Heroes of Coastal Command: The RAF’s Maritime War 1939-1945
Andrew D. Bird
Andrew Bird’s latest work, Heroes of Coastal Command: The RAF’s Maritime War 1939-1945, is an excellent collection of historical narratives from members of the Royal Air Force’s Coastal Command during World War II. Coastal Command’s primary task was the defense of British military interests on the ocean, such as providing protection for the Allied convoys. Bird joined the Army Reserves at the young age of 18, and later the Royal Air Force Reserves. He has presented, written, and acted as a consultant on historical documentaries, and became a member of the Society of Authors in 2003. The book follows the personal stories of different pilots and officers of the Coastal Command. Overall, the book contains nine chapters, with a centralized emphasis on the bravery of these men but does not form a single argument.
Bird portrays service members such as Commander Jack Davenport, the only pilot of the Royal Australian Air Force to be awarded the George Medal for his heroic rescue of a pilot trapped in a burning aircraft. Another is that of Flying Officer Lloyd Trigg, a New Zealand recipient of the Victoria Cross. Trigg’s B-24 Liberator pressed an attack on the German U-468, despite the damage to his aircraft. After dropping its depth charges on the U-boat, the Liberator crashed into the sea with no survivors. Trigg’s Victoria Cross is the only one awarded based strictly on the testimony given by an enemy combatant. Still another story is of Lieutenant Alfred ‘Ken’ Gatward and Sergeant Gilbert ‘George’ Fern. Together, the pair flew a Beaufighter from Thorney Island, east of Portsmouth, England, to Paris. Their mission was to air drop a large French flag over the Arc de Triomphe. They were also to strafe the Ministère de la Marine, and upon flying over it after a successful attack, drop a second French flag before they turned back to England. This was an attempt to boost the morale of the subjugated citizens of Paris. These are just a few examples of the extraordinary actions taken by the men and women of the Royal Air Force described in this book.
Bird is meticulous with his facts. The book is filled with dialogue and small details that are well collected and researched. However, the chapters can be difficult for the casual reader to follow. Names, places, ranks, and abbreviations were heavily referenced, often with little to no context, making this work less comprehensible to those unfamiliar with history, the Royal Air Force, or British geography. The author is superfluous with details, which causes the overall flow of the historical narrative to be cumbersome. With the limited page count of the book, the author’s inefficient economy of words proves especially detracting.
The critiques should not amount to a denunciation; quite the contrary. The author’s excellent sources include military documents, unpublished memoirs, private diaries, newspapers, and archival sources. However, the book is not making a historical argument; it is simply communicating a story. Thus, Bird wrote a thoroughly informative narrative of the brave heroes of Coast Command.
- Barnsley: Frontline Books, 2019
- 6-1/4” x 9-1/4”, hardcover, xii + 277 pages
- Photographs, notes, bibliography, index. $44.95
- ISBN: 9781526710697
Reviewed by Tyler David Mclellan, East Carolina University