806 Naval Air Squadron...

...The FAA's Top-Scoring Fighter Squadron of the Second World War,  from Fonthill Media

Title: 806 Naval Air Squadron
Author: Brian Cull and Frederick Galea

Publisher: Fonthill Media
ISBN: 978-1-78155-750-1

 

This 192-page hardback makes for another interesting read from this pair of authors. With this Fleet Air Arm  fighter squadron it isn't dealing with the glamour of the Spitfires and Hurricanes which so many people would associate with British fighter squadrons during WW2, but this time the less famous aircraft, the Blackburn Roc and Skua, along with the Fairy Fulmar. The Skua was suited to dive bombing while the Roc carried a four-gun turret just like the Defiant used by the RAF.
The book starts with the formation of the squadron and their early training, with the two Blackburn types. Using squadron records along with the memories of aircrew which have been gathered over the years, especially those of Lt(A) Graham Angus ('Gus') Hogg RNVR DFC* and Captain Desmond Vincent-Jones RN DSC*. It is these personal memories which really bring stories like this to life. We hear how they were first posted to the carrier HMS Illustrious, then their training and early missions. Even before the went into combat they lost a number of aircrew during their training preparation. Eventually they go to the Mediterranean where they support supplies going to Malta and get to Alexandria. Equipped with Fulmars, they had lots of work to do, often flying CAP (Combat Air Patrol) missions to tackle not only bombers attacking the Mediterranean Fleet, but the Italian seaplanes which were searching out the fleet in order to target the ships for their bombers. Aircraft from 806 also supported the Swordfish which were launched from Illustrious to carry out the attack on the Italian fleet at Taranto. Once Illustrious was damaged and had to sail to the USA for repairs, Eagle and Formidable were used by the squadron, who remained in the Mediterranean. There is a foray into the Indian Ocean around Madagascar and Ceylon, where Japanese Navy were the new opponents, but they went back to the Med. The story extends to the involvement of the squadron in escorting the vital, and famous, Pedestal Convoy that brought vital supplies to the island of Malta as well. What remained of the squadron returned to the UK. It reformed after the war, and that period is covered in the final chapter. The book is rounded off with not only a few pages of archive photos to illustrate the story, but 6 Appendices that include the Roll of Honour and the list of Combat Claims among other interesting and supporting information.
In addition to the extensive use of memories of the veterans who took part, I am also impressed with the inclusion of many notes telling us about the fate of the Italian aircrews who had been shot down (or not) and featured in the combat claims. A good way of remembering that both sides lost aircrew and these aircrew also had families who would also miss their relatives, whatever side they were on. Good for anyone interested in the history of the Fleet Air Arm in WW2, Malta and in the Mediterranean in particular. A fascinating read I thought.

 

Thanks to Fonthill Media for our review copy.

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Robin