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In the fi ring line
WHEN I was sent a
copy of Noel Mostert’s
The Grove
impressive-looking The
Line Upon A Wind, I Review
thought: What have we
Was it a useful new history of
period read Blake’s Sailing to Glory
the wars of 1793 to 1815 taking
or Clayton’s excellent books,
into account all the important new
Trafalgar and Ta r s .
scholarship that has resulted from
I was therefore unsurprised
the ‘Trafalgar Decade’?
to read in Dr Stapleton’s review
Or was it, perhaps, yet another
that Frontiers had added little that
overly-long book by an amateur
was new to the study of South
historian tempted to try his hand at
African history and that it had
the rehearsing of well-known facts
sustained “many misconceptions
and traditional misinterpretations?
and myths”.
writes Prof Eric Grove of the
One can only express sympathy
University of Salford.
for an author who thinks that
The fi rst red light was the
Mahan’s tendentious work of over
bibliography. With a very few
a century ago is still “the fi nest
exceptions, it could have been
of all the biographies” of Nelson.
compiled a quarter of a century
Or that Edward Fraser’s almost
or more ago. There is no mention
equally old works remain the last
of Roger Knight’s monumental
word, unleavened by more recent
Nelson biography, nor too of
Nicholas Rodger’s Command of the
Mostert has real problems
explaining Trafalgar’s signifi cance.
There clearly had to be
He cannot face the strategic truth
something other the book had to
that it was a clash of Mediterranean
offer especially as, according to the
fl eets about control of that sea.
‘blurb’, the author’s previous book
It helps that he completely
Frontiers (about South Africa) had
ignores the passing into the
received much praise.
Mediterranean of the
Depressingly, I soon found
army that would land
out that my worst fears
in Italy and win the
had been fulfi lled. There
victory of Maida.
was indeed little or
Instead we
● 2nd Coxn PO Hedley Woodley at his diving station on the forward hydroplanes of HMS Tribune in 1942. This image was one of a series of
publicity stills by offi cial photographer Jack Bryson for the propaganda fi lm Close Quarters
nothing that was
are left with a
Picture: The War at Sea in Photographs/Imperial War Museum T501
new or historically
confusing analysis
where at one point
about this
Every shade of grey
Napoleon recognises
that there can be no
However, I still
future invasion attempt
thought I might be
but at another (on the same
being unfair. Could
page!) that the Emperor never
so many reviewers be
gives up the idea of invasion and
wrong? This raised the
continues to build a powerful fl eet
further question: had Frontiers
to cover it.
IF EVER an old features editor needed to be persuaded
German preparations for the invasion of Britain, Seelöwe (Sealion),
really been so well received?
Also, the author does not
So I obtained a scholarly, well-
to publish an article, a simple phrase would sway him:
through the lens of 19-year-old Volkmar König’s Leica, look exactly what seem to realise that the Spanish
informed review of Frontiers by
‘never-before-seen pictures’.
they were – amateurish – compared with the photographs of the D-Day commanders were probably under
landings later in the book.
Tim Stapleton of Dalhousie
orders not to assist an attempt to
It is a slogan to beware: never-before-seen pictures actually have a
Life for the men of HMS Sandown, an Isle of Wight ferry
University in Canada.
invade Britain – but then he would
habit of having being seen before... Stapleton’s criticisms of the old
have had to read a recent book for
So it was with some scepticism that I turned the pages of
converted into a minesweeper, looks rather idyllic by
book exactly paralleled mine of the
that insight.
Conway’s The War at Sea in Photographs 1939-1945
comparison. The men played cards, sunbathed, wrote
new. Frontiers was much too long;
Mostert might well be
(Conway, £25 ISBN 978-1844-860456) for it promised
letters home, posed with the dogs which were the ship’s
so is Line Upon a Wind – 773 pages
right to say that the victory of
“wartime imagery shown for the first time”, writes Richard
mascot (they did, of course, sweep for mines as well).
and no less than 72 chapters.
