31 May 22

This slim, soft-backed book by Robert Forsyth is the latest in a series of titles which explore the confrontations between two classes of belligerents. In this instance, the book tells the story of the epic battles in the Mediterranean during World War II, in which the German-produced Ju 87 Stuka dive bomber challenged the supremacy of the Royal Navy’s aircraft carriers.

Despite the slightly arbitrary choice of belligerents (the carriers faced a range of other threats), the author’s particular interest in military history, in general, and military aviation, in particular, is readily apparent. The book sets out, in some detail, the genesis of the Ju 87 Stuka, charting its development as a dive bomber and identifying the principal individuals behind the design and the assessment programme. The aircraft achieved considerable success in the early years of the war, but it was not until the beginning of 1941 that the aircraft of X Fliegerkorps were moved to Sicily to bolster the Italian war effort and to confront the Royal Navy’s aircraft carriers.

The book goes on to describe the development of the four ships of the Illustrious class of carriers, whose designs were a compromise between speed, protection and capacity. The risk of attack from the air had been recognised at an early stage, and the ships were not unsuited to the Mediterranean theatre, being both fast and armoured. Particular attention is paid to the really quite impressive array of anti-aircraft guns installed, albeit target tracking and prediction technology was clearly less impressive.

The final sections of the book describe the principal actions in which Stukas and carriers were both engaged. The tactics deployed on both sides are explained, and the success of the Stukas in forcing the withdrawal of three carriers for repair is apparent. The failure to sink the carriers was clearly a disappointment to the Germans (the only carrier lost in the Mediterranean was to a U-Boat), but it is a tribute to the design of the ships that they were saved, repaired and redeployed.

The book is a significant contribution to the knowledge of how the Mediterranean campaign was affected by these two weapon systems. Well-produced (the font size could have been bigger) and fully illustrated with coloured drawings and evocative black and white photographs, it was an enjoyable and informative read.