Sky

& Bullets

Musings on the worlds of aviation, military and international affairs.

 

With reviews of books that cover these topics

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Spitfire Leader:

Robert Bungey DFC, Tragic Battle of Britain Hero

 

Dennis Newton & Richard Bungey

Amberley,  15 February 2019

The net of WW2 fighter ace biographies is being cast ever wider. This one has an edge in that Bungey was in the vanguard of Australian volunteers coming over to help the RAF in advance of the Battle of Britain. Hence there is much biographical content that will be of interest mainly to Australian readers. Newton notes the gestation of the RAAF, and the role of Henry Petre, who founded its Central Flying School at Point Cook, and who features at page 31 of my biography of his cousin, Mildred Petre.

 

Bungey was one of the few lucky survivors of the Battle of France, who flew the doomed Fairey Battle.  Thus blooded in combat, he had a slightly better chance of surviving the Battle of Britain itself (and a Hurricane represented a quantum leap in performance for him), and indeed soon took a leadership role in that campaign. The stresses of prolonged operations during this period are very evident, and Bungey both protected his men, and did not shirk from his duties.

 

Whilst a very lay reader will find this book educational, those who have read about the Battle of Britain will find little to inspire them. Newton pads out his volume with general descriptions about the Battle, and indeed the war, even at one point digressing into Operation Barbarossa. Newton has clearly looked at Bungey’s squadron Operation Record Books in detail, and has had access to his logbooks. Much of the narrative therefore reads like a litany of combat reports. To his credit Newton has done some intensive background research to investigate the other side of these combats. But the overall result is bone dry prose.

 

But there is a major flaw in this book: the reader is left in ignorance of Bungey’s daily life. This is particularly surprising since the subject’s son, Richard Bungey, is named as an author, and thus one might assume Newton had access to the family archives including any letters.

 

Bungey’s end, at his own hand, is insufferably poignant.

 

One small technical flaw  - the author does not understand the fall in temperature with height (known as the lapse rate). At 20,000 feet the temperature will be some 40 degrees C lower than at sea level (using the standard, or 60 degrees in dry air), not some 15 degrees as he suggests on page 28.