NATIONAL ARCHIVE ADMIRALTY RECORDS
A collection of several draft and the final damage report (and errata), along with large detailed drawings of the damage and a confused collection of pictures (some of which may actually be from HMS Formidable's action). A correction notice attached to the document and hand-written notes in the margins reveal the revision of the size of the bomb that penetrated the 3in flight deck armour from 1100lbs to 2200lbs.
The least extensive of this trio of reports, the Formidable assessment nevertheless contains a wealth of information, images, drawings and pictures. Many pictures mentioned in an inventory of images are not in the collection, however, but their description does match some of those loosely bundled in the Illustrious file.
Documents pertaining to (and including) the final damage report for Indomitable, including detailed drawings and damage photographs. The back-and-forth between various departments from the debate over what size bombs caused the damage is illuminating.
THE FLEET AIR ARM IN THE SECOND WORLD WAR 1939 – 1941
(Navy Records Society Publications) Ashgate.
Ben Jones (2012)
A comprehensive collection of key Admiralty documents relating to major events between 1993 - 1941. Not only a good source of this primary information, it also provides a great lead to find exactly where material of interest is located in the National Archive referencing system.
FIRST PERSON AND INTERVIEW ACCOUNTS
The Design and Construction of British Warships, 1939-1945
Assembled essays from the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors, Edited by D.K. Brown
At the end of the Second World War the Director of Naval Construction ordered the various design teams of his department to record their wartime activities - from designing the biggest fleet carrier down to the humblest tugboat, summarising their reasoning and the integration of lessons from combat. These essays were much later assembled by Deputy Chief Naval Architect D.K. Brown into this set of three books. It is full of useful tidbits of information and reasoning, offering rare insight into the mind of those responsible for designing and building ships such as the Illustrious, Implacable and Audacious types. It's always good to get such a perspective from the people actually involved: It bypasses the decades worth of revision (not always for the best), second-guessing, eagle-eyed hindsight and chest-beating often applied in other summaries.Very Good.
The Disastrous Fall and Triumphant Rise of the Fleet Air Arm
By Henry 'Hank' Adlam 2014
A brutally honest assessment of the conditions the Fleet Air Arm found itself in during, and between, the first and second World Wars.
And, coming from someone who was there and whom the politics, policies and doctrines of the time directly affected, it is particularly relevant and insightful.
While some specifics have become hazy in this former FAA pilot's mind after so much time (For example, Seafires only had eight .303s in the test conversions, and he merges HMS Formidable's accidental hangar fire into a kamakaze strike), the context he provides and establishes is invaluable and invariably missing from most academic accounts.
It's a deep and personal review of the consequences of command, bureaucracy, innovation and courage.
His telling of the disastrous abrogation of fleet air responsibility in the 1920s and 1930s screams its relevance now that history has repeated...
The War at Sea and the Story of One of its Greatest Ships
By Kenneth Poolman (1955)
An excellent narrative based on interviews with many of the Illustrious' crew, this book is hard to put down. While specific details sometimes differ from the Admiralty Damage and Action Reports, this is a sign of the book's authenticity. The men who lived through the events saw only individual pieces of the jigsaw in the context of their own experience and knowledge. But these experiences, as detailed here, are compelling. Must Read.
WAR IN A STRINGBAG
By Charles Lamb, DSO, DSC (1986)
An excellently written and fascinating look at Charles Lamb's life as a Fleet Air Arm pilot. He was active from the outset, being aboard HMS Courageous when she was sunk in 1939, through to almost the end. He was wounded aboard HMS Implacable while deck officer in June 1945. His account of the attack on HMS Illustrious is detailed and gripping. Must Read.
THE WAR AT SEA 1939-1945
Freedom's Battle Volume 1
Edited by John Winton (1967)
An enticing collection of first person reminiscences, early accounts and articles. These give a very evocative and human view of the war at sea - including several of the actions contained in this website. Very Good.
By Shankland and Hunter (1961)
A narrative of the events surrounding Operation Pedestal. An easy read, this book also contains plenty of first-person tidbits from interviews with those involved. While this book is centred on the story of the Ohio, it does not completely obsess on that single ship's remarkable survival as other accounts do. Good.
THEY GAVE ME A SEAFIRE
By Commander R. 'Mike' Crosley, DSC, RN (1986)
The title may mislead: Commander Crosley was only given a Seafire in the later years of his FAA service. This book covers the full extent of his experience and offers great insight into the aircraft and conditions of life aboard the carriers. Of particular relevance to these pages is his brief but insightful accounts of Operation Pedestal after surviving the torpedoing of HMS Eagle. Must Read.
SEND HER VICTORIOUS
Lt Cmdr Michael Apps (1971)
Written very much in the narrative style of many earlier post-war accounts, this book is built up from wardroom tales and naval records into an easy read. The account of the Pedestal convoy captures the tension and pace of the action - with lots of interesting 'tidbits' from first person accounts. Very Good.
