Gladiator Ace: Bill "Cherry" Vale, the RAF's Forgotten Fighter Ace. By Brian Cull with Ludovico Slongo and Hakan Gustavsson. Newbury Park, Calif.: Haynes, 2010. Photographs. Notes. Appendices. Bibliography. Index. Pp. 256. $34.95. ISBN: 978-1-84425-657-0
This book is an interesting history of the Royal Air Force's (RAF) and Allied operations in the eastern Mediterranean in the early years of World War II. It claims to be a biography of "Cherry" Vale; but it is more of an operational history, using the inconsistent vehicle of one man to move the story forward. That said it is still an interesting look at an often overlooked part of the war.
Cull starts in a conventional manner with a discussion of Vale's childhood and the path he took to becoming an RAF pilot. Up to his first posting in the Middle East, this is a standard biography. When the war begins, Cull switches gears and begins much more of a campaign history of the RAF in the eastern Mediterranean. Vale shows up periodically, often with information about his personal life as much as his flying exploits, but this is uneven and almost haphazard. Cull's discussion of the air war in Greece, centers on Squadron Leader "Pat" Pattle more than Vale. Following Vale's escape from Crete as that island was falling to the Germans, Cull disposes of the rest of Vale's life fairly quickly and with very little depth. Overall while an entertaining primer for the neophyte in this phase of the war, as either a biography or operational history, the book falls far short.
Cull never really seemed to settle in on his subject matter, although he is obviously very knowledgeable about both. He could probably have written a solid operational history and had several other titles covering other aspects of the Mediterranean war that attest to this. I suspect he had more information available to him on Vale's life and could have written a much fuller biography of the man but, for his own reasons, chose not to. The reader is poorer for it as Vale seems a fascinating character, and his career following his early flying exploits begs for further discussion and explanation.
This lack of follow up by Cull is the book's biggest failing. Although his true kill total will never be known for sure, Vale certainly ranks among the top RAF aces of the war. Why did he...