Churchill and his Airmen: Relationships, Intrigue and Policy Making 1914-1945. By Vincent Orange. London: Grub Street, 2013. Photographs. Bibliography. Index. Pp. 314. Hard cover $49.95 ISBN: 978-1-908117-366-6
Readers of Air Power History are undoubtedly familiar with the late Vincent Orange, a noted biographer of some of the most significant (if often neglected) commanders in British and Commonwealth military aviation including Arthur Coningham, Hugh Dowding, Keith Park, John Slessor, and Arthur Tedder. Orange, a scholar of air power history who, sadly, died during the proofing of this book, has left a rich legacy to the field. His last book is one which adds further luster (if some poignancy) to his memory. It is an essential reading for the student of air power, without question a most valuable study that offers both provocative insights and challenging judgments, and a fitting capstone to a well-lived life of scholarship.
The book is sweeping in scope, covering the periods of the Great War and the interwar years that followed and carrying its story through the dark early days of the Second World War and to ultimate victory in August 1945--a victory that Churchill, recently defeated, could not fully savor. There are several ways in which Orange could have structured this book, and another author might have decided upon a series of individual chapters on each airman and their relationship with Churchill. Orange, wisely, rejected such an approach (which would be more about the air commanders and their relationship with Churchill, not the other way around) in favor of an integrated work of twenty-three chapters. It runs from formation of the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service in the wake of Bleriot's 1909 Channel crossing (that forever ended Britain's providential defensive isolation from the Continent); through the wartime years and the formation of the Royal Air Force in the wake of Germany's airship and bomber raids; the battles after the war to keep the RAF as a separate service in an era of extreme stringency; across the great issues of the interwar period, including planning the defense of Singapore; the debate over the bomber; awaking Britain to the German air threat; the outbreak of the Second World War and Churchill's return to power; and then all the campaigns of that global war up through the defeat of Japan.
Throughout, Orange draws on a rich body of scholarship; and his bibliography both confirms his command of...