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War in a Stringbag: The Classic Second World War Fleet Air Arm Autobiography (Cassell Military Classics)

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Commander Charles Lamb fought an exceptional war piloting the slow and obsolete Fairey Swordfish. Antiquated as it was, the "Stringbag" still outmaneuvered almost any other aircraft--especially with Lamb at the controls. Go with him into the thick of the action--landing on the Courageous just before she sinks; flying 29 sorties over northern Europe; attacking E-boats throu Commander Charles Lamb fought an exceptional war piloting the slow and obsolete Fairey Swordfish. Antiquated as it was, the "Stringbag" still outmaneuvered almost any other aircraft--especially with Lamb at the controls. Go with him into the thick of the action--landing on the Courageous just before she sinks; flying 29 sorties over northern Europe; attacking E-boats through the nine days of Dunkirk. Also experience the terror of being shot down...and living to soar again, defending Malta and the Mediterranean. A rare story of courage.


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Commander Charles Lamb fought an exceptional war piloting the slow and obsolete Fairey Swordfish. Antiquated as it was, the "Stringbag" still outmaneuvered almost any other aircraft--especially with Lamb at the controls. Go with him into the thick of the action--landing on the Courageous just before she sinks; flying 29 sorties over northern Europe; attacking E-boats throu Commander Charles Lamb fought an exceptional war piloting the slow and obsolete Fairey Swordfish. Antiquated as it was, the "Stringbag" still outmaneuvered almost any other aircraft--especially with Lamb at the controls. Go with him into the thick of the action--landing on the Courageous just before she sinks; flying 29 sorties over northern Europe; attacking E-boats through the nine days of Dunkirk. Also experience the terror of being shot down...and living to soar again, defending Malta and the Mediterranean. A rare story of courage.

30 review for War in a Stringbag: The Classic Second World War Fleet Air Arm Autobiography (Cassell Military Classics)

  1. 4 out of 5

    Manray9

    Lamb's thrilling account of naval aviators in antique Fairey Swordfish biplanes striking telling blows against a modern enemy. Proof that bravery surpasses material limitations. Lamb's thrilling account of naval aviators in antique Fairey Swordfish biplanes striking telling blows against a modern enemy. Proof that bravery surpasses material limitations.

  2. 4 out of 5

    KOMET

    Here, in his own words, is Charles Lamb's account of his experiences as a torpedo bomber/reconnaissance pilot in Britain's Fleet Air Arm, flying the Fairey Swordfish airplane, which was a clear throwback to the First World War. Yet, it was a sturdy and reliable aircraft which Lamb flew in combat between 1939 and 1941. During those years, he saw action in Northern Europe. above the English Channel in May and June of 1940 (taking on German E-boats), and in the Mediterranean. Lamb would go on to se Here, in his own words, is Charles Lamb's account of his experiences as a torpedo bomber/reconnaissance pilot in Britain's Fleet Air Arm, flying the Fairey Swordfish airplane, which was a clear throwback to the First World War. Yet, it was a sturdy and reliable aircraft which Lamb flew in combat between 1939 and 1941. During those years, he saw action in Northern Europe. above the English Channel in May and June of 1940 (taking on German E-boats), and in the Mediterranean. Lamb would go on to serve once again on operations over Northern Europe during 1944, and subsequently with the British Pacific Fleet against the Japanese in 1945.

  3. 5 out of 5

    William Kimball

    Through Lamb’s eyes, I caught a glimpse of the War in the Mediterranean that I had never seen before. It’s amazing how much damage was inflicted by the ancient planes they flew. He writes with a good sprinkling of humor; it’s amazing how much enjoyment men can have in the midst of war, in constant danger for their lives. Equally amazing is how many men depended on this sense of humor and a steady spirit to keep themselves alive. Lamb’s writing shows how attached he became—as all men do—to those Through Lamb’s eyes, I caught a glimpse of the War in the Mediterranean that I had never seen before. It’s amazing how much damage was inflicted by the ancient planes they flew. He writes with a good sprinkling of humor; it’s amazing how much enjoyment men can have in the midst of war, in constant danger for their lives. Equally amazing is how many men depended on this sense of humor and a steady spirit to keep themselves alive. Lamb’s writing shows how attached he became—as all men do—to those with whom he shared the burden of war. Time and again he proves that those who bear this burden together forge an unforgettable bond. I gave only four stars because, despite being a good writer, the author at times does seem to drag a little in his writing, or give some details that hold up the story.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Tim Martin

