Despite its name, the Desert Air Force spent most of its existence fighting in Italy. It developed from earlier RAF organisations in the Western Desert, only becoming the DAF at the start of 1943, towards the end of the North African campaign. The DAF then took part in the invasion of Sicily, the landings on the Italian mainland and the long bitter campaign in Italy. The DAF was especially valuable in Italy, where it was often called upon to deal with a crisis, starting with the German counter attack at Salerno.
Evans does a good job of tying the aerial fighting to the ongoing ground battles, not something every aviation author achieves. He traces the unusual development of the DAF, which expanded from a tiny force into a powerful battle winning organisation, and then began to shrink again as squadrons were withdrawn from Italy and moved to north-western Europe. The DAF was also an unusually international force, with RAF, RAAF, SAAF and USAAF units for most of its existence, operating a wide range of aircraft.
Evans is also good on the many important 'firsts' and new tactics developed by the DAF. This started with the ability to become operational very quickly after moving to a new base (essential in the fast moving desert war). Eventually many squadrons could get into action on the same day they flew into a new base. The DAF also developed the 'cab-rank' system, where forward ground controllers combined with aircraft waiting overhead to provide almost instant air support. The DAF was also the first RAF formation to make extensive use of the fighter-bomber, and helped develop the tactics for using that very potent weapon.
The is a good mix of individual accounts of the fighting and overviews of the action, making it clear that all of the DAF's achievements were due to the often very young men who manned its squadrons. Evens is also very good on the human cost, showing how success on one day could be followed by death or injury on the next, and also looking at the impact of stress on some of the force's commanders.
1 - Crossing Africa
2 - El Alamein, July 1942: the four-month air war begins
3 - El Alamein, the second and third battles, and the first No Fly Zone
4 - Allied air power lights the flame of Operation TORCH
5 - DAF to the rescue of French forces at Ksar Rhilane
6 - Fighter-bombers lay on an air blitz at El Hamma
7 - Interdiction, an air blitz, and No Fly Zone to take Tunis
8 - Invasion of Sicily - another amphibious gamble?
9 - Salerno's near disaster: new enemies - rivers, mountains, cloud and rain
10 - Termoli to the Sangro River -flying against the rain
11 - A second 'Pearl Harbor' for the Allies at Bari
12 - Cassino and Anzio - Bombing the Winter Line
13 - Breakthroughs at Cassion and Anzio - but the Luftwaffe fights back
14 - Rome to the Gothic Line - Allied fighters rule the skies
15 - Could an air blitz open up the Eighty Army's path to the River Po?
Author: Bryn Evans
Publisher: Pen & Sword Aviation