Carrier came out at the very end of June 2010, with a slightly revised title: Carrier – a century of first-hand
accounts of naval operations in war and peace. This accurately reflects the scope of the book. Unfortunately, the working
title has escaped into the Internet and you will probably find the book under the title: Carrier- an anthology of first-hand
accounts of the war at sea. I hope that this will be rectified.
Rear Admiral Simon Charlier RN very kindly wrote the splendid and generous
The book uses
eye-witness accounts to tell the story of the aircraft carriers and their embarked naval air squadrons from 1910 to the present
day. In 1910 an American pilot named Eugene Ely made the first take-off from a warship, flying an aircraft that looked like
a cross between a biplane, a kite and a bicycle. Yet as early as Christmas 1914, carrier-based aircraft – albeit seaplanes
operating from a converted ferry - took off on a raid, and by the end of the First World War the carriers
and their aircraft had given notice of what was to come during and after the Second World War
While the early part of the book is of course
dependent on archived letters and accounts, the later part is heavily based on interviews and contact with veterans and, towards
the end, serving personnel from several countries. This was, of course, the best part of putting the book together! The people
with whom I came into contact had a wealth of stories to tell – illuminating, funny, dramatic, sad – all adding
their pieces to create what I hope is a jigsaw without too many pieces missing. From seamen to admirals, from pilots to fitters,
they were all delightful people, often with a gift for narrative. Some I was lucky enough to meet, or interview
by phone, others became correspondents by letter and email. I was never less than encouraged by their enthusiasm for the project
and their belief that this was a book that needed to be written. I should add that that enthusiasm was
shared by my official contacts in the Royal Navy, US Navy, Italian Navy and French Navy, without whom I could not have interviewed
a technical book. There are plenty of those around (and I am very grateful to the people who wrote them). It deals with the
technical advances as well as the stories of life on board, accidents and combat, but it does so through the experience of
those who had to get to grips with them. So the steam catapult is seen through the eyes of the man who had to demonstrate
it, the angled deck through the eyes of another pilot who carried out trial landings.
The majority of the stories come from the Royal Navy and the US Navy,
but France, Japan., Australia, India and Italy are also represented, not to mention New Zealand whose service
personnel were to be found throughout the Royal Navy.
Highlights? Well, the story told by the Inter-war staff officer who watched as his admiral was
catapulted…upside down; the ghastly letter written by the captain of HMS Illustrious after his ship was bombed
in 1941;a fabulous, emotional poem on the subject of a Fairey Swordfish; accounts of Leyte Gulf from the perspective of men
serving on the little escort carriers who took on the might of the Japanese Navy; a partial ejection that left a man half-in,
half-out of the cockpit and whose pilot had to execute the finest landing of his career; the letters written home from the
First Gulf War by a young US pilot. Not forgetting the “remake” of Titanic filmed by the aircrew of the present
HMS Illustrious. I can’t make up my mind.
The big actions are there, of course: Taranto, Matapan, Pearl Harbour, Midway, Shock and Awe, Falklands…but
I never wanted the book to be about box-ticking. There are stories from Vietnam, Suez, Korea, the India-Pakistan war and
concludes with the Haiti earthquake from the start of 2010 with stories filed from the front
line by a young PRO from USS Carl Vinson and a helicopter pilot of the Italian flagship Cavour. Somehow,
it seemed only fitting that a book about human experience should end with a humanitarian episode.
In November 20111 “Carrier” was awarded a Certificate of Merit in the Mountbatten
Maritime Literary Award. I knew it was one of the 39 books nominated, so to make the top six in such an incredibly wide-ranging
category was wonderful. The awards are for fact or realistic fiction that can “demonstrate a true understanding of the
maritime subject; and accurately portray the influence of the sea in the story”.
I nearly didn’t go to the Maritime Media Awards Evening as I was so busy with “Dig WWII” , but
I was glad I did. The dinner was held at the Institute of Directors in London, and a number of senior Royal Navy figures were
present, including the present First Sea Lord. I have to say that when I wrote the book the Royal Navy
was celebrating the ordering of the new aircraft carriers. By the time of the award, it looked as though I had written a requiem
for British Naval Aviation.
As soon as the book appeared in print, several
errors/typos popped up and danced the fandango, none of which was obvious at proof-stage, of course, but became glaringly
obvious as soon as I had the first copy in my hand. It is impossible to expect the proof reader or editor to pick
these up unless they research the book from scratch! No doubt others will crawl out of the woodwork. I'm not a good
proof reader of my own work because I either read what I think I wrote or, if it is a genuine error, I don't recognise
it as such.
Page 53, paragraph 4 – beginning “Thyne’s engine trouble…”
That should be in Ariel font as it is my explanation, not part of Smart’s account.
Lt. Cdr Stuart
flew with 824 NAS, not 324
Lt Bruce Vibert flew with 842 NAS not 836.
353 Brian Swan should have been ‘credited’ as Captain Brian I.Swan AM RAN (Rtd); also, sailing was delayed by
the Sydney-Hobart yacht race, not by the Sydney-Hobart hatch race.
Page 432: HMSS
should read HMS.