    _To War in a Stringbag_ is the extraordinary true story of Commander Charles Lamb, a pilot in the British Navy's Fleet Air Arm who flew the Fairey Swordfish, a sturdy, robust, multi-seat naval aircraft that served a variety of roles in World War II, among them reconnaissance at sea and on land, day or night, convoy escort duties, anti-submarine searches and attacks, torpedo and dive-bombing attacks on ships, mine laying, and the carrying of heavy loads (including flares). Its probably most famou _To War in a Stringbag_ is the extraordinary true story of Commander Charles Lamb, a pilot in the British Navy's Fleet Air Arm who flew the Fairey Swordfish, a sturdy, robust, multi-seat naval aircraft that served a variety of roles in World War II, among them reconnaissance at sea and on land, day or night, convoy escort duties, anti-submarine searches and attacks, torpedo and dive-bombing attacks on ships, mine laying, and the carrying of heavy loads (including flares). Its probably most famous weapon was its torpedo, which weighed 1,610 pounds and was capable of sinking a 10,000 ton ship in minutes. To deliver this weapon - often against intense fire and in daylight though nighttime raids were more common - the pilot was taught to attack from a steep dive, at a speed of 180 knots or more and then straightenout and fly at a mere 90 knots (producing a very vulnerable target). A tremendously maneuverable aircraft that was difficult to stall, the Swordfish was the only British aircraft that was flying at the outbreak of the war and still flying against the enemy in 1945. It had a stalling speed of 55 knots and could out maneuver but not outrun virtually every airplane in the sky and for good reason; it was a biplane. In many ways the Stringbag as it was also called was an obsolescent aircraft. It was very slow and poorly armed; equipped only with World War I era forward firing Vickers gun and a rear cockpit mounted Lewis gun fired by the air gunner or the observer. It had to rely on deft maneuvers, nighttime operation, and secrecy to survive against much more modern aircraft. It had an open cockpit (brutal when operating for instance in the North Sea), didn't have radar, and lacked a sensitive altimeter (at least in the beginning of the war), a crucial bit of equipment as the rather temperamental torpedoes had to be dropped from a height of 60 feet, no more and no less. Aircraft to ship communications were difficult - when they weren't blacked out due to the security concerns - so the possibility of not finding the carrier upon completion of a mission was a real possibility (and one that occurred several times). Despites its shortcomings the Swordfish played an impressive role in World War II. Lamb provided a riveting (thought at times strangely humble and sometimes even understated) account of his actions in the war as a Swordfish pilot. He was there from the very beginning of the war, his 815 Squadron's history a "constant repetition of involvement in campaigns which ended in German victory" despite heroic efforts to the contrary; he saw some dark days indeed when days into the war his carrier the _HMS Courageous_ was sunk by a U-boat, laid mines off the German coast, attempted to stem the advance of Germany into the Netherlands, flew over Dunkirk to provide cover for the retreat, and operated against the Axis first in Greece and later from a secret base in Albania, in both cases forced to retreat as the enemy overran his position. He was involved in some very notable success, in particular the epic raid on the Italian fleet in Taranto Harbor and in virtually ending the shipment of goods to Rommel in North Africa. About the first two thirds/three fourths of the book recounts his days flying against the enemy (with a small section at the beginning of the book describing his entry into the world of naval aviation and the interwar years in British military aviation). The last section of the book describes Lamb's unfortunate experiences in a Vichy French interment camp (most of his stay was at Laghouat, a facility in southern Algeria, deep in the Sahara). Caught while doing cloak and dagger missions, landing operatives in Vichy French territory, the book completely changes in style and tone in the part recounting his months in the camp as Lamb details the revolting conditions and the horrid Vichy French and Arab jailers. Though I knew obviously (or at least probably) that Lamb escaped as he survived to write the book - his post World War II days are recounted at the very end - I did not know for sure how he would get out of the camp and found that section quite engaging, the tale filled with stories of torture, escape attempts, and guards both cruel and sympathetic. Suffice it to say he did manage to survive that ordeal and even served in the Pacific against the Japanese. The only complaint I have to offer about the book is that several times Lamb provided dialogue in French from his captors without a translation. I do not speak French, and while I could puzzle out some of the passages, either through my limited exposure to French (as well as other languages) or through context, I wasn't always able to do so. I have seen this before in other works both fiction and non-fiction and have never cared for it then either. The author didn't do this too frequently so this is not a major complaint. All in all it was a very good book and I one I really enjoyed. This edition has black and white illustrations of every aircraft even mentioned in passing in the book which I liked, as well as a few maps. It provided to me some insight into the Mediterranean theater of operations, something I don't know as much about as I would like, as well as a view of the Vichy French in North Africa, and even the American role prior to Pearl Harbor (among other things Lamb recounts the actions of the American diplomat in Vichy French territory - officially neutral - in trying to help the British internees).

