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by Charles Lamb

Book by Lamb, Charles
Download To War in a Stringbag epub
ISBN: 0553136542
ISBN13: 978-0553136548
Category: No category
Author: Charles Lamb
Language: English
Publisher: Bantam Books; 1st THUS edition (May 1980)
ePUB size: 1269 kb
FB2 size: 1470 kb
Rating: 4.1
Votes: 806
Other Formats: doc mbr docx mobi

I was curious to find out the war experience of flying in a canvas biplane in WW2, so I picked this up. It was a very interesting read - Lamb participated in the Royal Navy attack on Taranto, operations in the Med, Greece, and he also offers some great insights into the experiments used to extend the range of the Swordfish.
The pleasant surprise for me was that Lamb was active in espionage activities in North Africa. His experiences with the Vichy French led me to learn more about Vichy France.
His interactions with British bureaucracy are both saddening and entertaining.
This is a fascinating book by a pilot who was flying before WW2 began, and had two ships sunk from under him before we Americans even came in. This was early days for modern naval warfare and the existing Naval brains kept underestimating the vulnerability of surface ships without air cover. The book is packed with interesting stories of flying from ships, hidden RAF bases in Yugoslavia, Greece, etc.
Well-written and especially interesting for we Americans who were never taught much about WW2 before Dec. 7th.
_To War in a Stringbag_ is the extraordinary true story of Commander Charles Lamb, a pilot in the British Navy's Fleet Air Arm who flew the Fairey Swordfish, a sturdy, robust, multi-seat naval aircraft that served a variety of roles in World War II, among them reconnaissance at sea and on land, day or night, convoy escort duties, anti-submarine searches and attacks, torpedo and dive-bombing attacks on ships, mine laying, and the carrying of heavy loads (including flares). Its probably most famous weapon was its torpedo, which weighed 1,610 pounds and was capable of sinking a 10,000 ton ship in minutes. To deliver this weapon - often against intense fire and in daylight though nighttime raids were more common - the pilot was taught to attack from a steep dive, at a speed of 180 knots or more and then straightenout and fly at a mere 90 knots (producing a very vulnerable target).

A tremendously maneuverable aircraft that was difficult to stall, the Swordfish was the only British aircraft that was flying at the outbreak of the war and still flying against the enemy in 1945. It had a stalling speed of 55 knots and could out maneuver but not outrun virtually every airplane in the sky and for good reason; it was a biplane. In many ways the Stringbag as it was also called was an obsolescent aircraft. It was very slow and poorly armed; equipped only with World War I era forward firing Vickers gun and a rear cockpit mounted Lewis gun fired by the air gunner or the observer. It had to rely on deft maneuvers, nighttime operation, and secrecy to survive against much more modern aircraft. It had an open cockpit (brutal when operating for instance in the North Sea), didn't have radar, and lacked a sensitive altimeter (at least in the beginning of the war), a crucial bit of equipment as the rather temperamental torpedoes had to be dropped from a height of 60 feet, no more and no less. Aircraft to ship communications were difficult - when they weren't blacked out due to the security concerns - so the possibility of not finding the carrier upon completion of a mission was a real possibility (and one that occurred several times).

Despites its shortcomings the Swordfish played an impressive role in World War II. Lamb provided a riveting (thought at times strangely humble and sometimes even understated) account of his actions in the war as a Swordfish pilot. He was there from the very beginning of the war, his 815 Squadron's history a "constant repetition of involvement in campaigns which ended in German victory" despite heroic efforts to the contrary; he saw some dark days indeed when days into the war his carrier the _HMS Courageous_ was sunk by a U-boat, laid mines off the German coast, attempted to stem the advance of Germany into the Netherlands, flew over Dunkirk to provide cover for the retreat, and operated against the Axis first in Greece and later from a secret base in Albania, in both cases forced to retreat as the enemy overran his position. He was involved in some very notable success, in particular the epic raid on the Italian fleet in Taranto Harbor and in virtually ending the shipment of goods to Rommel in North Africa.

About the first two thirds/three fourths of the book recounts his days flying against the enemy (with a small section at the beginning of the book describing his entry into the world of naval aviation and the interwar years in British military aviation). The last section of the book describes Lamb's unfortunate experiences in a Vichy French interment camp (most of his stay was at Laghouat, a facility in southern Algeria, deep in the Sahara). Caught while doing cloak and dagger missions, landing operatives in Vichy French territory, the book completely changes in style and tone in the part recounting his months in the camp as Lamb details the revolting conditions and the horrid Vichy French and Arab jailers. Though I knew obviously (or at least probably) that Lamb escaped as he survived to write the book - his post World War II days are recounted at the very end - I did not know for sure how he would get out of the camp and found that section quite engaging, the tale filled with stories of torture, escape attempts, and guards both cruel and sympathetic. Suffice it to say he did manage to survive that ordeal and even served in the Pacific against the Japanese.

The only complaint I have to offer about the book is that several times Lamb provided dialogue in French from his captors without a translation. I do not speak French, and while I could puzzle out some of the passages, either through my limited exposure to French (as well as other languages) or through context, I wasn't always able to do so. I have seen this before in other works both fiction and non-fiction and have never cared for it then either. The author didn't do this too frequently so this is not a major complaint.

All in all it was a very good book and I one I really enjoyed. This edition has black and white illustrations of every aircraft even mentioned in passing in the book which I liked, as well as a few maps. It provided to me some insight into the Mediterranean theater of operations, something I don't know as much about as I would like, as well as a view of the Vichy French in North Africa, and even the American role prior to Pearl Harbor (among other things Lamb recounts the actions of the American diplomat in Vichy French territory - officially neutral - in trying to help the British internees).
Just a great account by Charles Lamb about the Fairey Swordfish, and its role flying for the RAF early in World War II. Its pilots called a "Stringbag,"a biplane produced between the wars still in service at the beginning of the war conducting amazing raids on shipping and enemy ports most famous perhaps its role in the attack on the Italian Navy at Taranto. It could carry a rack of rockets under each lower wing or one torpedo. A truly remarkable and inspiring tale of bravery and heroism by a small number of unsung men and,to my understanding, a relatively unheralded story. The copy I bought (for a friend) I already owned a copy, was a like-new book club edition published in the 70's and I was very pleased to find it on Amazon. I like Amazon so much that I own a little of their stock. Just a plug because it has treated me so well finding rare books like this, and similarly so with videos, not to mention a superior customer service.

If you are interested in WWII history and in particular the role of the RAF,this is a book for you.
Now THIS is an excellent book! Fascinating weave of the author's personal experience combined with major events of the war in the European theater (mostly) and the infuriating reality of beaurocracy. It made me laugh out loud repeatedly one moment and want to strangle some fat desk officer the next. This one stays in my bookshelf to be re-read.
Charles Lamb served in the Fleet Air Arm from the start of the war until the end. He flew all sorts of missions against the Germans and Italians, spent time in an Vichy French POW camp, and ended the war flying against the Japanese as part of the British Pacific Fleet. In addition to “typical” missions, he also flew strikes from a secret airstrip high in the Albanian mountains, and, while based on Malta, dropped spies in Italian-occupied Libya. He described these adventures (and more) in this book.

Highly recommended!
Gold as Heart
Don't miss this, wonderful story of a dangerous time in English Military Aviation.
This is an entertaining and informative autobiography covering the author's experiences flying the famous Swordfish aircraft during the Second World War. Cdr. Lamb was a natural story teller with an engaging style and wonderful sense of humor. Throroghly recommended.