In a previous life I used to work for a music paper which was owned by IPC, the large publishing empire which was then based along the south side of the River Thames in Southwark. Every month I would happily stroll into the warehouse and tap up one of my mates in there to give me copies of my favourite car mags and a copy of Aeroplane Monthly. I loved my music, but the allure of engines was always rumbling close to the surface. Then it was all over, the company shipped most of the business out to Surrey and my office moved to a building above a swimming baths near Covent Garden. If I wanted my magazines, I had to go out and buy them. The horror! By this time Aeroplane was running features by a new writer; Roy Conyers Nesbit. He told tales of the anti-shipping war against the Axis in World War II and, more exotically, attempted to solve the mysteries of the last flights of aviators such as Amy Johnson.
Now I find myself with a whole book of his work and there’s another one on my ‘to read’ pile. The writing style is immediately familiar and I am transported back to those early eighties days of reading magazines on my commutes on the Piccadilly Line. The Armed Rovers was first published in 1995 and is one of a raft of books produced by this most prolific of authors. Not unlike Martin Bowman he crams in the detail in an assured flowing style and it is fired at you at the velocity of one of the canons from a Beaufighter you’ll find causing havoc throughout the chapters of this book.
The war he describes is one of visceral chaos with a huge amount of sacrifice paid by the bravest of the brave. The aircrew flying the Beauforts, Beaufighters German and Italian shipping were lost in droves and Mr Nesbit sees it as a mission to remind us of what they achieved. We have to thank him for this because their deeds went largely unsung. Sinking these ships was no easy feat, with the planes flying into walls of flak or facing numbers of defensive fighters….or both! Aside from shipping the Armed Rovers also took on swarms of Axis aircraft and the imagery of handfuls of Beaufighters flying head on into swarms of Ju52s is something to behold. It seems like something out of one of those Battler Britton comics, but this is all too real.
The men themselves came from all corners of the old Empire and many of them went on to be incredibly experienced pilots with lengthy tour records and plenty of awards. Others came and went with tragic regularity. They have watery graves in the Mediterranean. They helped save Malta and clear the Axis out of North Africa. They chased the Germans out of Sicily and much of Italy and harried them in the Adriatic. They were everywhere.
Roy Nesbit brings their story to life at a relentless pace and sometimes I had trouble keeping up with him as I needed to draw breath. There are so many characters and events it is hard keeping them all in order but the overall effect is impressive and the intensity of the story goes some way to match the actual events. In many ways the book serves its purpose as a monument to the aircrew Mr Nesbit recalls with such passion. They were giants. Think of them when Remembrance Day comes, they deserve that little bit of silence along with all the special people in your heart.
THE ARMED ROVERS
Beauforts and Beaufighters Over the Mediteranean
By Roy Conyers Nesbit
Published in hardback by Pen & Sword Aviation £19.99
ISBN: 978 1 84884 8 955