HEROES OF COASTAL COMMAND: THE RAF’S MARITIME WAR 1939-1945

Reviewed by: Chris Melville, Group Captain, RAF

I once flew with a very genial Ulsterman.  He was an acoustics operator – a ‘wet man’ in Nimrod parlance – and was a joy to fly with.  He was a joy to fly with for two reasons: he was a brilliant operator and unfailingly pleasant to everyone.  He once remarked to me that if you couldn’t say anything nice about someone’s character, you could always say they had nice shoes or a nice jacket.

Hold that thought.

This is not a good book.

There is a very eloquent foreword from the Director General History and Heritage, RAAF. The author’s dedication appears genuine and heartfelt.  There is no doubt that the book is well researched and there are real nuggets in here. Its subject matter is brilliant – this book concentrates on individual crews and tactical actions instead of Grand Strategy and Operational Level scheming. There is no shortage of material from which to pick.

There are wonderful stories here – mostly of Beaufighters and Mosquitoes flying ridiculously dangerous sorties.  There is the eye-wateringly brave demise of Flying Officer Lloyd Trigg, VC, whose aircraft was lost while sinking U-468.  His VC is the only one to have been awarded solely on the basis of the account of an enemy combatant: in this case Oberlleutenant Klemens Schamong whose first words on being rescued after his U-boat was sunk were to praise Lloyd for his bravery.

The problem is that the proof reader should have been sacked. The text reads like it was written on an old Nokia mobile with early-generation predictive text enabled, and no-one spell checked it, syntax checked it, or scanned any of the sentences to see if they made sense.  I don’t want to come across as needlessly pedantic, but the consequence of such poor editing is a ‘what does he mean?’ moment almost every page. The following is a verbatim example:

“At Portreath the tragic demise of Flight Lieutenant Lancelot Dobson was brought to Sise and Randall attention. Dobson had been wearing an American armour-plated vest, with bottom and crutch plate not wanting to be shot to pieces, on these low-level missions that he had gotten from the USAAF at Dunkeswell. ‘Know doubt this contributed to his death’ noted Hector Bolitho in his daily report to Coastal Command HQ.”

This is a really difficult read. What ought to flow easily jars and stutters because it is so poorly edited, and frankly doesn’t do the subject anything like justice. Had I not been sent it to review I would have put it down less than halfway through. I certainly can’t recommend spending twenty-five quid on it.

It has got a very nice jacket, though.