‘It was the weather which gave the crews their worst problems with the lack of navigational aids, W/T silence and complete blackout everywhere. Trying to find your way over hostile enemy country in the pitch black darkness and poor visibility was no picnic. That to him and to other aircrew had been far more dangerous than the ops’.

    This is an interesting read from a man who was a good observer of his crew and what was happening around him. He was also very fond of the Wellington too.

    Chris C, Markyboy and Orwell1984 like this.
  2. Gage

    Gage The Battle of Barking Creek MOD

    Now reading Alan Deere - Nine Lives.

    The autobiography of Alan Deere, New Zealand's most famous RAF pilot who saw action from the Munich Crisis to the invasion of France in 1944.
    Al Deere experienced the drama of the early days of the Battle of Britain while serving with Spitfire squadrons based at Hornchurch and Manston, and his compelling story tells of the successes and frustrations of those critical weeks.
    Deere's nine lives are the accounts of his fantastic luck in escaping from seemingly impossible situations. During the Battle of Britain he parachuted from stricken aircraft on three occasions and once was blown up by a bomb whilst taking off from Hornchurch during an attack on the airfield.
    In March 1943 Deere was appointed Wing Commander of the famous Biggin Hill Wing and by the end of the war, his distinguished 'score' was destroyed 22, probables 10 and damaged 18.
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  3. Markyboy

    Markyboy Member

    Both of the above books are great. Lihou's has an alternate title I believe for the last few reprints. Interesting as there are far less accounts of the bombing war from that theatre.
    Deere's is a great account of the early part of the war. I remember reading that he was facing animosity from soldiers at Dunkirk as he was trying to board a boat and he ended up knocking out the sergeant in charge, as they were reluctant to give up space for a pilot. Deere was a middle weight boxer for the RAF.
    Gage likes this.
  4. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Pending a holiday to Scandinavia:

    Last edited: Jul 12, 2019
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  5. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian researcher

    I am reading "Anzio: The Gamble That Failed" by Blumenson and it is peculiar in the sense that it doesn't seem to do a lot of judging about whether General Lucas or anyone else was making mistakes or not, and frequently seems to give the last word to his diaries.

    I found it highly ironic that he is quoted as wishing he had an American division instead of the British 1st (!!) because he would understand them better, and (!!) felt American troops and officers were better trained. Then on the very next page it's described how he gave the job of attacking "the Factory" to two regiments, which instead of attacking together sent one company with a supporting company and two companies of tanks. Not surprisingly they failed.

    Maybe a newer book, even an American one, would be more critical.
  6. Tolbooth

    Tolbooth Patron Patron

    Just finished British and American Tanks of WW2 by Chamberlain and Ellis, which is quite a nice, general reference, although quite old now. It's left me wanting to learn more about British tank design and production post-WW1 & WW2 - any recommendations ?
    4/5 - Could be bigger! :):):):):mad:


    Also Big Week by James Holland, that I'm afraid I didn't like at all. Not only does Holland not get to the events of Big Week till the last 100 pages of a 400-odd page book, but I also found him difficult to follow. Holland mostly uses the stories of US, British and German airman but introduces so many that it difficult to keep track of who's who at times. These are interspersed with details of the strategic and political background to the bombing war which make the whole thing feel disjointed. Needless to say I'll not be reading his Normandy book.
    1/5 - Poor show, Chaps :):mad::mad::mad::mad:
  7. Markyboy

    Markyboy Member

    Just finished the attached. A real anomaly as far as aviation memoirs go I have to say. Despite chapter titles split into Poland, France, Battle of Britain etc. you find out that he didn’t fly in the Polish campaign and fell foul of the Polish headquarters after an ill judged paper mutiny which meant he also didn’t fly in France or indeed the Battle of Britain. He flew Spitfires on intruder missions from 1941 with the RAF but doesn’t describe any of it in great detail. After secondment to the American 56th flying Thunderbolts, he is offered a commission in the USAAF, and the rest of the book describes the constant red tape and administration errors that ultimately meant he flew for the best part of 1945 as an unpaid civilian.
    Without looking more into his assertions I found it hard to work out if he was just a bit of a rebel with an attitude problem and an inflated ego or if he genuinely was incredibly hard done by at nearly every turn in his WW2 career. Either way it didn’t make for a particularly enthralling read but was obviously a very personal memoir with a drum to beat.

    Attached Files:

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  8. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    That's a pet peeve of mine.

    The seduction when writing history is to stick to a straight chronological account, but there are many reasons to step beyond this, notably when a) there is a lot of background to impart, b) you want the immediacy of narrating events not as they happened, but as they transpired and become relevant to those in the action.

    With a bit of skill you can begin in media res (or somewhere not a million miles from res) and refer back to how the participants arrived at this point as and when opportunities arise. If I buy a book on the Battle of X (1943) and we are still in 1940 and a different continent after fifty or sixty pages, I'm beginning to suffer buyer's remorse.
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  9. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian researcher

    Just finished Spitfire V vs C.202 Folgore, Malta 1942 by Donald Nijboer. It's an Osprey book, about 80 pages, though a lot of it is not about the technical details of the planes but about the fighting over Malta. It's pretty good.
  10. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian researcher


    Sadly, I do not fully recommend this. It's not a long book, but aside from that, despite the title, it isn't really much of a war memoir. It's more the memoir of a couple, one of whom (Walter) was in Polish II Corps, both of whom had lived in eastern Poland and were forcibly shipped east by the Russians after their invasion of Poland.

    It was good from the point of view of giving a greater overall picture of what happened to those Poles. For some reason I thought only Polish soldiers had been shipped east rather than basically the whole population. I didn't know that some Polish noncombatants spent the war in India, either.

    But if you picked this up hoping even to really get Walter's memories of the fighting in Italy, there isn't that much. Space is given to things related to the story of Polish II Corps even when they don't relate to Walter. We don't get many stories from Walter, and maddeningly, there are several places he is quoted as saying "I have a photo of that" and then the photo doesn't appear in the book. I think one of was a truck stuck in the snow, for instance.

    So, to get an idea of the shape of the lives of two people, both from eastern Poland, shipped from their home by the Soviets, the deprivation they suffered, eventual arrival in Canada, marriage and subsequent lives, it was okay. Not really what I was hoping for, though.
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  11. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian researcher

    I've moved on now to another book I bought on my trip, Stuart Hills' By Tank Into Normandy. Just read what happened to their DD tank on the "swim" in to the beach. (They sustained some damage prior to launch and the tank sank, but they all got into their dingy safely.) Phew!

    I must say, I found Hills' description of approaching the beaches in their LCT gripping. On the other hand, I thought his description of his schooling and particularly sport(s) interminable.

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