Somme Success: The Royal Flying Corps and the Battle of the Somme, 1916

Somme Success: The Royal Flying Corps and the Battle of the Somme, 1916

Somme Success: The Royal Flying Corps and the Battle of the Somme, 1916, by Peter Hart, London: Leo Cooper, an imprint of Pen & Sword Books Limited, Freepost 47 Church Street, Barnsley, South Yorkshire S70 2BR, Great Britain, 9 1/2" x 6 1/2", 224 pp., illustrated, £19.95, e-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., web site:

Peter Hart has surveyed many of the better-known aviation books as well as the written and oral memoir files at the Imperial War Museum and the RAF Museum to assemble a largely impressionistic book about what it was like to fly during the Battle of the Somme.

The importance of the Somme to the development of aviation on both sides of the lines is well known to students of World War I aviation. To the Germans, the Somme witnessed the reorganization of the Luftfahrtruppeninto the Luftstreitkräfte, which included the birth of the Jagdstaffeln, and the beginning of a period of aerial ascendancy that would last for several months. For the Royal Flying Corps it meant a loss of the edge they had held in the air since the introduction of the F.E. 2b and the D.H. 2 had ended the Fokker Scourge; a situation that would go from bad to worse until finally culminating in the slaughter known to the RFC as Bloody April.

It would have been nice had Hart concentrated heavily on establishing the link between aviation and the ground war. The connection does appear in places, but all too often he slips off into anecdotes about aerial combat. These are certainly thrilling, and the accounts he has chosen to include are some of the best written of the period, but by now the stories of Boelcke's collision with Boehme and the fight with Richthofen that cost Hawker his life have been so often repeated that the history of World War I aviation would be much better served by books that concentrated on the boring work of the two-seater crews who took the photos and registered the guns that allowed the troops on the ground to accomplish something.

That is not to say this is not a book worth having. There are gems in the stories Hart has chosen that one does not often see elsewhere, such as the frightening lives of the observers who had to kneel and stand in the front cockpits of F.E. 2bs, and who were occasionally thrown over the side while trying to protect their aircraft. 'Somme Success' is a very good read and will be of great value to those whose collections do not include some of the older books from which Hart has quoted. Had it included more B.E. 2cs on artillery shoots and fewer D.H. 2s battling valiantly against the newJastas it could have been even better.


submitted by James Streckfuss