Book Review: Phoenix Squadron: British Top Gun's
On the 4th July 2014, the Queen christened the latest addition to the Royal Navy in her name by breaking a bottle of whiskey over the bows of HMS Queen Elizabeth II. Scheduled to enter service in 2017, and to be followed by sister-ship HMS Prince of Wales a couple of years later, it will the gap in British Naval air power left after our last aircraft carrier, HMS Illustrious, is decommissioned towards the end of 2014.
When you think of aircraft carriers you probably picture Tom Cruise being fired from a ship in a Tomcat to the strains of "Highway to the Danger Zone". However, despite the glamour, whether or not we as a nation need this capability and if it's worth the cost have long been debated. This isn't just a recent dilemma though and has been something that has besieged the British Navy for years, including in the early 1970's when the number of aircraft carriers were being wound down. But in 1972, one of the few remaining, HMS Ark Royal, was able to show why having an aircraft carrier available might not be a bad idea.
I still find it amazing to think less than 50 years ago, Britain still had interests around the globe as remnants of it's Empire. Slowly but surely various nations were declaring independence or were in the process of doing so, one such state being that of British Honduras (today known as Belize). I was completely oblivious to the fact that there had been a British interest on mainland Central America and it was a territory that had over the years been long debated with neighbouring Guatemala laying a claim to her. With a succession of military governments, it appeared that they may try to invade British Honduras before they could claim independence. With fears rising the British Government dispatched HMS Ark Royal towards Central America, with the aim of being able to provide air support with it's fleet of Buccaneer and Phantom aircraft. On the 28th January 1972, two Buccaneers were launched to fly thousands of miles to British Honduras and overfly it as a first indication that the British were ready to defend the people of Belize. This required air to air refueling with fellow Buccaneers temporarily rigged with extra fuel tanks and the ability to transfer fuel in flight. The overfly was originally planned to be the first of several but with the Guatemalans now concerned with the fact that they could be reached by bomber aircraft and also British reinforcements arriving on the ground, the whole incident calmed down.
This book is the third that I have read by this author, the others (with links to my hubs of them) being Storm Front and Vulcan 607. Like the other books, this is a really well researched account of an incident that would have been unknown to most people before. I read one review after I had finished reading the book which I had to agree with as the incident was really little more than a storm in a teacup. I kept waiting for major air battles to be fought so was slightly disappointed in the fact that the main crux of the story was the planes flew to British Honduras, showed their force and then flew back again. However, that shouldn't detract from the writing and story telling that the author manages to encompass. It was fascinating to read about Britain's contributions to Naval Air Warfare and was a shame to think that today we don't have the same capabilities.
If you enjoy reading about modern warfare then I would really suggest you read this book. Just as long as you are aware that unlike White's other books which (in my opinion) have a more exciting setting, this one is more around the world as it was then and the pride of the Navy then you will enjoy it.
If like me you are in the UK then please find here at Amazon UK
Have You Read This Book?
By the same Author this book tells the remarkable story of sending a bomber half way round the world to help in the British efforts to reclaim the Falklands after an Argentinian invasion.
As the British Empire started to downsize and the Cold War gripped the World, small battles were occuring around the world. This great account of one such battle tells how the SAS defended the town they were in against hordes of opposition in Southern Oman.
Get in the mood for this tale of Naval Aviation by taking in some Tom Cruise flying off Aircraft Carriers!