Spitfire Aces of the Channel Front 1941-43, Andrew Thomas

Spitfire Aces of the Channel Front 1941-43, Andrew Thomas

Aircraft of the Aces 131

This book covers the most controversial period in the history of Fighter Command, the period of ‘leaning over the Channel’, taking an offensive stance over France in the hope that this would slowly wear down the Luftwaffe, demonstrate an offensive spirit, and later perhaps force the Germans to move fighter units away from the Eastern Front. This is a controversial period because it saw the British suffering from the same problems the Germans had faced in the Battle of Britain – operating on the opposite side of the channel from home, with the majority of pilots shot down lost permanently, either killed or taken POW (some did manage to evade capture and return home, but as a rule they didn’t return to the campaign to avoid any chance of them being captured again and giving away secrets of the escape routes). Things only got worse when the Fw 190 entered service, leaving the Spitfire V rather outclassed and increasing British losses. The campaign also failed in its secondary objective of forcing the Germans to move units from the Eastern Front – only JG 2 and JG 26 spent this entire period on the Channel front, and it was the bombing offensive over Germany that ended up wearing down the Luftwaffe’s fighter forces.

The majority of the text is taken up with brief descriptions of each day’s fighting, focusing on the exploits of the aces. Some of the fights are covered in more detail, using eyewitness accounts, either from the pilot themselves or by someone else involved in the fight. There is some background material, explaining the reason for the British policy and discussing the arrival of new aircraft on either side. We get a good image of the constant pressure of the campaign, with the almost daily grind of combats, and with them the constant drip feed of losses. These include squadron leaders, wing leaders and many of the aces, and does make one wonder just how useful this campaign actually was.

One minor quibble is that the author often states that a victory is a particular pilot’s last one, without then saying what happened to them. One tends to assume that many of these pilots were probably shot down later, but this isn’t always the case and it would have been nice to know that someone like Jamie Rankin, whose final victory is mentioned in June 1942, went on to command wings and retired as an Air Commodore. The book also finishes rather abruptly, without any conclusion or overview of what has just been described.

This is a well researched, detailed narrative account of the fighting on the Channel Front during this controversial campaign, and gives the reader a good impression of the constant pressure of the campaign and it’s cost to Fighter Command in experienced leaders and pilots

1 - Defence to Offence
2 - Leaning into Europe
3 - Greatest Air Battles
4 - The Endless Offensive
5 - Preparing for Invasion

Author: Andrew Thomas
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 96
Publisher: Osprey
Year: 2016

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