Mark Huxtable's review of 'Mosquito: The Wooden Wonder' by Edward Bishop

 

In Mosquito: Wooden Wonder, Edward Bishop takes on the challenge of packing the design, development, and deployment of the Mosquito, in its various marques, into a very small, novel-sized volume of less than 200 pages.

For the most part, Bishop does a good job. This book takes us from Geoffrey de Havilland's original concept in 1938, to the retirement of the last active-service Mossie 20 years later. Given the constraints imposed on the author by the limited space available (Mosquito: Wooden Wonder was produced as volume 24 in the "Ballantine's History of the Violent Century" paperback series), the narrative flows quite swiftly. However, Bishop manages to pack an in appreciable amount of detail.

This is all the more surprising, given that photographs and other illustrations take up almost half of the book's page space. This adds a great deal to the overall "feel" of the book, is especially valuable for readers who are unfamiliar with the Mosquito. However, some of the value of the photos is reduced by the fact they are often stretched across two pages, and by the lack of colour anywhere except the cover. This is a drawback especially in the case of the technical drawings and profile illustrations of the various types, which cannot be fully appreciated without effectively breaking the book in half.

The book is also quite short on technical details. Given the amount of material to cover and the space in which to cover it, this is perhaps not surprising. However, it does take something away from the overall impact of the book.

Where Bishop does his best job, however, is in telling the "human" side of the Mossie. The author focuses on the personalities that were central in the most critical stages of the Mosquito's story. Bishop spends quite a large chunk of time recounting the to-and-fro of the early debates over the Mossie's viability, and provides clear insights into the character both of those who cherished the concept and those who opposed it. We see de Havilland's early disappointment at the hands of Ministry bureaucrats, and the eventual involvement of the unconventional Air Chief Marshal Sir Wilfrid Freeman. (The epithet used to describe the embryonic Mosquito by those who opposed it was "Freeman's Folly.)

Once the Mossie has overcome these initial hurdles through the sheer strength of its performance, Bishop continues to focus on the personalities involved with the aircraft. However, as the book progresses through the war, these more and more are the air crew who fly the Mosquito. The author does an excellent job both of conveying the strength of the feelings that these men felt for the aircraft, and of detailing how the Mossie earned the airmen's trust.

This is where the book comes into its own, and we see how those who initially opposed the Wooden Wonder eventually become some of its strongest supporters. Many of the Mossie's early opponents came both to press for more Mosquitoes to be produced, and to develop new roles specifically for the aircraft. At every turn, the Mossie outdid expectations, even being modified to carry an anti-tank gun for use against U-Boats, or to carry an enormous two-ton bomb to Berlin.

Despite the constraints placed on this book, Bishop does a creditable job of providing us with highlights from the various areas of the aircraft's career, which give us at least a representative view of the wide variety of operations. Although the reader who hopes to learn the full story of the Mossie's role in, for example, night-fighter or long-range bomber operations will be disappointed, readers who are new to the aircraft will find a good introduction to the various parts of the Mossie's operational tale.

Throughout however, it is in telling the human side of the aircraft's story that the author does his best work. Indeed, the back cover describes the "countless Mosquito crews who throughout the war were to bless the little wooden aeroplane for a safe return." While not a comprehensive view of any part of the aircraft's career, Mosquito: Wooden Wonder is an excellent introduction to this most important side of the Mosquito story. The book can easily be found through the out-of-print service at www.amazon.com, or www.amazon.co.uk.

[NOTE: This book has been reprinted! The 4th edition of the book is available in hardback from either www.amazon.com or www.amazon.co.uk.]

Mark Huxtable, December 2000

 
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