THE ROYAL NAVY WASP: AN OPERATIONAL AND RETIREMENT HISTORY

Reviewed by: Simon Bellamy

As a non-aviator, your reviewer was daunted by the task of assessing this book for NR members, who will no doubt include some with operational experience of this iconic aircraft. However, with childhood memories of displays at public events, and having heard stories of the Wasp in action in 1982 while serving in the Falklands many years later, the opportunity to write this review was a welcome challenge. The authors are particularly well-qualified to bring to life the story of what the dustjacket tells us was the first helicopter in the world designed from the outset to be deployed at sea in frigates and destroyers. Larry Jeram-Croft spent many years flying the Wasp and, including in the South Atlantic in 1982, the Lynx. Terry Martin is a former RAF officer who has owned Wasps privately and continues to fly them as a display pilot. Before we hear from them, however, the tone is set in a foreword by another former Wasp pilot, Admiral Sir George Zambellas. Perhaps tongue-in-cheek, the former First Sea Lord describes it as “obviously one of the most elegant and beautiful flying machines ever invented” but, despite the aircraft’s foibles, his affection is obvious.

Section One of the book covers the Wasp in operational service with the RN. In a well-structured account, the authors explain the post-war need for effective Anti-Submarine Warfare platforms, before looking at early naval helicopter designs, with added colour being provided by a test pilot’s story. A chapter on procurement and the aircraft’s systems follows, again enlivened with accounts from early aircrew. Roles and weapon fits complete the scene-setting before the authors move on to an operational history. A chapter on the early years offers not only insights into operating the Wasp in widely differing environments and roles, but also a reminder of the sheer variety and span of RN operations around the globe from the early 1960s to the early 1980s. The dedicated chapter on the Cod Wars would no doubt stir the memory of some NR members.

Continuing the story of operational service, the chapter on the Falklands campaign of 1982 will perhaps attract most interest. The exploits of HMS Endurance’s Flight are covered extensively, for example, along with the perhaps less well-known service of the Wasps embarked in the survey vessels which served as hospital ships. Extracts from Flight Deck magazine, and other personal accounts, have been carefully selected to provide an overview of operations and tasking. As throughout the book, the professionalism, stoicism and humour of the aircrew shines through, as well as the versatility of their aircraft. Returning to peacetime, a further chapter of personal accounts contains a range of ‘dits’ which will entertain general readers, as well as evoking memories from Wasp veterans. Section Two looks at the aircraft in overseas service and in ‘retirement’. New Zealand and the Netherlands are two countries whose employment of the Wasp is covered in detail, before recent restoration and display of Wasps complete the story.

With many excellent photographs, plus some enjoyable cartoons, the book is well-presented, with an attractive format. Former aviators, with or without Wasp experience, will find this an evocative work, capturing the spirit of this extraordinary aircraft and those who flew and maintained it. However, there is also much to engage the general reader, with vivid personal accounts of operations always taking precedence over technical content. The authors are to be commended for producing a highly readable and engaging book, which will interest the aviator and non-specialist alike. In doing so, they also have performed a valuable service in recording a fascinating chapter in the history of British naval aviation.