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Review: Squadrons! No. 54 The Hawker Biplane Fighters - Review

Many will be familiar with Phil Listemann's Squadrons! series which has mainly focused on wartime units and their histories. In No. 54 of the series he turns his attention to The interwar Hawker biplane fighters. The book is a softcover with 70 pages of text and photos and 6 pages of profiles. It's printed on semi matt paper which shows up the photos reasonably well in artificial light but struggles in subdued natural light. The photo reproduction varies from mediocre to average and the photos are in general dark but the book is definitely useable. It does suffer in comparison to others - say the Ginter series - where production qualities are much higher and photographic reproduction superior.

The topic of this work are the four Hawker biplane fighters used interwar, the Woodcock, Fury, Nimrod and Demon. Each fighter is allotted it's own section with a history of each squadron and several photos with captions. The South African Air Force and Royal Australian Air Force use of the Fury and Demon are also covered in detail and here I would say in too much detail. However, where the book falls down is it's inconsistency, poor editing and questionable assertions.

Phil Listermann is not a master of the material unfortunately. To take a look at the assertions first there are 2 major ones. Phil correctly notes that No.43 Squadron Furies didn't have white squares on their chequer markings but claims they were added later (pp.23 - middle caption). Unfortunately none of the included photos show this change, all show black squares with no white. If this change did take place then the statement that it did needs to be backed up with the relevant photos. The second assertion is that contrary to standard acceptance the flight colours for B and C flights were reversed (ie - blue for B flight and yellow for C flight INSTEAD OF yellow for B flight and blue for C flight). However, nowhere is there any evidence presented for this assertion either. It is necessary here to present reasoning and proof of what is a major departure from previous sources. There also seems to be a lack of understanding of the use of orthochromatic film on interwar photos and it's effect on yellow and red judging from the caption descriptions.

The auxiliary squadron Demons could also have been more detailed. No. 608 Squadron's triangles were black and eau-de-nil not turquoise. The squadron founder Runciman was quite clear on this point.

Caption descriptions can only be labelled as poor. There is no dating at all (though this can be very difficult with interwar photos) and the lack of proper checking and analysis shines through. A couple of examples will be enough. The middle photo on pp.18 shows Fury Mk. II K7270 which is identified as 'A' flight leader. This is despite the Squadron Leaders pennant behind the cockpit being clearly visible and the caption on pp.19 correctly identifying the same aircraft as the COs aircraft. The statement that the tail is painted red is also false - it is painted black (as several squadron leader's personal aircraft were at that time) and this is clearly visible by comparing colour contrasts. On pp.23 the top photo is stated to be 'B' Flight leader's aircraft with blue markings despite there being a clear tonal difference between the blue of the roundel and the flight markings. The colour is more likely to be yellow.

Text is also poorly edited with, for example, two different dates given for the introduction of RAAF Demons, May 1935 and May 1937 on the same page (pp.62). The profiles are generic (though very pretty). The profile of K2048 shows a rudder balance which wasn't fitted to the early Furies for example. I had hoped for more on the Woodcock and the Nimrod so the shortness of the sections were a bit of a disappointment.

Summary
There's a lot of useful material in this book but it's let down by the points I have mentioned. It really strikes me as a lost opportunity. To be fair this is an esoteric area with rather sketchy documentation and difficult to interpret photos. The book is not detailed enough on colour scheme variations especially where it needs to be and the sections on the RAAF and SAAF are too long at the expense of more on the Nimrod and Woodcock and the auxiliary squadrons. Assertions need to be backed up and editing tightened up. Quality of printing also needs a further look. At the moment if one wants a good source on the Hawker biplane fighters one should go for the MMP Publications Fury and Nimrod book (Alex Crawford) or Silver Wings (Thetford and Lumsden) though one has to watch out for No. 43 Squadron markings issue. I was going to include a picture of the cover but couldn't get the image section to work so sorry about that.


2 responses

  1. Thank you for your well informed and objective review of the book Christopher, I think you have saved my pocket money being wasted! Missed opportunity indeed.

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