Softbound, 248 mm x 183mm. 96 pages. Alan Carey's book is #34 in the Combat Aircraft series and follows Osprey's usual format of combining historical text backed up by personal recollections from veterans, plus a colour section of 30 profiles. Over 100 B&W photos are included. The photos are well chosen and many are drawn from private collections.
The Lockheed Ventura and Harpoon have hardly been treated to saturation coverage when it comes to reference works, so this book is particularly welcome for modellers tackling Academy's 1/72 scale kits and the 1/48 scale Venturas available from Koster and FM.
The text consists of 5 chapters:
Serves as an introduction and a brief overview of the type's development from 1939 when the British Purchasing Commission approached Lockheed in with a request for a long-range anti-submarine patrol aircraft. Following the success of the Hudson, it was logical to apply the same basic formula, with a larger airframe modified from the Model 78 Lodestar to produce an aircraft which looked similar to its predecessor, but was larger, heavier and much more powerful.
The chapter gives a brief outline of the technical differences between the various versions of the PV-1 Ventura in US and British Commonwealth service and the remodelled PV-2 Harpoon. The various armament and engine upgrades are listed as well as the BuNos. for each version.
Ventura Squadron's Of The RAF
The poor reputation of the Ventura this side of the Atlantic is due largely to the type's notoriously unsuccessful service record with Bomber Command. This chapter makes fascination reading, revealing crucially that the Ventura was hastily thrown into a role for which it was never designed - namely short-range bomber operations over heavily defended inland targets. What follows is a virtual combat-diary of the experience of every RAF squadron equipped with the type - and it was clear from the word go that crews disliked the new aircraft, quickly nicknaming it "The Pig".
An RAF joke of the period was "What can the Ventura do that the Hudson can't? Drink more petrol!" but, despite their lack of faith in the new aircraft, Bomber Command crews flew desperately brave - and at times, suicidal - missions against German targets. What becomes clear reading the detailed accounts of these raids is just how much of the RAF's tragic experience with the Ventura was down to bad mission-planning and plain bad luck; when things did go according to plan, the Ventura squadrons scored some impressive successes which have been overlooked in many accounts.
Pacific Ops 1943-45
Turns its attention to the other side of the world and U.S. operations in the Aleutians, where Navy crews battled some of the worst weather faced in any theatre of the War to carry the fight to the Japanese. Combat often involved sorties to the very limit of the Ventura's range, in overload conditions from primitive airfield that sent the accident-rate soaring. At the end of a 6-month tour, one squadron was left with just 4 flyable aircraft from it's original 16.
The chapter continues with a description of the operations against the northern Kurile Islands, where crews faced the twin dangers of Japanese fighters and internment by Soviet forces. These missions also saw the combat debut of the PV-2 Harpoon - and the technical problems encountered with the new aircraft are explained both here and in other chapters.
Guadalcanal to Owi
Covers the bitter fighting involving Ventura squadrons in the Central and South Pacific, where the Ventura established a reputation as a tough and reliable aircraft. The operations here demanded new tactics and VB-148 was the first squadron to equip with 5-inch rockets, going on to develop diving attacks with a combination of rockets, bombs and machine-guns.
Among many other topics, the chapter also covers the Ventura's career as a stop-gap nightfighter with the Marines - despite the aircraft's clear unsuitability for the role. The dogged determination of VMF(N)-531 is summed up by their C.O. Maj. Schwable in a letter to his superiors:
"If it is the desire of the Bureau (Navy Bureau of Aeronautics) to have this unit proceed to the combat zone in an aircraft that is admittedly makeshift for the job, with guns that may or may not fire, instruments that are difficult to read and with a radar that so far has an average of one out of three working, this unit will plan accordingly and accept, without comment, the experimental installations furnished."
Covers Australian and New Zealand squadrons operating in the South Pacific, flying ASW sweeps and bombing and strafing missions against Japanese shipping and installations. RNZAF squadrons often flew combined operations with Marines PBJ Mitchells.
US Navy Atlantic Squadrons
The final chapter turns to anti-submarine patrols in the bid to protect the Allies' vital shipping lanes from Reykjavic, Iceland in the north, to Brazil in the south. The fighting is vividly described - and the battle was anything but one-sided, as PB-1s fell victim to U-Boat Flak gunners. The conditions under which both sides fought were dreadful and an account is given of how a PB-1 strafed survivors from a sunken U-Boat - as the pilot explained, a quick death by gunfire would be better than a slow one freezing.
The book finishes off with a useful list of every unit to fly the Ventura/Harpoon during WW2 and a neat set of 1/144 scale drawings. Admittedly, these are too small to be of much use to most modellers, but they do illustrate the differences between the Ventura and Harpoon.
The centre of the book contains 30 colour profiles by noted aviation artist Tom Tullis. The artwork is excellent and backed up with detailed captions at the rear of the book. From a modeller's point of view, it's worth pointing out that only one side of each scheme is depicted and there are no plan views. Most of the aircraft are in standard US Navy camouflage which minimises any problem, but 4 of the schemes are in RAF-style camouflage, so it's a pity details of the upper surfaces couldn't be included too.
Alan Carey has done a fine job in combining an operational history with personal accounts of crews operating this rather neglected aircraft. The widely contrasting opinions of the RAF and US crews make for fascinating reading - at times it's hard to believe they're describing the same aircraft. Historians will welcome the unit histories, while the photos and profiles provide a useful modellers' reference. Recommended.
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Thank you to Osprey Publishing for kindly supplying the review sample.
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