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AIR FORCE BLUNDERS

PUBLISHED: 13:50 29 June 2011 | UPDATED: 14:09 10 October 2012

AIR FORCE BLUNDERS, by Geoffrey Regan (Carlton, £12.99)

AIR FORCE BLUNDERS, by Geoffrey Regan(Carlton, £12.99) Review by Nick BloomAn appealing title and an up-ended S.E.5A on the cover – I wanted to read this book as soon as I saw it.

Picking it up, I had a moment of doubt. From the notes on the back it seems that the author has made rather a profession of ‘blunders’. Previous works include Military Blunders, More Military Blunders, Naval Blunders and Royal Blunders. I scented an inky-fingered hack, churning out potboilers.

Indeed, there was very little in Air Force Blunders that I hadn’t read before or seen in television documentaries. One source that seemed to have been plundered was James Gilbert’s seventies classic The World’s Worst Planes – fair enough, perhaps, since it is long out of print.

Fortunately, Geoffrey Regan is such a good writer that I was able to overlook the familiarity of his material and enjoy myself. Every so often he came up with something I didn’t know. The reason Hitler failed to advance on Dunkirk was because the ground was too marshy for tanks and he feared their being cut off by unbroken French troops to the south. This made him receptive to Goering’s boast that he could safely leave the destruction of the British army on the beaches to the Luftwaffe.

The author really has it in for Goering, and, having read a couple of Goering biographies, I think he is being unfair. But then, being unfair is both the strength and weakness of the ‘blunders’ approach to history – strength because it makes history entertaining, and weakness because it has a built in bias and distorts the truth.

At its best, this approach can be thought-provoking. The author’s analysis of the Battle of Britain is that it was doomed from the start by Germany’s inadequate aircraft production. He produces the following table for manufacture of single-engined fighters during the Battle to make his point. It’s persuasive.

1940 Britain Germany

June 446 164

July 496 220

August 476 173

September 467 218

October 469 144.

The book begins with balloon observation in the 17th and 18th Century and ends with the 1991 Gulf War, but a good two-thirds is taken up with WWII, and roughly half the remainder with WWI. As I say, very familiar stuff, and frankly, easy to research.At times the tone degenerates into scoffing, but mostly the author doesn’t intrude, just tells the story.

He makes an interesting case for R.J. Mitchell’s Type 317 bomber being one of WWII’s great missed opportunities. This would have carried the same bomb load as a Lancaster, but 100 mph faster. German bombing delayed prototype production and the project was dropped. Was this really such a dumb decision, though? History is littered with aircraft designs that delivered less than they promised.

Perhaps the book would have done better to describe the blunder, then give the reasons why it might not have been such a blunder after all.

I enjoyed reading this work, and would have got a great deal more from it as a newcomer to aviation history. It is entertaining and only slightly misleading, and you can’t say fairer than that for a popular history.

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