Trafalgar symbolised release
Importantly, the authors have chosen to litter their
The earlier book was
from the invasion threat but
And it does. Here is a book which lives up to the
book not just with images of war – the guns booming,
“encumbered by superfl uous
it was Cornwallis, Calder and
blurb – and some.
the flight deck crew taking cover as kamikazes pounce,
detail”. So is the new one, for
the Austrians that had actually
Photo-histories have a habit of being a bit
the moment a bomb exploded aboard USS Enterprise
example a whole chapter is
done the business of countering
disappointing: the same old images poorly reproduced
– but also life at sea.
devoted to the inconsequential if
it. The author also completely
and poorly captioned.
HMS Indomitable’s sailors mill around on the flight deck
tragic Camelford-Peterson fracas
misses Duckworth’s victory
The authors, Stuart Robertson and Stephen Dent, have
during the Malta convoys, Mussolini presents medals to officers,
in Antigua in January 1798.
at San Domingo in 1806 that
raided public and private archives the world over.
George VI and Queen Elizabeth stroll around HMS Phoebe on
Mostert’s previous work, Dr
The result is a superlative collection of images superbly reproduced
a visit to Northern Ireland, burial services for comrades lost in
demonstrates both the continued
Stapleton said was “handsomely
which focuses on the deeds not just of the Royal and US Navies, but
post-Trafalgar threat of French
produced, masterfully written
also the Imperial Japanese Navy, the Kriegsmarine, the Regia Marina, the
But what really lifts this work out of the ordinary is the colour
squadrons and the fi rst use of
and beautifully illustrated but it
Dutch, the Canadians, the Germans.
photography. So vivid are many of the images, such as a series of
Nelson as a source of inspiration.
seems to represent a throwback
Some of the images you will have seen before: the Graf Spee scuttled, publicity shots for the film Close Quarters taken aboard HMS Tribune,
The Tangier-based author has
to an earlier form of liberal
sailors abandoning ship on the Prince of Wales, Ark Royal’s death throes, that one might think they were taken last week – not 65 years ago.
been lucky enough to do much
Battleship Row in Pearl Harbor ablaze. Being a pedant (surely not – Ed), it would have been nice to see a
of his research at the beautiful
This is all too true of The Line
But many you will not have cast eyes on before – chiefly images drawn photograph of Schleswig-Holstein pounding the Westerplatte – the first
Garrison Library at Gibraltar,
Upon a Wind also. The book is
from individuals or foreign archives. shots fired in the war at sea. That, however, is a piffling quibble.
looked after with such dedication
a self-indulgent, unfocussed
by Lorna Swift who kindly and
chronicle that wanders off down
proudly showed me round at the
Eagles and penguins
multiple byways, even covering
end of October this year.
the bombardment of Algiers a year
Its fascinating collection is
after the Napoleonic Wars’ end, an
indeed a wonderful quarry of
event more the beginning of the
source material, especially the
new naval era of Pax Britannica
useful Naval Chronicle published
and littoral operations rather than
from 1799 to 1814.
the perils the men faced. to write a personal letter measure of their Japanese foe. The
the culmination of the old.
Yet even such contemporary
N AERIAL combat,
The life of a naval aviator to his parents, telling Hellcat Adlam and his comrades
Perhaps to boost sales in the
there is the world of
sources must be used with
in WW2 was not as short as them of our long fl ew was superior to enemy fi ghters
USA the author is much concerned
critical and well-informed
‘Sailor’ Malan, ‘Cat’s
during Bloody April, but it friendship and and the Royal Navy aviators were
with American naval actions which
insight. Mostert’s quotations
Eyes’ Cunningham, was fraught with danger. how much it had better trained than their opponent
have little or no direct connection
are often overly long and the
Erich Hartmann and Adolf
‘Hank’ Adlam landed meant to me,” by this stage of the war.
with the primary subject. These
evidence is sometimes used rather
Galland, the aces.
102 times on the deck Adlam recalls. But that did not mean the skies
sections are long enough to form
of a carrier without After packing his were devoid of danger. During
a short book in themselves.