BRITISH AIRCRAFT CARRIERS
Design, development and Service Histories
By David Hobbs (2014)
Perhaps the best, most detailed - and most accurate - look at Britain's carrier history so far. While it covers the full history of the carrier force, it does delve deeper than usual into each ship's design and service history. As with all of Hobbs' books it has plenty of relevant images and a scattering of illustrations. While this is one of the very few books to get the details correct for the damage sustained by HMS Illustrious on January 10, 1941, Hobbs does incorrectly state that HMS Indomitable "was hit by two armoure-piercing bombs which defeated and penetrated the flight-deck armour" in August 1942. Indomitable's Admiralty Damage Report (found on the Home page here) shows the aft bomb hit behind the aft lift in the light flight deck plating, while the forward hit penetrated the "1.5in equivalent" structural steel plate supporting the lift well. The armoured box was untouched.
A set of reproductions of Admiralty design drawings in the centre of this volume makes it unique. Must Read.
By far the most detailed account of the design and development of British aircraft carriers - and British naval aircraft - out there. Its only weakness is in its accounts of operations. These are usually very short and to the point. Unfortunately what appears to have been editing errors on pages 147 and 148 have since been perpetuated after being copied as fact by many other academics and authors. (Illustrious' 10 January 1941 action is listed as having happened off Crete instead of Malta ... and the details of two separate actions of HMS Formidable in 1941 and 1945 are melded into the one 1941 event) .
NELSON TO VANGUARD
Warship Design and Development 1923 - 1945
By RN Deputy Chief Naval Architect D. K. Brown
This book is an amazing and deep insight into Royal Navy design development, testing and war experience. Written by a naval architect with unique insight into the performance of RN ships, it is one of the books I will now automatically turn to for insight.
However, Brown - like most others - did not delve deep into the armoured carrier's damage reports.
He perpetuates the editing error in Friedman's "British Naval Aviation" which misplaces the 1945 kamikaze armoured spalling event in the 1941 attack off Crete (think about it - how can the central deck armour spall from hits in the extreme bow and stern?)
Also, his much cited Appendix 13 summary of kamikaze damage is based on a single Pacific Fleet report, dated from May 1945 (therefore likely compiled only days after the final attacks). As such, the full nature of the attacks - particularly the three upon Formidable and Indefatigable - are not appreciated. (That report also states: "Without armoured decks, TF57 would have been out of action for at least 2 months."
Regardless, this book - as an incredible overview of RN design outcomes - is an absolute "Read Now".
While reflecting Hobbs' eye for accuracy and detail, this book is nevertheless an "at-a-glance guide" to the carriers. Each ship is given a detailed specification list and an itemised service history, but detail is limited to a few paragraphs of "notes" per vessel. Good.
THE ILLUSTRIOUS & IMPLACABLE CLASSES OF AIRCRAFT CARRIER
1940 - 1969
By Neil McCart
Detailed service histories of each of the armoured carriers from launch to the wreckers yards. This book fills all the timeline gaps left by most other publications. Good.
CARRIER OPERATIONS IN WORLD WAR II
By J.D. Brown, edited by David Hobbs
This is a compendium of three works by Brown, including one which was left unfinished by his death. While this makes its structure somewhat patchy, the book is nevertheless surprisingly detailed in its broad overview. What is particularly noticeable is that it does not skip over the British carrier operations in the same manner many others do. This book also has many lists of carrier airgroup complements involved in major engagements. Must Read.
WARSHIP PROFILE 10
HMS Illustrious / Aircraft Carrier 1939-1956: Technical History
By David Lyon (1971)
WARSHIP PROFILE 11
HMS Illustrious / Aircraft Carrier 1939-1956: Operational History
By David Brown (1971)
These magazine/booklets provide the most detailed and technical look at the HMS Illustrious and her service carrier available. Crisp and concise, these well illustrated pages hold everything you need - and didn't know you needed - to know. Must Read.
AIRCRAFT CARRIERS OF THE WORLD, 1914 TO THE PRESENT
An Illustrated Encyclopedia
By Roger Chesneau (1984)
While at first glance this appears to be 'just another' encyclopedia, Chesneau has filled the book with extensive details of design and development. The opening chapter gives a great overview of the "state of the art" between the carrier air powers, while each nation - and many ships - also have detailed notes. Very good.
