Stay the Distance - The Life and Times of Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir Michael Beetham, Peter Jacobs

Stay the Distance - The Life and Times of Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir Michael Beetham, Peter Jacobs

Sir Michael Beetham was the Chief of the Air Staff during the Falklands War, a conflict that came towards the end of a career that had started with Bomber Command, where he flew a full tour as a Lancaster bomber pilot.

Beetham stayed in the RAF after the Second World War and rose steadily through the ranks, holding a wide range of posts during his career. He served throughout the last years of the British Empire, and throughout the Cold War, and so many of his posts took him overseas, including time spent as a station commander in Aden and a period as head of the RAF in Germany.

There is an interesting change of tone once Beetham becomes Chief of the Air Staff (the professional head of the RAF). His previous jobs had been either entirely or mainly military in nature, but his new post brought him into contact with politics at a time of considerable turmoil (the last year of the Callaghan government and Mrs Thatcher's first term). Defence cuts and how to cope with the RAF's many different commitments dominated his time, at least until the Argentinean invasion of the Falkland Islands.

The RAF's contribution to the Falklands War is often overlooked - the long range Vulcan raid on Port Stanley is well known, but the massive transport operation flying supplies to Ascension Island is less well known as is the involvement of RAF Harrier GR3s to support the Navy's Sea Harriers.

This is an authorised biography, which means that the author had access to Sir Michael and his memories (and to his photo collection). When the author states Sir Michael's views on a particular matter, we can be fairly sure that these are accurate. The author is an RAF officer himself, currently serving at RAF Cranwell, so this is also an insider's biography, written by someone with an understanding of the RAF as an organisation. Despite this official background, the book doesn't ignore the political disputes of Beetham's time as CAS, or the arguments between the three armed services as budgets were cut.

This is an interesting read, and should be of value to anyone with an interest in the development of the post-war RAF, Bomber Command, the Falklands War or the political pressures at the very top of the Armed Forces.

1 - Southern Skies
2 - Bomber Pilot
3 - Bomber Command to Africa
4 - A Career Unfolds
5 - A Valiant Record Breaker
6 - The Height of Readiness and a Close-Run Thing in Cuba
7 - Trouble in Aden
8 - To the Stars
9 - RAF Germany
10 - The Chief
11 - A Change of Government
12 - The Falklands
13 - What Retirement?
14 - On Reflection

Author: Peter Jacobs
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 284
Publisher: Frontline
Year: 2011

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