The year of reading airmindedly — XV

John Andreas Olsen (ed), A History of Air Warfare

A mixed bag as the end of the year of reading airmindedly approaches. (I think there'll be one more edition, though.)

Norman Franks, Air Battle Dunkirk: 26 May-3 June 1940 (London: Grub Street, 2006). Originally published in 1983. A day-by-day account of the activities of Fighter Command (and there is little from the perspective of other RAF commands, let alone the Luftwaffe's) over Dunkirk, with an emphasis on the dogfights which Franks describes with a terse but effective style. A good selection of contemporary photos of the pilots who appear in the text enhance the narrative. There's some introductory context and a decent conclusion to provide some analysis, but the view from the cockpit is not conducive to understanding Dunkirk in operational, let alone, strategic terms. There are no references and it's not clear what sources have been used, apart from various pilot accounts (which are certainly vivid and interesting). Still, worth a read.

Frank Johnston and Julian Burgess, Holyman's of Bass Strait: Shipping and Aviation Pioneers of Australia (Bellevue Hill: Ivan D. Holyman, 2021). I was very pleased to find this book, because the Tasmanian Holyman empire was one of the early shakers and movers in Australian domestic airline history: from Holyman's Airways' beginnings in 1932, through its merger with New England Airways in 1937 to form Australian National Airways (ANA), and on to the end of ANA in 1957. (Even then the resulting airline was called Ansett-ANA until 1968.) So it's an important topic. But this is a curate's egg of a book. Even setting aside the shipping side of Holyman's (which is where the whole thing started in the mid-19th century, which I was anyway interested to learn about), this is actually two books. One (by Johnston) is a self-congratulatory company history commissioned in 1956, which tells the story of the origins of Holyman's in coastal shipping in and around Bass Strait as well its aviation venture; the other (by Burgess) is a more measured though ultimately still celebratory account of Holyman's diversification and then absorption into other corporate entities by the early 21st century. The problem for Holyman's and for this book was that Ivan Holyman, who ran the whole thing, suddenly died early in 1957, and by the end of the year the company's airline interests were sold off to the much smaller Ansett Airways. Why that had to happen I'm not clear after reading this, because the first part obviously ends before Holyman's death while the second part rushes through the end of the airline part of Holyman's history to get back to the ships. (And there are many, many photos of ships, though to be fair also some aeroplanes too.) In the end this wasn't the book I wanted to read on Holyman's. (That might be Peter Yule's The Forgotten Giant of Australian Aviation.)

John Andreas Olsen, ed., A History of Air Warfare (Dulles: Potomac Books, 2010). I picked this up in the bookshop at UNSW Canberra (AKA ADFA) when I was interviewing for a job. I thought, hey, maybe this is a good omen! It wasn't, but it is a good book. Unlike many edited collections this has a cohesive, even comprehensive feel, as Olsen has solicited chapters to give overviews of key air wars or campaigns (with a definite recency bias), from the First World War through to the Second Lebanon War, with three more synoptic or provocative (Martin van Creveld, I'm looking at you) chapters to round off the book. The contributors include James Corum, Lawrence Freedman, Richard Hallion, Tony Mason, John Morrow, Williamson Murray, Richard Overy, and Alan Stephens (this is the third time this year I've read his views on the Korean War, by the way, though here the RAAF hardly features). Altogether, a very useful set of summaries and analyses of some key airpower campaigns, including some which happened within my memory but which I perhaps didn't pay much attention to at the time. Since I've praised the illustrations for the other two books here, though, I should say that I was puzzled by the couple of dozen glossy photos in this volume of very contemporary RAF and USAF aircraft just, well, flying about over the UK, against only three historical images. I guess they were a job lot.

CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *