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Camel Pilot Supreme: Capt DV Armstrong DFC

 

Annette Carson

 

Air World, 2019

More evidence of the reviewer’s ignorance: I had never heard of Capt D’Urban Armstrong before, but he appears to have been one of the RFC’s most accomplished pilots of WW1. A native of Natal in South Africa, like many boys who went on to become successful pilots, he was good at sports.

 

Commissioned into the South African military, he arrived in England at the end of 1915 having wangled a place in the RFC. Circumstances happily allowed to him to gain quite a few hours before being sent to the Western Front in May the following year.

 

Although known as a historian (one of the pre-eminent sources on Richard III), the author’s  early passion was aerobatics, and she was heavily involved in managing the British team in the Eighties. Hence she approaches Armstrong with a fascination for his aircraft handling skills.

 

Armstrong found his most suitable steed when 44 Squadron was re-equipped with the Sopwith Camel. As has been well discussed in contemporary and modern writing, this diminutive fighter was a tricky aircraft to fly well and safely, and Armstrong became one of its best exponents. He developed into an aerobatic ace almost unequalled in the RFC. Staff officers such as John Salmond recognised  his skills and he had spells instructing for British and overseas forces.

 

He survived the war, but sadly died when his Camel crashed doing an impromptu display at a neighbouring aerodrome a few days after the Armistice. Carson writes forensically about the possible causes.

 

This is a well-researched book, and throws a spotlight on a pilot who deserves to be better known. A degree of repetition is a small price to pay for a good read.