LIGHTPLANES AT WAR

KEN WAKEFIELD FIRST witnessed and became entranced with U.S. liaison plane operations in the fields near his Bristol home in 1944, when he was fifteen years old. Since then, he has become the leading British expert on the subject.

KEN WAKEFIELD FIRST witnessed and became entranced with U.S. liaison plane operations in the fields near his Bristol home in 1944, when he was fifteen years old. Since then, he has become the leading British expert on the subject. Indeed, it was the publication of his original book, The Fighting Grasshoppers, that inspired my father and me to restore our own L-4 to its original wartime markings (it is pictured thus on the cover of the new book). Over the years, many others have benefited from Ken’s enthusiasm and knowledge, which he has been generous in sharing.

Useful as it was as a reference book, I know Ken would concede The Fighting Grasshoppers was less satisfactory as a read. That book was coauthored; Lightplanes at War is all Ken's own work, and it is well structured, well written and full of fascinating anecdote. Having corresponded or met so many WWII liaison plane veterans, Ken had a wealth of material to draw on, and he has used it to fine effect. This is one of those books that you want to both devour and savour at the same time.

There is, inevitably, some overlap with the earlier book, but the author has avoided repetition for the most part and included new material on the disposal of liaison aircraft after the war, plus details of several surviving machines. He has also dug up some new information on black L-plane pilots, although it is rather limited; their European experience fighting the ultimate racist regime in a prejudiced army that otherwise considered black people unsuitable for combat tended to be something these men would rather forget.

Although some of the photographs used in the book have been seen before, the selection leans toward personal snapshots chosen for their historical interest, rather than their technical quality. There are new pictures of Cubs low in formation over Paris for victory celebrations, and row upon row of unwanted L-4s collected for disposal. For the fun of it, Ken has also included a number of Piper's and associated manufacturers' 1940s advertisements, portraying Cubs in all manner of unlikely, aggressive action. All good stuff, but reproduction standards have come on in leaps and bounds, and it is a shame that Tempus does not seem to be able to get anywhere near the picture quality that so made The Fighting Grasshoppers ten years ago.

It is a pity too, that Lightplanes at War lacks an index. The book will have great appeal to fans of old aeroplane and historians alike; both groups will find they want to reread it, and it would be nice to have help in locating the most interesting bits. Philip Whiteman.

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