Jean Hood's Website

Carrier

Hardback edition published by Conway, June 2010

456 pages

ISBN: 978-1844861118

 
 

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'Carrier' reaches the United States: Willie Lagarde, whose stories appear in Part Two

Carrier in Oz
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My friend and valued contributor/tech editor for Carrier, Cdr David Hamilton (left)

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  foreword.

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 serving personnel.

Carrier isn’t 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  Bosnia, too.

The book 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.

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ERRATA

 

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.

Page 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.

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