Michele Palermo finally offers us this fully-detailed reconstruction, covering short time intervals in multiple volumes, in a way that allows him to describe the events with the greatest possible accuracy.
The present volume deals with the so called ‘Battle of Gazala’ a period that has been of great importance for the war in North Africa as it rose from a seemingly stale situation. The Axis army was near to reachingAlexandria and the Suez Canal, which would be a significant blow to British Empire. At last, however, as the Author will unfold in detail in his next books, the Commonwealth was able to turn the tide and push back Rommel to Tripoli.
Thanks to his in-depth research approach, Michele Palermo is able to shed new light on many aspects of this important air campaign. He covers broader themes, such as the impact on the operations of the air forces and the balance of power between the contenders, but also included are more specific topics, such as the contribution of SAAF and the other forces of the Dominions to the Commonwealth effort, or the actual results obtained by the super-ace Marseille.
The air war over the Mediterranean is too often described as a clash between two contenders only, namely the Commonwealth air forces and the Luftwaffe. Readers already familiar with the history of this confrontation will finally be able to appreciate in full the significant contribution of the Regia Aeronautica. Aside from the review of the performance of the Allied and Luftwaffe pilots, the author examines in detail how the Italians truly fared in combat through analyzing the outcomes of the engagements: it becomes clear that the Italians consistently shot down more planes than they lost throughout the campaign and were in no way inferior to their adversaries. This conclusion defies the historical debate of their competence, declaring once and for all that pronouncements of the Italians’ ‘lack of determination or stamina’ are merely a remnant of war time propaganda.
All the above is backed by interesting digressions, useful and timely summary tables and by what is probably the best chapter dealing with the technical aspects of the aircraft involved, ever provided in a study of this kind, making even more precious this innovative work.
Published seventy-one years after the battle of Gazala, this updated and original book will become the necessary starting point for a proper understanding of the critical air campaign that led to the battle of El Alamein.

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No impact of Battle of Britain

“Since the Luftwaffe didn’t consider that a distinct ‘Battle of Britain’ took place, the battle had no effect on the overall course of the war – other than to give the Americans an unsinkable aircraft carrier.” – “If Britain had given up the struggle in…1940, at least half of the German [army] divisions in the west, plus the crack Afrika Korps, (10 per cent of German Panzer strength), plus nearly all of the aircraft based in western Europe and the Mediterranean would have been used against Russia [in the summer of 1941]. To these should be added the German airborne forces which would not have been decimated in Crete in May 1941. The result would have been a crushing German victory in 1941 or 1942 and a Nazi dominated Europe…” – Christopher Dorne, BBC History Magazine, July 2000.

Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain

“The Battle of Britain was virtually unwinable for the Luftwaffe.” – Recently is has become fashionable for revisionist historians to say that the RAF couldn’t have lost the Battle of Britain, or that the Luftwaffe had almost no chance of winning. They argue that, overall, the Luftwaffe had fewer fighters than the RAF in the Battle, and therefore the RAF wasn’t really outnumbered. Since Operation ‘Sealion’ (the German invasion of Britain) depended on the defeat of the RAF to succeed, they argue that the invasion threat was never serious. In fact, as RAF pilots were only too aware, the Luftwaffe could easily achieve local air superiority over their targets in southern England, and the RAF shortage was in pilots not aircraft. Had the Luftwaffe used better offensive tactics – as demanded by the aircrews themselves – such as allowing the escort fighters to roam more freely from the bombers, then German losses could have been lower and attacks more effective. Knocking out British RDF (radar) stations and systematically destroying RAF fighter bases would have severely limited RAF Fighter Command’s ability to effectively defend Southern and Eastern England. If the sudden change in Luftwaffe tactics to area bombing of cities hadn’t been made, (in reprisal for small scale RAF raids on Berlin), the RAF would have been forced to progressively retreat north and west, with an increasingly serious pilot shortage. In this case, peace talks with Germany would be highly likely, and Churchill wouldn’t have remained Prime Minister for very long.

Battle of Britain Fighter Pilots

“RAF Battle of Britain fighter pilots were mostly upper-class former public schoolboys.” – In fact, of the 2900 fighter pilots who fought in the Battle of Britain, (“The Few”), only 200 went to public (i.e. private) school. The bulk came from humble or grammar school backgrounds and 20 per cent were of foreign nationality – including Czechs, Poles, Americans and Canadians.
[The origins of this myth go back to the early days of the RAF. In the 1920s and 1930s it was widely believed that only public schoolboys provided the right material for military officers and the RAF recruited accordingly. When the Auxiliary Air Force was established in 1924 for reservist pilots, the only people who could afford to join where wealthy young men who didn’t need to spend six days every week at work. Thus the Aux AF became a social club for a certain class of people. With the rapid expansion of the RAF in the 1930s, the formation of the Volunteer Reserve introduced a new social class of pilots – the non-commissioned officer, (NCO). The VR strongly attracted young working men who wanted to learn how to fly – for free. With the coming of war, the initial strength of the RAF was built around a core of experienced regular officers, supplemented by the members of the Auxiliary Air Force and large numbers of Volunteer Reserve ‘Seargent Pilots’. The popular British wartime propaganda film ‘The First of the Few’, about the origins of the Spitfire and its role in the Battle of Britain, made with the help of Auxiliary and Regular Air Force pilots, was one of the first vehicles for the public schoolboy heroes myth.]

