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Right up front - this is an essential book; but only as a research tool....And I have to emphasise that.
The actual history of "combat codes" in WWII....the two-letter codes painted on the fuselages of RAF aircraft - and incidently those of other Allied air forces (albeit in different formats) - is virtually unknown. And it's unknow for a very good reason...
As the book itself describes - the issuing of lists of Combat Codes was VERY strictly "document controlled"; as new lists were issued, old ones were destroyed...and at the end of uthe war it looks as if even the current lists were destroyed! Noone has ever managed to turn up a surviving official list OR a master list at the PRO/Kew or any other document collection, public or private, in the UK!
So where does the content of the book come from then??? Well, over the decades from the end of the war there have been FIVE books published by noted aviation historians or enthusiasts, men who spent a lot of time and effort attempting to identify which code applied to which squadron. But the most recent of these is now at least 20 years out of print - and costs three fortunes second-hand!
So this book is an amalgamation of ALL those gentlemens' earlier work and a LOT of original research and correcting by the authors to come up with the most comprehensive version of the list yet available. It's not perfect - these are still many codes that have a questionmark over them, many codes that it turns out were mis-identified...and many that rely too much on a single printed image or written account of a code for the squadron identification to be totally reliable! Early on they give the example of a single surviving rear-quarter view of a Bristol Blenheim that led to that particular code being attributed to a particular Blenheim bomber squadron whose code was previously unknown...
But in fact, after several decades it turns out that the code ACTUALLY belongs to a little-known Coastal Artillery Cooperation Unit! These were flying Ansons in 1940 for "fast" spotting and fire direction - according to the war diary of No.5 Commando, an Anson on this detail crashed into the sea in St Margaret's Bay Dover, during their Autumn 1940 sojourn there as part of the garrison - but a few years later one at least was flying Spitfires...AND Blenheim IF "fighters"! The original single Blenheim rear-quarter view NOT having allowed anyone to spot the ventral gunpack...
The eventual revelation of the whole hidden story of combat codes wasn't helped by the fact that during the war, if even a single picture of a squadron aircraft appeared in the British Press with its squadron affiliation being noted - they were immediately given a NEW code and a whole new List circulated to every holder...with instructions to immediately on receipt destroy the PREVIOUS copy...
Which of course meant the previous combat code allocation to the particular squadron at issue was ALSO....immediately lost to posterity!
So - what IS this book? Well - at heart it's a set of long lists of two-letter codes, with details of which squadron/unit it's believed to belong to - luckily, in a short pre-war transitional period, the old 1920s-30s squadron badges STILL appeared alongside the new wartime combat codes! ...to provide a reliable core group of 1939-40 identifications - AND aircraft types that that code is known to have been seen on. In many cases a photographic example of the combat code in situ has been provided for explanation - particularly of oddities and exceptions.
Which means that - as a long set of lists! - it's not the most interesting of books UNLESS you're a complete aviation nut, a modeller, you're sitting on top of a private collection of old photgraphs...OR you're writing aviation history in some form and are checking the details of illustrations prior to publication! And this means that at a 30 quid cover price today it's more than expensive for what it is. Reference books usually are. You can search round and you WILL find discounts available on the Internet...but postage will put THEIR price right back up there.
But if you need this book you'll buy this book BECAUSE you need it, and hang the cost. And because it's probably going to be a couple more decades before it's improved on....if ever!...and if (when!) it goes out of print, then you'll have to stomp up FOUR fortunes for a well-thumbed copy!
Lord, please keep Kevin Bacon alive...
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