Mr. Richard Overy’s very concise history of the British Royal Air Force was a quick and decent read. Known for these, almost Reader’s Digest, versions of modern world history, Overy packs the nascent air force’s birth pangs, right up until the beginning of WWII into just about 100 pages. The result is that I’m left feeling like I just read the introduction to a proper history. Perhaps that is the intent? Overy also has companions like The Battle of Britian: The Myth and Reality for further reading.
I actually stumbled upon this brief tome on a bargain rack outside of Labyrinth Books in Princeton, NJ. I was really looking for something quick to read, and to pick up some free bookmarks. Seven dollars later (and a hardback in hand) I was delving into the origins of one of the world’s most famous aerial fighting forces, the RAF.
After the first 25-50 pages (again – this is only 100 page book), and Overy hadn’t gotten out of WWI yet, I was wondering how much of the gallantry of the famous British pilots from the next war was, or wasn’t, going to make it into this little book. That’s ok though, as the point of the book is clearly more focused on the military and political environment in which the RAF came into existence during the 19-teens. The writer spends considerable ink on the challenges that the air force’s early proponents had in building a truly independent military branch from the Army and the Admiralty.
By the time the history gets out of WWI, it is this jockeying for control of the new RAF between the existing British military branches that takes most of the attention. Second to this, the other lasting impression – and new bit of information I hadn’t known – was that many of the exploits of the fighter aces in their Sopwith Camels from the War to End All Wars weren’t actually that impactful. Overy notes that the vast majority of sorties and missions carried out by the predecessor to the RAF (for the latter wasn’t formally established until 1919) – were pretty insignificant to the total war effort.
WWII really only gets a handful of pages of RAF history in this book. As noted, the creation of the force and the politics surrounding it are the authors true interests. Therefore, if you’re looking to learn lots of great details about any of the famous air battles from WWII – you will need to look elsewhere.