A History of Carrier Aviation and its Influence on World Events
Volume I, 1909-1945
By Norman Polmar (2006)
At first glance this book looked very promising. Thick, richly illustrated and scattered with tables and charts, it appears to be well researched. And it is - when it comes to US carrier operations. British carrier operations are not ignored but have not received the care or attention as is evident in other chapters. Most notably this is one of those books that has lifted the editing error about HMS Formidable's bomb damage out of Friedman's British Carrier Aviation and presented it as though it were fact. It also describes HMS Victorious as being of the same modified design as Indomitable. Poor (at least in the context of the material covered in this website)
ANATOMY OF THE SHIP: THE AIRCRAFT CARRIER VICTORIOUS
By Ross Watton (1991)
While more intended for the model maker, this drawing-based book has a very detailed opening chapter outlining the design, specifications and modifications of HMS Victorious. Good.
AMERICAN & BRITISH AIRCRAFT CARRIER DEVELOPMENT
By Thomas C. Hone, Norman Friedman, & Mark D. Mandeles
An excellent study of the development of carrier doctrine, the challenge of internal and external politics, lessons learned from experience and the personalities involved in the divergent paths taken by the United States and Britain with their carrier programs in the 1920s and 1930s. While I rate this a "Must Read" for general carrier aviation enthusiasts, it strangely almost completely overlooks the development of the armoured carriers which certainly fall in the 1930s scope of this publication. Ark Royal is thoroughly analysed, but the staff reviews and requirements that led to the fast-tracked armoured carrier designs are almost completely absent from this narrative. In the context of this web site's coverage, it therefore rates a "Good" for the extensive and illuminating context it provides.
NARRATIVE AND OVERVIEWS
IN PASSAGE PERILOUS
Malta and the Convoy Battles of June 1942
By Vincent P. O'Hara (2012)
A highly detailed and well researched overview of the Malta convoys, mainly directed towards explaining the Pedestal convoy. Interesting look at strategic and tactical considerations. Very Good.
FLEET AIR ARM
British Carrier Aviation, 1939-1945
By Ron Mackay (2001)
BRITISH NAVAL AVIATION
The Fleet Air Arm, 1917 - 1990
By Ray Sturtivant (1990)
A narrative overview of the Fleet Air Arm's entire history, this book is nevertheless well written with plenty of tantalising tastes of life in the service and combat action experiences through first-person accounts. Very good.
MALTA: THE HURRICANE YEARS
By Christopher Shores and Brian Cull with Nicola Malizia (1987)
I wish all military history books were as detailed and rich in first-person accounts as these two volumes. Once again the title is slightly misleading: This is a day-by-day account, sourcing military archives and personal memoirs to paint as full a picture as possible for the air actions above and around Malta. The days concerning Operation Excess, for example, include much about - and from - HMS Illustrious' Fulmar pilots that is not seen elsewhere. Highly Recommended.
MALTA: THE SPITFIRE YEAR
By Christopher Shores and Brian Cull with Nicola Malizia (1991)
As with its sister volume, this is a valuable day-by-day account of the life of the pilots defending Malta. Here the most relevant pages cover the experiences and accounts of pilots involved in Pedestal, from the land-based Beaufighter crews through to the FAA pilots aboard the carriers. Highly Recommended.
RELEVANT AIRCRAFT PUBLICATIONS
HITLER'S STUKA SQUADRONS
The Ju87 At War
John Ward (2004)
A detailed look at the Ju87, its squadrons and pilots - including those of X Fliegerkorps. Good.
OSPREY COMBAT AIRCRAFT: JUNKERS JU87
Stukageschwader of North Africa and the Mediterranean
By John Weal (1998)
Very much in the format of all Osprey books, this nevertheless provides the reader with specific details of events and actions in the Mediterranean involving the dreaded Stuka. Good.
OSPREY COMBAT AIRCRAFT: JUNKERS JU88
Kampfgeschwader in North Africa and the Mediterranean.
By John Weal
As above. Good.
OSPREY AIRCRAFT OF THE ACES: ROYAL NAVY ACES OF WORLD WAR 2
By Andrew Thomas
Another in the Osprey format, this particular book offers an intriguing window into the air war at sea through the tales of the FAA aces. Of particular interest are the many first-person accounts. Very Good.
AIRCRAFT PROFILE 53: THE GRUMMAN F4F3 WILDCAT
By Frank L. Greene
An in-depth look at the development and service of the Wildcat in a similar format to that of the Fulmar. Good.
AIRCRAFT PROFILE 76: JUNKERS JU87 A&B
By J. Richard Smith
AIRCRAFT PROFILE 211: JUNKERS JU87D
By Richard P. Bateson
Excellent sources of technical details on this aircraft and its varians as well as a good overview of its service. Good.
AIRCRAFT PROFILE 212: FAIREY SWORDFISH MKS I-IV
By Ian G. Stott
Rich details on the Swordfish's performance and service history. Good.
Brown's magazine/booklets set an unmatched standard for all of the war machines he covers. His account of the Fulmar is complete like no other. The author does not rely on factory specifications alone. His accounts give 'real life' performance figures and good context for service figures. Highly Recommended.