Sniper of the Skies- The Story of George Frederick 'Screwball' Beurling DSO DFC DFM*, Nick Thomas

Sniper of the Skies- The Story of George Frederick 'Screwball' Beurling DSO DFC DFM*, Nick Thomas

The account of Beurling’s early life is interesting, demonstrating a very early fascination with flying, and a determination to earn money so he could take flying lessons. Despite his obvious talent in the air, he was actually turned down by the RCAF, and decided to make his own way to Britain to join the RAF. He signed on as crew on a mechant ship, but after his arrival in Britain discovered that he didn’t have the right paperwork, so promptly worked his way back home to collect it! After this he was accepted by the RAF, but his career in Britain wasn’t a great success. He was acknowledged as a great shot, but gained a reputation for not being a team player and disappearing off on his own to hunt Germans. The move to Malta was probably the making of him as a pilot – he clearly learnt to obey the rules, but also 

The sections on Beurling’s combat experiences aren’t as strong. The author has chosen to provide full details of each day’s fighting, even when Beurling isn’t directly involved. When Beurling is involved, he is sometimes introduced complete with rank, as if he wasn’t the focus of the story. As a result these sections read much more like an account of the air battle over Malta than over Beurling’s role in it. That isn’t to say that Beurling doesn’t get a larger share of the text than his colleagues, and there are plenty of quotes from him, but he isn’t quite the focus of the narrative as much as he should be.  He was in Malta at the height of the German attacks, so this is still a useful narrative of the air fighting.

The story comes back to life when Beurling is wounded and forced out of the fight (although he certainly didn’t see it that way!). He was ordered to return to Britain to recover from his wounds, and was lucky to escape a tragic crash at Gibraltar that claimed several of his colleagues. He was only in the UK very briefly, before flying on to Canada. He received a hero’s welcome, without actually being given time to recover from his flight from Gibraltar, and was then used to support a War Bonds drive. The end to Beurling’s career is extremely unusual. He clearly never adapted to life after Malta, missing the excitement he had found in those desperate battles. He transferred to the RCAF, but they clearly didn’t have a real use for him, and his service career actually ended with his resignation, well before the war was over! Sadly he never seems to have really adapted to peacetime life, and ended up signing up to fight for Israel, only to die in an aircraft accident while on his way.

Beurling’s career is well worthy of a biography. The sections away from his active combat section work best here, giving us an image of the pre-war aircraft enthusiast and the post-war seeker after excitement. The combat sections are a bit too detailed, so Beurling’s own career gets a bit lost in the mass of events, but the Malta section in particular is a good blow-by-blow account of the height of the air battles, and gives us a clear idea of the environment he was operating in, as well as providing plenty of details of his own actions, often supported by his own words. 

1 - To the Stars the Hard Way
2 - Training for War
3 - Fully Operational
4 - First 'Kill'
5 - The Besieged Island
6 - The July Blitz
7 - More Scrambles
8 - At Readiness
9 - Surviving the Final Blitz
10 - The Wounded Hero Returns
11 - No.403 Squadron RCAF
12 - Fit For a Hero
13 - No Place to Rest for a Hero

Author: Nick Thomas
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 232
Publisher: Pen & Sword Aviation
Year: 2015

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