  5. 4 out of 5

    Dave

    This book ended up in my mailbox by accident when i failed to decline the monthly offering of the Military Book Club. I tossed it aside intending to return it, but never got around to it. Finally picked it up after many months playing second fiddle to other books on exciting fighter piltos and aircraft. I was immediately struck by Charles Lamb's candid engaging style of writing as well as the pivitol tole of the "Stringbag" in some many theatres and engagements. I couldn't put it down and as wit This book ended up in my mailbox by accident when i failed to decline the monthly offering of the Military Book Club. I tossed it aside intending to return it, but never got around to it. Finally picked it up after many months playing second fiddle to other books on exciting fighter piltos and aircraft. I was immediately struck by Charles Lamb's candid engaging style of writing as well as the pivitol tole of the "Stringbag" in some many theatres and engagements. I couldn't put it down and as with so many fine books, I was truly sorry when I finished it because it left me wanting for more! A definite MUST READ!

  6. 5 out of 5

    Brian

    I was curious to find out the war experience of flying in a canvas biplane in WW2, so I picked this up. It was a very interesting read - Lamb participated in the Royal Navy attack on Taranto, operations in the Med, Greece, and he also offers some great insights into the experiments used to extend the range of the Swordfish. The pleasant surprise for me was that Lamb was active in espionage activities in North Africa. His experiences with the Vichy French led me to learn more about Vichy France. H I was curious to find out the war experience of flying in a canvas biplane in WW2, so I picked this up. It was a very interesting read - Lamb participated in the Royal Navy attack on Taranto, operations in the Med, Greece, and he also offers some great insights into the experiments used to extend the range of the Swordfish. The pleasant surprise for me was that Lamb was active in espionage activities in North Africa. His experiences with the Vichy French led me to learn more about Vichy France. His interactions with British bureaucracy are both saddening and entertaining. A very nice read with a nice bit of humor and some tremendous experiences.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Eric

    A great read and the author is a ,good story teller. He was an eyewitness to many important actions including the Bombing of the Italian fleet in Taranto harbor. I also learned much about the campaigns in Greece, and North Africa in 1939, 1940. He ends up a prisoner of the Vichy French for about a year in the most appalling conditions.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Denyse Taylor

    I thought it was quite an amazing book. How those planes managed to do the things they did and the skill of the pilots is amazing. Going through losing first aircraft carrier they were on, but forever optimistic. Worth reading.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Glen

    An excellent pilots view of many events from World War 2.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Ian Duncan

    This is an excellent account of a Swordfish pilot in WWII. lamb writes well, and is able to take the reader along a fascinating journey.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Bill Leach

    Charles Lamb recounts his war experiences flying the Fairey Swordfish. The book is a lively read and includes many entertaining anecdotes. In the Battle of Taranto, a small fleet of Swordfish attacked the Italian fleet in harbor from HMS Illustrious, destroying three battleships and disabling a number of other ships. Subsequently, he flew in the Greek campaign from a land base. In 1941 his plane was wrecked while delivering a secret agent, and he spent a year in the Laghouat prison. Of interest is Charles Lamb recounts his war experiences flying the Fairey Swordfish. The book is a lively read and includes many entertaining anecdotes. In the Battle of Taranto, a small fleet of Swordfish attacked the Italian fleet in harbor from HMS Illustrious, destroying three battleships and disabling a number of other ships. Subsequently, he flew in the Greek campaign from a land base. In 1941 his plane was wrecked while delivering a secret agent, and he spent a year in the Laghouat prison. Of interest is his description of the Swordfish. While an old design by the time of WWII, being a slow heavily built biplane, it's flight characteristics made it surprisingly effective. It's primary armament was a 1610 lb torpedo that could sink a 10,000 ton ship. The torpedo was delivered from a steep, almost vertical dive of 180 knots from which the Swordfish was pulled out in the last 500 ft. The plane decelerated to 90 knots very quickly because of the drag on the fixed undercarriage, struts and wires. The change in speed made it a difficult target. In addition, the aircraft was very strong - on occasion pilots would err, dipping the undercarriage into the sea, but no damage would result. The normal cruise was 90 knots and the stall 55 knots. It was difficult to stall, and recovery was instantaneous.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jim Shaner

