Musings on the worlds of aviation, military and international affairs.
With reviews of books that cover these topics
There are perhaps two epics of civil survival in WW2: Stalingrad and Malta. This book gives an insight into both the maritime and air struggle to keep that island in British control. The story has of course been well covered in the past. But IWIHYW sees the 1942 torment through two personal perspectives – that of a distinguished Merchant Navy Captain (David Macfarlane), and that of one of the initially inexperienced pilots sent to the island’s aid. The unusual link is that the pilot, John Mejor, is the Captain’s nephew, and the two were unaware of the other’s participation in this battle until they met in Valetta at the end of Op Pedestal.
The author, Angus Mansfield, is a banker by profession, and aviation does not flow entirely naturally from his pen. In writing of Mejor’s training, for example, “[The Miles Master] was similar to the Hawker Hurricane in looks but not in performance. The Master was fitted with a Kestrel engine of some 75hp….” The Kestrel produced at least 670hp in the version for the Master !
The operation to resupply the island of Malta with both munitions, military supplies, but also food, was fraught as the Axis realised they could starve the island into submission. Convoy losses were horrendous, and Churchill in the Cabinet War Rooms must have been reaching for the brandy when he learned that one of the Royal Navy’s best carriers, HMS Eagle, had been sent to the bottom with heavy losses. Mansfield unfortunately tells this dramatic tale from too many, overlapping, perspectives. Later in the book, the author is also repetitive in describing the gaps in the arcs of air cover available to the incoming convoys. A military history reader is also likely to feel a little insulted when, towards the book’s end, Mansfield treats us to an idiot’s guide to D Day.
However the key to this book is the underlying drama of the story, and that the two central characters are indeed central to its narrative. The author has been blessed with good access to family records, so there is plenty of detail. So, lax editing aside, a great story, and one which should impel the reader to follow on with Geoffrey Wellum’s First Light, for he was there too, and that volume is one of the classics of WW2 aviation writing.