CAF Carrier

Here’s something interesting from the ‘Norfolk Virginian-Pilot’:

Confederates in Bid for Aircraft Carrier

In a surprise move, a group of aviation enthusiasts calling themselves the Confederate Air Force (CAF) has announced that they are submitting a bid to buy the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal when it is officially retired from Navy service at the end of this year.

The Midland, Texas, based organization operates a large fleet of restored World War Two vintage fighter and bomber aircraft for display at airshows around the country. The organization takes it’s role of educating people about the war years very seriously, but the move towards jet-era aviation is thought to be a new departure.

The 54 years old USS Forrestal (CV-59) is currently used to train young naval aviators for carrier deck landings at sea, and will soon be surplus to requirements as the Navy continues to down-size. It had been expected that the ship would be offered to one of the South American navies. Both Argentina and Brazil operate ageing aircraft carriers that need replacing. The Department of Defense has confirmed that a serious CAF bid for the carrier has been submitted.

The group has initial funding thanks to a substantial endowment from a former naval aviator, and is currently negotiating sponsorship deals with a number of large corporations. The Tailhook Association and the Naval Aviation Museum at Pensacola have also been invited to participate in the project.

The Confederates intend to maintain the carrier in fully working condition, as a living museum and a tribute to the Navy servicemen and women of the Cold War era. “This will be a fully active ship, unlike the USS Intrepid in New York, which is just a floating display cabinet,” said CAF spokesperson Kay Rendall. “It will be crewed by volunteers and retired ex-mariners. We plan to operate cruises all along the eastern and western seaboard of the States and over-winter in Norfolk, Virginia,” says Rendall. “The carrier will put into port when possible, to allow the public to tour the ship.”

According to the CAF, the ship will be restored to its full 1967 Vietnam War configuration as far as possible, and will include a fully representative carrier air group ranged on deck and in the hangars. Suitable F-4 fighters and A-4, A-6 and A-7 bombers are still being held at a vast government storage facility in the Arizona desert. Most of these aircraft will be non-flying, but it is hoped that one example of each type will be eventually restored to flying condition, to operate in authentic markings from the carrier. In connection with this, it is reported that a Florida-based syndicate is currently negotiating to buy an F-8 Crusader fighter plane from the French Navy, which retired theirs last year.

“On special occasions, paying visitors will be ferried out to the carrier by boat or helicopter and invited to experience a range of naval aviation demonstrations not normally open to the general public,” explains Rendall. “The climax of the visit would be a spectacular series of catapult launches and arrested landings of naval aircraft. The drama and awesome power of modern naval aviation will be made accessible to the public for the first time, in a unique way.”

“Obviously, several modifications will be required to make the ship suitable for civilian visitors. We’ve got a lot of work to do, but we expect to be able to welcome the first visitors on April Fools day, 2003.”


Red Arrows

Here’s an excerpt from the ‘Lincoln Advertiser’ that may be of interest:

Red Arrows to Relinquish Hawks

As a result of a shortage of training aircraft, the Royal Air Force’s aerobatic team, The Red Arrows, are likely to give up their Hawk aircraft at the end of this year. The Red Arrows, based locally at RAF Cranwell, fly nine red-painted Hawks at air displays throughout the country. Many of the RAF’s fleet of Hawk aircraft are currently suffering from a gradual structural weakening, known as fatigue, due to age and the stresses induced during pilot training. The Hawk aircraft were originally built by British Aerospace in the 1970s, and each aircraft will now have to be rebuilt by the manufacturer, a process that takes several months. Taking several aircraft out of service at a time will cause a severe reduction in the number of Hawks available for pilot training. The RAF is thus planning to send the Hawks presently flown by the Red Arrows to training units, to replace those temporarily withdrawn for rebuild. The Red Arrows will continue flying, but with a new aircraft type.

The aircraft type that will replace the Hawk has not yet been officially announced. Potential contenders are the propeller driven Shorts Tucano trainer, already flown by the RAF, or the Franco-German Alpha Jet, which is similar to the Hawk and there are a number in storage with the French and German air forces. However, sources at Cranwell indicate that another all-British type is the current favourite, the Gnat. The Red Arrows flew Gnat trainers between 1965 and 1979 and made the diminutive trainer famous. After their retirement in 1980, the RAF sold off it’s Gnats to enthusiasts and private collectors, and many are still flying today. Sources indicate that the RAF is currently negotiating with a number of private owners to lease ten Gnats for the 2000 and 2001 display seasons. Apart from repainting in Red Arrows colours the aircraft shouldn’t need any extra work – they are already equipped with smoke generators for example. The RAF was reportedly impressed by the condition of the Gnats it has inspected so far.

