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Air Force Blue by Patrick Bishop

Air Force Blue by Patrick Bishop
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In this excellent history of the RAF in the Second World War, Patrick Bishop charts the transformation of Britain’s fighter pilots from “garage mechanics in uniform” to glamorous national heroes, said Max Hastings in The Sunday Times. At the War’s start, Britain’s air force was under-resourced and poorly trained. Rearmament in the 1930s had been sluggish and RAF leaders clung to their old “mystic faith in air power”, which led them to favour “independent bomber operations” over the more tactically useful role of providing support for armies. But from the Battle of Britain onwards, the force’s approach became more scientific, it invested heavily in personnel and equipment, and it developed a new focus on “tactical fighter-bomber operations”. Bishop writes with a refreshing lack of romanticism about air force life, revealing, for instance, that venereal disease was rife among RAF pilots, who responded to the stress of their life by having frequent casual sex. The result is a “terrifically readable” and authoritative book, even if Bishop is overly “indulgent” about the War’s final phase, when the RAF “devoted grossly excessive attention and resources to burning cities”.

As readers of his earlier books, Fighter Boys and Bomber Boys, will know, said Giles Whittell in The Times, Bishop specialises in writing history “from the point of view of those who lived it”. Here, again, he provides a “pilot’s eye” view of the War, studding his account with startling insights. Although keen to show that there was “something rather special about the RAF” in the Second World War, there is “no jingoism in his account”. Rather, the sense he gives is of the aircrew and their commanders “making it up as they went along” and “prevailing in the end not by force of destiny, but by the skin of their teeth”.