Flashpoints: Air Warfare in the Cold War, by Michael Napier

ARRSE Rating
4.00 star(s)
Osprey, as a publisher, needs no real introduction and most readers on this site will be familiar with their output. Flashpoints: Air Warfare In The Cold War is merely another in a long line of excellently produced books on topics which, while seemingly of interest to only a few, invariably create further interest in the area to anyone who picks them up. Covering the Suez Crisis, the Congo crisis, the two Indo-Pakistan wars, the Arab-Israeli wars, the Falklands war and the Iran-Iraq war, the book casts a wide net and offers superbly researched and very detailed accounts which, along with innumerable illustrations, make it both very readable and a good purchase.

The book opens with a foreword by Israeli pilot Itamer Neuner (“Writer, Adventurer, Mirage Pilot”) and is headed by a photograph of the writer, adventurer, Mirage pilot, sat in the cockpit of an aircraft with obligatory dashing flyer square jaw, flying jacket and floppy hair. His fairly badly written foreword has more than a touch of melodrama about it and is far more fun to read if you channel Ace Rimmer whilst doing so - “This book is about wars, wars that brought distress, suffering and misery to innocent civilians. Wars that caused the destruction of homes, towns, bridges, powerplants, water mains, roads and means of communication” and so on and so forth, I did have a mental image of him sucking the end of his pencil trying to think of other things that wars destroy but I assume his imagination didn't stretch as far as trees, flowers, pretty balloons floating through the air and fluffy kittens lazing in the midwinter sun. He plays the role of grizzled old veteran who's seen the horrors of war exceptionally well and I have no doubt that he's spent many a subsequent year sitting at the end of smoky hotel bars practising his 1000 yard stare and cutting swathes through the ranks of permadyed American ladies of a certain age and girth. Still, it's entertaining enough if you want it to be and better than five pages of statistics and dry technical info.

Michael Napier is clearly a professional and his prose reflects it – clean, precise, well structured, he does a superb job. Each chapter begins with a summary of the political background to the war, providing enough information to give readers (such as myself) who aren't old enough to recall the events a basic understanding of who the antagonists were and their aims without getting bogged down in detail. The ground war is then covered in much the same manner before he delves into the meat of the matter. The air wars themselves are covered with intense detail, with each mission and combat containing information about the types of aircraft, the names of the aircrew involved, the weapons used, hits, misses, damage given and sustained, to name just a few. It is the very definition of exhaustive and whilst this is a good thing, it does make the book something of a difficult read. As I discovered, settling in for the night and trying to go through it in one or two sittings simply doesn't work as it becomes a blur of someone-flew-something-to-somewhere-and-did-something and very little of the information sits in the brain beyond the end of the sentence, causing multiple re-readings and lots of sighing and bridge-of-nose pinching. It works far better if one chapter is read per night, with time set aside to go over it again and to allow events to sink in. One major down side of the ebook, which I am reviewing, is that illustrations spread across two pages in hard copy are also spread across two here, and it simply does not work and detracts from the overall work, it would be good if more thought were put into the format presentation.

Although the bulk of the material is naturally concerned with the cut and thrust of aerial combat, the author is equally unsparing when it comes to detailing the ham-fisted cockups and militarily unrelated ill-fortune suffered by crews and aircraft alike, all of which we can gently ascribe to the fog of war. Imagine the red faced embarrassment of getting lost on an airfield in the dark and destroying your own very expensive aircraft by trying to take off from a short bit of tarmac. Yeesh, it certainly puts my own life errors into perspective.

On the whole, this is, as with every Osprey book I've ever picked up, a very enjoyable read and I would be happy to recommend it to others. 4 and a half mushroom heads, docked half for the poorly thought through formatting.
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