Airfields & Airmen--Somme, by Mike O'Connor, Pen & Sword Books Ltd. (U.K.), 2002; 192 pp., 8-1/2" x 5-1/4", soft cover, well illustrated with photos, line drawings and maps, bibliography and index; ISBN 085052-864-X; £9.95 plus postage (publisher's Fax: 1226-734438).
It's not easy to find a good reference book that is also a good "read," but Mike O'Connor's 'Airfields & Airmen--Somme' fills the bill for this reviewer. The second volume in a projected series of books on World War I European airfields and the men, aircraft and units that brought them to life, this work is a realistic approach to a challenging subject.
The author readily admits that, following the success of the preceding volume ('Airmen & Airfields--Ypres', reviewed in the Spring 2001 Over the Front, p. 96), the initial ambitious goal of the current work was to cover "the air war from Amiens [to] Doullens, east over the Somme area and then right across Cambrai." But, since realistic hope of success for such books is linked to attractive purchase prices, the author and his editor wisely decided to devote this volume's 192 pages to about half the original scope, with the succeeding volume to cover Cambrai. Consequently, this book is an informative, unhurried view of many ground aspects of an important World War I aerial battlefield.
'Airfields & Airmen--Somme' offers freshly-drawn maps, augmented by historical and contemporary views of some of the landscape involved, as well as charts and orders of battle to provide the reader with a good overall sense of what happened at these locations. As with other war books, this one contains sad stories that poke holes in the romantic notion that World War I in the air was somehow "chivalrous," with de rigueur salutes to fallen foes, etc. O'Connor puts the lie to that myth by noting that the wreckage of Britain's third Victoria Cross recipient, Major Lanoe G. Hawker (the 11th victim of Manfred von Richthofen), after being stripped for souvenirs, was left to the fates of war. The author points out: "Hawker fell near the shell-shattered ruins of Luisenhof Farm, two miles south of Bapaume. He was buried where he fell by German infantry, but with the ground constantly churned up by shelling, his grave was subsequently lost." The same fate befell the grave of noted German ace and Pour le Mérite recipient Werner Voss, but, as series editor Nigel Cave notes in this volume: "The fate of downed and killed airmen whose graves have been lost also provokes more than usual interest." Readers interested in finding cemeteries and other somber sites will also be aided by this helpful book, which lists points of interest and directions to them.
A comprehensive index lists all men, units and, of course, airfields mentioned in the text. Indeed, the author has compiled an impressive amount of useful, accessible material within the covers of this slim, well-illustrated and arranged volume.
'Airfields & Airmen--Somme' is highly recommended and the successor volume is to be eagerly anticipated.
submitted by Peter Kilduff