REVIEW by COLIN POMEROY
A renowned writer on air combat in World War II, Professor Patrick Eriksson is well known for his detailed research, something he fully demonstrates in this new book, which takes its name from the fighter pilot’s call when a target was in sight.
The book actually begins on 1 July 1940, nine days before the official start of the Battle of Britain, and ends on 7 August that same summer. It goes into amazing detail on the conflict in the skies over the south-east and south of England and the adjacent sea, drawing on the pilots’ Combat Reports, Squadron Operational Record Books (F540s), Squadron Commander Reports on Flying Battle Casualties, and many other sources at the UK National Archives and the like, together with the Luftwaffe equivalents. Eriksson’s copious references clearly indicate the depth and scope of his research. The book also has a very comprehensive selection of photographs and three useful maps.
Tally-Ho opens with a seven-page preface, which cleverly sets the scene for the pages that follow, and gives the first indication of the author’s willingness to look at the tactics of each side in an unbiased manner. Before the start of the battle proper on 10 July, we read how the RAF squadron and flight commanders developed tactics far superior to the Air Ministry’s so-called Fighter Area attacks (which had assumed that the German bomber attacks would not be defended by any close fighter escort), taking into consideration whether attacks on the Nazi bombers were from ahead, on the beam, or from astern.
Hence, for example, the adoption of the loose ‘vic’ or independent pairs of fighters. As Eriksson states, ‘A single attack by one fighter would only bring down a bomber in exceptional circumstances’, a fact that becomes clear on further reading.
Eriksson also assesses the skills of the key players during the Battle of Britain: Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding, Air Officer in Chief of Fighter Command; Air Vice-Marshal Keith Park, Air Officer Commanding No.11 Group Fighter Command; and the station, squadron, and flight commanders on the front line. His conclusion is that the squadron commanders, who faced daily danger, bore the greatest burden of all.
Divided into nine chapters, Tally-Ho looks in great detail at the actions above the English Channel and nearby, with observations made on tactical (and strategic) decision-making by both British and German leaders. In the main body of the book, there are accounts of individual engagements, such as the air battles over the coastal convoys in the western English Channel. The author then moves on to other Luftwaffe raids, on ports, harbours, and various ground installations
Each of the countless episodes of aerial combat are charted meticulously, by their location, the names of the pilots involved, the aircraft type, and the squadron. Tactics are discussed, losses itemised, and other various pieces of fascinating information brought forth. One particularly interesting section covers the fate of the Boulton Paul Defiant fighter aircraft under combat conditions, something one rarely reads of in literature on the Battle of Britain. It is, of course, saddening to read of the air-crew losses: ‘crashed into the sea’, ‘seen ablaze’, ‘no parachute seen’, ‘crashed with no survivors’. These recurring phrases bring home the savagery that characterised the summer of 1940.
In his analysis, Patrick Eriksson is not afraid to say it as he sees it: ‘The British fighters could never have won the battle if they, like the Germans often did, attacked only when favourable conditions pertained.’ Above all, the book makes it readily apparent just how flexible ‘The Few’ were.
Although Tally-Ho might be a little too detailed for the average enthusiast, it really is a most interesting book, especially for the true connoisseur of aerial warfare.
Tally-Ho: RAF tactical leadership in the Battle of Britain, July 1940
Patrick G Eriksson
Amberley Publishing, hbk (£25)