    This was an excellent memoir from an extraordinary man who survived WWII in the pilot-seat of a seemingly obsolescent biplane. Although the Swordfish was designed between the wars as a naval aviation reconnaissance bomber, it was so versatile during World War II that it continued in front line service throughout. Commander Lamb describes the many assignments and major events that happened to him while serving in the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm – from a sinking ship to ditching in the ocean, landi This was an excellent memoir from an extraordinary man who survived WWII in the pilot-seat of a seemingly obsolescent biplane. Although the Swordfish was designed between the wars as a naval aviation reconnaissance bomber, it was so versatile during World War II that it continued in front line service throughout. Commander Lamb describes the many assignments and major events that happened to him while serving in the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm – from a sinking ship to ditching in the ocean, landing in mountains, plus a little espionage. Through it all he communicates the British fortitude and sense of humor that were so essential to a successful war effort. I enjoyed the maps and sketches of warplanes, although I would have liked more description of the various campaigns and the overall flow of the war. However, that was beyond the scope of this book, and rightly so, as Lamb portrays the action as he saw it happen before his very eyes. His prose is not graphic, and its light-hearted treatment of the brutalities of war reminds one that humanity endures to survive such conflicts by luck and sheer determination.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Ari

    Quite well written memoirs about British aircraft carriers and Navy aviators in WWII. From a very personal point of view. Stringbag was a nickname for Fairey Swordfish, a biplane which was outdated already when the war started... and still performed unbelievably during the war. It was so slow that the anti-aircraft cannons had great difficulties hitting it being designed to shoot down much faster planes. Swordfish was also poorly armed and nearly defenceless against enemy fighters. Nevertheless Quite well written memoirs about British aircraft carriers and Navy aviators in WWII. From a very personal point of view. Stringbag was a nickname for Fairey Swordfish, a biplane which was outdated already when the war started... and still performed unbelievably during the war. It was so slow that the anti-aircraft cannons had great difficulties hitting it being designed to shoot down much faster planes. Swordfish was also poorly armed and nearly defenceless against enemy fighters. Nevertheless it was used trough the whole WWII. Charles Lamb has a sense of humour and a fluent pen which makes this novel better than most war related memoirs. A slight drawback is the chronological spasticity which made it challenging to follow the course of all actions. But perhaps I am too precise every now and then :-) A lot of new infromation on history... including that Stringbag name and its origins.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Alice

    It seems incredible that the Fairey Swordfish, known affectionately as the 'Stringbag' because of the variety of loads it could carry, was a contemporary of the Spitfire and Hurricane. Yet the slow biplane with its open cockpit saw service on many fronts from 1939 to 1945, and the men who flew them displayed astonishing bravery. Charles Lamb describes his often horrendous experiences in battle and as an internee in Algeria with typical humour and understatement. It seems incredible that the Fairey Swordfish, known affectionately as the 'Stringbag' because of the variety of loads it could carry, was a contemporary of the Spitfire and Hurricane. Yet the slow biplane with its open cockpit saw service on many fronts from 1939 to 1945, and the men who flew them displayed astonishing bravery. Charles Lamb describes his often horrendous experiences in battle and as an internee in Algeria with typical humour and understatement.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Al Sumrall

    Flying a Stringbag (Fairey Swordfish) in WWII was not the most glorious thing to do in the war but it was surely one of the most important things. The antiquated biplane, literally obsolete at the beginning of WWII was flown in relative slow motion by some of the bravest aircrew in the war in some of the harshest conditions imaginable against a foe that operated in real time and yet persevered at a time when England had to hang on.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Allan

    Charles Lamb relates his plucky, risky and sometime grisly wartime tale in a somewhat matter of fact way. A great insight into the role of these Fleet Air Arm squadrons throughout the second world war.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Davew

    I read this book because my dad was stationed in Malta during WW2 and always talked about The Stringbag. Really enjoyed this book!

  18. 5 out of 5

    Curtiss

    Personal reminiscences of air combat in the slowest, but at the same time the most effective torpedo bomber of World War II.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Ben B

    Although it was highly recommended by a friend, I found this book a little bland. Still, first-person accounts of war are almost always worth reading.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Alan

  21. 4 out of 5

    Doug

  22. 4 out of 5

    .

  23. 4 out of 5

    Bruce

  24. 4 out of 5

    Tim

  25. 5 out of 5

    David Walley

  26. 5 out of 5

    Scott Wilson

  27. 5 out of 5

    Cory

  28. 4 out of 5

    Rupita

  29. 4 out of 5

    Trilobyte

  30. 5 out of 5

    Brian

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