A notable case of this is when
And then there is the world of
a scratch, earning dead friend’s personal 32 days of combat in support of
There is much traditional and a middle class complaint about
the backbone of the air forces, the
obsolete negativity about the upper class boys being brutalised
sloggers. The men in the air day
membership of possessions, he headed the Iwo Jima operations in 1945,
Royal Navy in this period. The by midshipman with lower deck
in, day out, achieving a handful of
a fairly exclusive to the wardroom bar, got Hank Adlam lost ten comrades.
author cannot see that seniority backgrounds is accepted at face
kills perhaps.
body: the Perch drunk, fell into the now They had, in return, accounted for
Club. vacant bunk and cried. at least 39 enemy aircraft.
was not just some pathological value and not as the call for the
No public adulation, no
He didn’t always The author paints a vivid Adlam remained in the Fleet
social convention but something social exclusion of men of lower
glittering medals and newsreel
land on a carrier, picture of life in the wartime Air Arm briefl y after hostilities. He
with vital fi nancial implications in deck origin from the offi cer corps
appearances for them, just the
however. Fleet Air Arm, aerial combat, thought he and his fellow aviators
an age of prize money, an issue he that it clearly was. Such total
constant strain of battle and short-
On patrol protecting a convoy and also the strain of operations could shape a future fl eet with
surprisingly more or less ignores. exclusion sadly became the norm
lived friendships
in a Wildcat, his fuel ran out, on the men. naval air power at its core.
Despite Rodger’s Wooden World for the rest of the 19th Century.
Henry ‘Hank’ Adlam was one
forcing him to ditch – an unhappy The British carriers “were He and his generation would rise being one of the few (relatively) I cannot in all conscience
such pilot, typical of the thousands
prospect given his fear of the sea. unsuitable for the extreme hot to become captains, even admirals modern items in the bibliography recommend The Line Upon A Wind
who took to the skies with the
The aircraft “ploughed into the weather of the Far East”. There perhaps, and the mistakes of WW2 we get all the usual distorted (Jonathan Cape, £25 ISBN 978-0-
Fleet Air Arm between 1939 and
brick wall of the sea. The engine was inadequate water, no air would not be repeated. facets of the ‘black legend’ of 224-06922-9). The money would
and nose went under immediately conditioning. He was to be sorely disappointed; the Georgian navy with its twin be much better spent on works
He served in every theatre
and the icy sea was gushing into “Every man in each carrier was frustrated by a force of ‘eagles dimensions on brutal discipline by Rodger or Clayton, Knight,
– Atlantic, Mediterranean and Far
my cockpit.” living life at such intensity, with led by penguins’, he eventually (described in almost sadistic Pocock or Woodman.
East – as a fi ghter pilot, service
Adlam managed to get the long hours of work, that there was declined a full commission and detail) and poor food. To end on a positive note,
recounted in On and Off the
dinghy out, scrambled into it and really no time to think too much opted for civvy street where life was How did the fi nest and most however, there is one saving grace
Flight Deck (Pen & Sword, £19.99 watched as his aircraft plunged about the discomfort,” the author no easier. This Harrow-educated
powerful navy in the world expect with the book. Mostert’s traditional
ISBN 978-1844-156290). into the Atlantic. writes. man found himself employed as
its ships to be powered except by preoccupation with heroes does
There is not a glut of memoirs He was rescued, but many On operations, the pilots a toilet cleaner, factory worker
‘square meals’ that were often lead him to emphasise the role
from Fleet Air Arm aviators out comrades were not so fortunate. worked two days on, two days off, and door-to-door salesman as he better than those eaten by ordinary of Sydney Smith in stopping
there, and fewer still from the His close friend was gunned with fl ights from dawn till dusk, struggled to adjust to post-war citizens ashore? Napoleon in his tracks at Acre in
world of the fi ghter pilot. down by a Focke Wulf Condor – a sat in a cramped cockpit on top of Britain. Mostert is also deeply unsound 1799, something that is too often
And it is a world worthy of Luftwaffe reconnaissance aircraft an uncomfortable parachute. That possibly is a story for a on recruitment and confused forgotten and, which if it had gone
admiration. which served as the eyes of the U- By the time the British carriers sequel, for the author proclaims about the press gang. For much the other way, might have had
Not for those riveting tales of boats. grappled with the Japanese in the his aerial escapades to be the first better assessments of the social greater strategic consequences
gladiatorial duels but because of “I sat down at the small desk fi nal year of the war, they had the volume of his memoirs. side of the naval history of this than Trafalgar.
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