Product Reviews

Published on February 7th, 2023 | by Guy Warner


Book Review – The RAF Air-Sea Rescue Service

Images of War The RAF Air-Sea Rescue Service in the Second World War – Rare Photographs from Wartime Archives by Norman Franks  135 pages SB, 171 B&W photographs, £14.99 Pen & Sword, ISBN 1473861306

Norman Franks is a well-known, respected and authoritative author on military aviation, so any book from him is to be welcomed. As the somewhat lengthy title suggests, this is essentially a picture book but with informative captions and 32 pages of linking text in seven short chapters. It is focused on the aerial side of Air-Sea Rescue, which from small and uncertain beginnings, grew to an important and much-appreciated part of the RAF’s order of battle. To aircrew crossing the English Channel, North Sea, Mediterranean and, though unmentioned, the Irish Sea, it was a great comfort to know that a dedicated service was looking out for them. The undoubted hero of the story (apart from the valiant ASR crews) is the Supermarine Walrus amphibian. It was far from ideal: for a pilot’s opinion of flying the Walrus, page 117 says it all and for the hazardous nature of the crewman’s work, see page 16 on how to restart the Pegasus engine while bobbing around in hostile waters with a survivor on board. It was, however, the best and, indeed, for much of the war, the only type available for landing close to a downed airman and hauling him on board, until joined by the broadly similar Supermarine Sea Otter. Other, faster types acted as spotter aircraft, and in the case of the fighters, gave a measure of protection against German fighters – Lysanders, Defiants, Ansons, Hurricanes and Spitfires. But only the amphibian could land and either take the survivor(s) home, rendezvous with a High Speed Launch or water-taxi back to base.

The interesting selection of photos is not just of the aircraft and personnel of the eight ASR squadrons but also of a number of those whom they risked their own lives to rescue. Make no doubt of it, ASR was a very dangerous task and called for ice-cold bravery of a high order, evidence for which is the list of lives saved and the decorations awarded on page 119.

This is a thought-provoking little book, if you didn’t know much about ASR before reading it, you will find it highly instructive. The only minor quibbles I have are that I would like the author to have included a note of his sources and a couple of maps of the areas of operation and the location of the bases.

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