While the contractual aspects are still waiting to be finalised, Red Arrows team members are excited by the possibility of displaying the famous British trainer to the public next year, and they are likely to be the highlight of the Farnborough 2000 Millennium Airshow. When contacted, an official spokesperson for the Red Arrows, F/O O.L. April, was unable to comment on the report.


RFC Book


The Royal Flying Corps In Colour Photographs
by Raymond L. Rimler

This new title will include over one hundred genuine colour photographs of the men and machines of the Royal Flying Corps, in action on the Western Front in early 1918.

A previously unknown collection of glass plate images was recently discovered, during the cataloging of the British archives of the
photographic company Eastman Kodak. According to documents that were found with these photographs, Kodak had been working during the First World War on a pioneering chemical process, to capture colour images on the conventional glass plate negatives of the time.

The War Department in Whitehall where interested in the potential of this process, for better aerial reconnaissance of the German trenches and forward positions. Accordingly, Stanley West, a civilian employee of Eastman Kodak, was seconded to No.16 Squadron, RFC, in France in early 1918. There, he flew as an observer on several missions over the front and took a series of colour photographs of the trench system in the area. West also took many pictures of the R.E.8 aircraft he flew in, the fighters that escorted him, and of visiting RFC aircraft from other units. The War Department was disappointed with the results of the trial and abandoned its support, leaving the development of colour photography to languish for another decade.

Although faded by age, these remarkable images have now been computer enhanced, to present a stunning new glimpse into the world of 1918.

One unusual sequence of photographs deserves particular mention. During a reconnaissance mission over enemy lines, West’s aircraft was suddenly attacked by an all-red Fokker Triplane. The lumbering R.E.8 aircraft was no match for the German fighter, but amazingly the German’s guns jammed and he was unable to complete the kill. The German pilot then flew alongside the British crew and saluted them, before diving away. West recorded the attack and flyby with his camera. Only a few weeks later, the Red Baron met his death.

This title will be a major publishing event for 1997, and an essential reference source for all World War One aviation enthusiasts and historians. Captions are written by the well known aviation historian Ray Rimler.

Publication date is 1st April 1997. Price £19.95. For more information talk to April at Foolsday Publications on Tel 0192-010497.

Vulcan Bomber

Here’s a press report you might be interested in:


A full size replica Avro Vulcan bomber is currently being readied for its maiden flight at an airport in Minnesota. Externally identical to the British delta-winged nuclear bomber of the nineteen-sixties, the white painted replica has recently completed a series of high speed taxi runs at Avra Valley, near Minneapolis. Avra Valley is the home of several vintage jet fighters now preserved in flying condition.

Built by the Avra Valley Replica Organisation (AVRO), and constructed from glass fiber, kevlar and aluminium materials familiar to kitplane builders, the replica weighs less than one third of the original.

The project is funded by Lithuanian born millionaire Loof Lirpa, owner of Lirpa Communications and self-confessed Vulcan fanatic, to the tune of some $850,000. Lirpa says “I first saw the Vulcan perform at a display during a business trip to England. I was absolutely knocked out by its looks and performance.” Having failed to buy the last flying example, when it was grounded by the Royal Air Force in 1992 and put up for sale, he resolved to build and fly his own.

Progress has been good, Lirpa says. “Taxi trials have gone well, with only a couple of minor problems. Now we just need to fly her”. The Vulcan is expected to take to the air on April 1st. After thorough flight testing, it is hoped the aircraft will be ready in time for a debut appearance at the massive airshow at Oshkosh in the summer.

A number of design tweaks are planned before the aircraft is seen by the public. “The main problem is getting the right feel and sound for the
display,” explains Lirpa. The distinctive ‘charging bull elephant’ roar during take-off, for which the Vulcan is famous, will be achieved by acoustic tuning of the engine air intake ducting. “At the moment it sounds more like a household vacuum cleaner” Lirpa admits. The engine exhausts are also too clean – measured amounts of industrial die will be automatically injected into the exhaust pipes to reproduce an authentic smoky trail. The replica is actually powered by four General Electric J85 engines, purchased as military surplus, and last used in Navy Northrop F-5 fighters.

The spectacular highlight of the display routine will be the mid-air launch of a replica Blue Steel nuclear missile from the aircraft’s bomb-bay. A initial batch of six of these replica missiles is currently being assembled by AVRO.

As for future plans, Lirpa refused to comment on reports that AVRO employees have been seen measuring and photographing the huge six-engined Convair B-36 bomber on display at the Wright Patterson Air Force Base.

John Hayles