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Sopwith Camels Over Italy 1917-1918...


...from Pen and Sword



Title: Sopwith Camels Over Italy 1917-1918

Author: Norman Franks

Publisher: Pen and Sword

ISBN: 978-1-52672-308-5

A recent addition to the extensive Images of War series and one I found quite an eye opener.  This year sees the final element to the 100th Anniversary commemorations of WW1.  At first glance you might think what is different about Sopwith Camels but the key to this is that they are in Italy.  All too often when thinking about WW1 we tend to jump to the story of the Western Front, the trench warfare from the Belgian Coast to the Swiss border.  There has been plenty done on the topic of Gallipoli as well.  Perhaps largely overlooked, Italy was at that time an Ally to the British and French armies, and they were fighting the forces of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in Northern Italy.  They had held their own until about 1917 when the pressure proved too much and they needed to call for extra help from their allies. One element of the response was the despatch of 5 RAF squadrons equipped with the well known Sopwith Camel to support them, along with a reconnaissance squadron with RE8s.  At the same time, Germany also provided extra support for the Austro-Hungarian forces and this included 3 fighter squadrons (Jastas), largely equipped with Albatros D.III.

The book is divided into 5 chapters.  These tackle War on the Italian Front: Camels Over the Piave: March - VC Action: Before the Battle of the Piave and finally, The Battle of the Piave.  Everything is round off with an appendix which charts Sopwith Camel Aces Over Italy.  Each chapter has a few pages of text to start with, which tell the associated course of events, and the pilots who took part (on both sides).

Each then has an appropriate collection of archive photos.  These include many individual portraits and group photos of the pilots involved in the stories, and this does include some of the German pilots as well.  Within these there is a fascinating mix of uniforms, including various bits of flying kit, including fur gloves, fur lined boots and uniforms, all of which will interest the military figure modeller and historical re-enactors alike.  Added to these pf course are the pictures of the aircraft themselves.  Some in flight along with many on the ground, either at their airfields or in many cases damaged by accidents or combat loss.  From these you get detail of the aircraft themselves as well as the markings they carried, ideal for aircraft modellers.

I learnt a lot in this one as well as enjoyed seeing the new archive photos, and about an aspect of WW1 I admit to knowing little or nothing about beforehand.  Perhaps one of the most telling things I discovered are some statistics given in the Introductory chapter were the casualty figures for the region.  Allied losses are given as 651,000 killed and nearly 1 million wounded against 404,000 killed and 1.2 million wounded on the Austro-Hungarian side.  It provided me with some context for the fighting in the region and in this year of another anniversary, that of the RAF, a bit of RAF history which had escaped me before.  Well worth a read this one, for the WW1 military historian as well as aviation history enthusiasts as well as aircraft and figure modellers.

Thanks to Pen and Sword for this review copy.


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