Book reviews, July 1980, July 1980

“Action Stations— 1: Wartime military airfields of East Anglia 1939-1945″ 232 pp, 9″ x 6” by Michael JF Bowyer. (Patrick Stephens Ltd., Bar Hill, Ccmtbridge, CB3 8EL £7.95).

This is a book which should interest very much those of our readers who are interested in aviation, of which we have growing evidence that there are many. The author takes each of the airfields in use in East Anglia during the last war, prominent, less well-known and obscure, and tells us how each originated, its purpose and functions, and then, in vivid synopsis, the action seen at each field, whether British or American-base, with anecdotes, both tragic and humorous relating to this.

While it is obvious that the book will be of intense interest to those concerned to learn more about military (and sometimes civilian) flying of the WW2 period, there is more to this book than that, because Michael Bowyer leads in with a great deal of information about these East Anglian airfields in general and how they were built. For instance, the chapter on “Airfield Architecture” covers the types of buildings used, some still to be seen, at these airfields where so much vital action took place. The textual data is well supported by some excellent photographs of hangars, watch towers, hutments, Guard houses, armouries, blister-hangars, etc, some still standing. Nor is that all, because there are diagrams of aerodrome hangars, tracks, and the fields themselves, some of which dates back to 1917. It is suggested that the book might be kept in the car, so that any aerodromes encountered on a journey can be investigated, and mean something to those encountering them, to which end the author explains the best vantage points to view anything that remains of these historic but neglected areas, so long deserted.

Armed with this book, and the Airfield Directory reviewed recently, you have an open introduction to past and present airfields, especially if all the titles in the series under review are acquired, as these will cover the rest of Britain in due course — I am avidly awaiting that on the Military Airfields of Wales and the North-West, for instance.

One point is of interest. Apparently no standard layout was followed when many of these East Anglian airfields were constructed during WW2 or adapted at that time from existing aerodromes, but I seem to remember, in a fascinating book by Air-Commodore AH Wheeler (“Flying Between the Wars”, Foulis, 1972), that in the 1920s and 1930s there was a standard disposition of buildings in relation to the landing area — perhaps the circumstances of war changed that?

To whet the appetite for the next book in this “Military Airfields” series, that about East Anglia contains more than 200 photographs, six diagrams and 13 maps, and is not only compulsive reading for any aviation enthusiast with a scrap of imagination but a first-class, quite unique, guide to what remains of that intense period when Britain was crowded with airfields (more in East Anglia than elsewhere) all essential to our ultimate survival. — WB.