Prior to this book, very little had been written in detail describing the RAF Harrier GR3 operations during the 1982 Falklands War. This book fills that void very well, providing a wealth of detail in describing the lead up, deployment and day-to-day combat operations of the small contingent of Royal Air Force attack Harriers. It makes a fitting companion to Sharkey Ward’s earlier narrative Sea Harrier over the Falklands.
As one of the senior officers of No.1(F) squadron, the author describes the scramble to prepare for deployment to the South Atlantic at a time when the RAF in particular, and the nation’s armed forces in general were facing severe austerity measures. He also provides some interesting insight into the plight of “non naval persons” trying to adapt to life at sea, first aboard the Atlantic Conveyor carrying his detachment of No. 1(F) Squadron south, and later after his group had transferred to HMS Hermes, the task force flagship. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the book is his descriptions of the art of flying ground attack missions in the Harrier GR3, and how this skill was put to the test over the Falklands (in spite of what proved to be very unrealistic peacetime training).
There are eight appendices at the back of the book (along with maps and several pages of photographs) that cover specific details and technical aspects of Harrier operations, everything from single seat low level flying, to Forward Air Control, to bombing, strafing and rocketing techniques. Examples of all of these are found throughout the text and the reader might find it useful to read the appendices first to gain a better understanding of the flight descriptions throughout the story.
Notable is the inclusion with the appendices of a copy of a letter from Sqd Ldr Pook to the head of the RAF Staff College written six and a half years after the war, explaining why he declined to speak at an inter-service gathering of senior officers, “The overwhelming emotion which I have rediscovered is one of sheer cold anger at the incompetent and arrogant way in which the Royal Navy did their level best to foil our effort to carry out effective air operations” he writes. The reader might want to bear this feeling in mind right away, for it is a theme woven throughout the narrative. “Incompetent”, “uninterested”, “arrogant”, “unprofessional…” and similar descriptions of the Navy are liberally spread throughout, and even chapters titled, “More Navy Cockups” and “Yet More Navy Cockups” leaves no doubt about the author’s pervasive attitude towards the RN, particularly the Falklands Task Force senior officers.
In spite of this prevailing current of emotion, this is a well written, interesting and highly informative personal memoir (anyone who would describe the Folland Gnat as “an aircraft built for hooliganism” certainly has a flair for aerial description) and provides a much needed addition to the body of work covering the air war over the Falklands.
My thanks go to Pen and Sword Books for providing IPMS with this volume for review.