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Phantom in the Cold War...


... RAF Wildenrath 1977-1992 from Pen and Sword


Title: Phantom in the Cold War

Author: David Gledhill

Publisher: Pen and Sword

ISBN: 978-1-52670-408-5

This new hardback from Pen and Sword and author David Gledhill covers one of my all time favourites, the Phantom.  The author was a navigator on the type, later moving on to fly the Tornado as well.  In particular this looks at the operation of the air defence variant of the F4, operating from RAF Wildenrath in West Germany during the Cold War.  It tells us about the operation of the air defence variant of the F-4 Phantom in RAF service, and the includes the changes made to aircraft which had originally been purchased for the Royal Navy.  Added to that it also gives us the story of their airbase, RAF Wildenrath.

A good deal of what we are told would not have been have been allowed, but now many years later, with both aircraft and the base itself no longer in service it is OK.  There are 14 chapters which take us through the story.  Starting from the conversion of the F-4 from bomber to an air defence role it goes on to explain the role of the aircraft within West Germany and adds a description of the base at Wildenrath itself.  Then there is the Operational Context and the constraints of operating in the busy airspace over West Germany durig the Cold War.  Industrial action by air traffic controllers even impacted the military operations.  Then we get a look at the daily life of aircrew and the way that Battle Flight operated, the pair of jets kept at alert, ready to fly within 5 minutes of the alarm.  Coverage of the War Plans and the introduction of the Tactical Leadership Programme.  Four more chapters explore the service life of the Phantonm from the formation of the Phantom squadrons in the 1970's, their squadron operations in both early and late eighties and then in the 1990's, when the type was taken out of service.  The final chapter looks at The Demise, of not just the Phantom in RAF service but of RAF Wildenrath as an airbase as well.  Today a few of the airframes are now museum exhibits while the land once occupied by the base has been used for industrial development, such as a railway test facility and the runways torn up and returned to agriculture.  One remaining HAS (Hardened Aircraft Shelter) is still there, used to house golf course maintenance equipment.  The crews had to put in a lot of work and sometimes deal with tragedy as they dealt with losing colleagues in an occasional aircraft crash.  It was also a time of changing technology.  In the early days they flew alongside types such as the F-100 and the F-104.  At the end they faced the next generation of aircraft, from the F-15 with NATO and the Mig-29 with the Warsaw Pact.  All the text is backed up with plenty of archive photos, mostly in colour, throughout the book.

I enjoyed this book and learnt a lot about what it meant to fly the Phantom during the Cold War, and flying from what would have been one of the front line airbases if the Warsaw Pact had made an attack on Western Europe.  The other thing for me was to see the forward by Group Captain Ali McKay RAF (retired), who was not only once the Commander of RAF Wildenrath but who I worked with when he was later a director at Waitrose supermarkets and we had a good few chats about flying as he always had the enthusiasm for fast jets, an enthusiasm that is equally clear for the author David Gledhill.

Thanks to Pen and Sword for this review copy.


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