- Published on Tuesday, 19 June 2012 00:00 Peter Buckingham
FROM THE COCKPIT #16 – BARRACUDA
Principal Author – Robert McCandless DSC
Published by Ad Hoc Publications @ £18.95 net
ISBN 978 0 946958 78 8
210 x 297mm, Gloss Laminated card cover, 144 pages, 8 in colour, 162 photographs, 30 port profiles plus a two page, 4 view of one of the aircraft flown by the author.
I must first of all disclose an interest on three counts about this much anticipated publication. Firstly, one of my female relatives, Betty Keith Jopp, a member of the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA), crashed a Barracuda into the Firth of the Forth while on a ferrying mission and she fortunately lived to tell the tale. Secondly, I was recently on a cruise to Norway when I had the pleasure, and honour, of meeting the author of this book, Robert McCandless, and his charming wife, Wynne. Thirdly, I have two 1/48 scale Special Hobby kits of the Barracuda to build, a Mk.II/III complete with the very rare Griffon resin detail set, and the later Mk.V, so this book is a must for me especially as there is a 'four view' of a Mk.II flown by Robert!
Author and wife
Robert McCandless, a Scottish gentleman with sharp penetrating eyes and mind to match, was an officer pilot with 827(Barracuda) Squadron during the latter years of World War II, and it was interesting to note that while we were having our conversations, the cruise to Norway was taking us over the last resting place of the German Battleship Tirpitz, the very ship he helped to sink almost seventy years ago. Robert also flew Sea Furies with 801 Squadron during the Korean conflict - from the decks of HMS Glory.
I could go on, but needless to say, our conversations probably bored the pants off other passengers close by, but the experience for me, listening to the accounts of someone who has flown these magical aircraft, 'in anger', was priceless and a very special treat. Robert even went on to proffer another possible explanation as to why my relative went into the 'drink' – stalling problems under specific conditions – a subject which is given much coverage in the text of the book. (My very distant aunt's episode is detailed in Giles Whittell's book, "Spitfire Women of World War II" published by Harper Press.)
The Barracuda, in my view, is not a pretty aircraft – in fact it gives me the impression that it must have been designed by a committee of non-aeronautics. In other words, they knew what they wanted but were not quite sure how to get there, hence some of the problems – many of them fatal - which plagued the marque resulting in a critical dislike by many of the aircrew who flew it. I am probably doing the designers at Fairey an injustice here for which I apologise, but you have to admit that the aircraft does look rather strange and major modifications were made in an effort to rectify the problems. However, there are those who were comfortable with, and very aware of, the aircraft's idiosyncracies and limitations and were of the opinion that this was a safe weapons platform to fly and one which many (but alas, a now depleting number) look back on with affection. In fact, the author affirms that the Barracuda never let him down in any way during 400 hours of flying it in all weathers.
One of this book's contributors, Commander N. H. Bovey, OBE, DSC, VRD, RNR, was of the opinion that the Barracuda was a very clever design, and had the airframe been endowed with its original requirement of the more powerful Rolls Royce 'Exe' engine, it would have been able to display its advanced concept of a multi-purpose aircraft to greater effect. It is also interesting to note that the Fairey Barracuda was built in larger numbers than any other British naval aircraft and its production involved one of the largest and most complex British industrial projects of its generation.
This is a cracking book for anyone interested in flying and in World War II in particular. Lavishly illustrated with over 160 black and white photographs, many of which came from the author's own collection and excellent profile artwork by Ad Hoc's Roger Chesneau. After a Foreward by Rear-Admiral I. G. W. Robertson, CB, DSC, and an Introduction by the author, the reader is taken step by step through the following Chapters and sections:
- Design and Development
- From the Cockpit
- Learning to Fight
- Front-Line Flying
- Into Action
- To Beccles and Beyond
- Barracuda Squadrons
Having mentioned my relative, Betty Keith Jopp, I was particularly interested in the 'From the Cockpit' chapter and the section written by Third Officer Joy Lofthouse of the ATA, detailing her experiences flying the Barracuda together with the adjacent section showing the 'Notes to Ferry Pilots' which, in many cases for those brave ladies and gentlemen of the ATA, was the only pre-flight briefing they had. Do not forget the ATA had no instrument training or 'ratings' and their orders were to fly 'visual' below cloud only!
The lengthy list of contributors is like a 'Who's Who' of the Barracuda and Fleet Air Arm world including, amongst others Eric 'Winkle' Brown, Bertie Vigrass, Ian Robertson and David Hobbs, who, together with all the other contributors, go to make this book one of those you just cannot put down. Finally, may I close this short review by quoting the ultimate line of Ian Robertson's Foreward:
"This book is a major contribution to our naval aviation history".
Hear, hear. Thank you Robert and Ad Hoc Publications.
So what do we think?
The 'From the Cockpit' series of books from Ad Hoc Publications is excellent. OK, I will admit to being a tad biased, but this edition is really superb and, in my field, I know of many modellers who have been eagerly awaiting its publication. However, whether you are a modeller, an aviation enthusiast or World War II historian, this is one book you simply must add to your collection. £18.95 plus postage – excellent value for money.
Available direct from Ad Hoc Publications, Cedars, Wattisham Road, Ringshall, Stowmarket, Suffolk, IP14 2HX Telephone: 07776 134277