Friday, March 30, 2012

Phoenix Squadron - Book Review

Phoenix Squadron by Rowland White
HMS Ark Royal was the most powerful warship the Royal Navy had ever put to sea. 50,000 tons of British Sovereign Territory - a floating airfield that was home to 2700 men, a stockpile of nuclear weapons, and the most modern, capable air force in Europe. But by the early seventies, Ark Royal was in the twilight of her career. Only kept in service to help face down the Cold War threat from the powerful Soviet Navy, it seemed Ark would play no further part on the world's stage.Then, in January 1972, intelligence reached Whitehall that British Honduras - now Belize - was threatened with imminent invasion. To defend the colony Britain's response had to be immediate and unequivocal. And Ark Royal offered the only effective means of preventing the little Central American country being overrun by battle-hardened, US-trained Guatemalan paratroops. But to do so the old carrier would first have to endure a destructive, high-speed 1500 mile dash across the Atlantic towards the Gulf of Mexico. Only then would it be possible to execute an audacious, record-breaking plan to launch a pair of Buccaneers on an extraordinary and unprecedented long-range mission.It was an operation loaded with difficulty and danger.Drawing on many hours of interviews with the participants and previously unseen, classified documents here and abroad, Rowland White, bestselling author of "Vulcan 607" has pieced together this remarkable episode for the first time. And has brought to life a unique, unfamiliar and thrilling piece of post-war British military history: the world of the Fleet Air Arm's last Top Guns
I was impressed - and I can say this now I've read the book - having been sceptical about how an author could bring to life a story that was but the smallest blip on the calendar of history, but some how he really does. And more importantly he compels you into thinking it was THE historical event of the time, nestled in amongst the 30+ years of the Cold War, that could have turned the tide in South American politics, UK reputation and UK/US relations.

There is no disputing my ignorance of the South American region and the political landscape of the 60's and 70's that caused the ebb and flow of regional tension; I have always been much more acutely focussed on how the UK and the labour government almost dismantled the Royal Navy and handed over good but well worn aircraft to the RAF instead of TSR2 or F-16.

But this book bounces you along in a manner similar to the purposeful, powerful and proud Ark Royal as she drove north through the rough waters of the North Atlantic. It just keeps you going. The parallels he draws for the current state of the UK military, the Royal Navy in particular, makes stark reading.

The detail he dragged from those embarked in the squadrons at the time brought conventional carrier aviation to life in a way that I found raised my pulse and breathing rate on every launch. By cleverly weaving in the detail of the diplomatic and political aspects of both the Cold War issues and that of the key focus, Belize, allows to you to take a well earned pause between the flying action that only a carrier can make so dramatic. The bonus feature of course is that fact that I'm now much more knowledgeable about the period and the era than ever I was before.

Rowland has crafted a book for all ages that I have read; my father in law is now glued to and is soon to be tagged by my son once he can prise it from his wizened fingers.

Excellent detail (just look at the pages of acknowledgements) allied to a wonderful, flowing style makes the action leap out of the pages at you. Another 4 stars from me and really looking forward to Vulcan 607 when it drops through the door.

Available from:
Rowland White
Hardback • ISBN 9780593054505

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