Mark Huxtable's review of 'Nightfighter: The Battle For The Night Skies' by Ken Delve
In Nightfighter- The Battle for the Night Skies, Ken Delve describes the evolution of aerial nightfighting, including aircraft, armament, tactics, and supporting technology, such as communications and radar. He does an admirable job of packing all of these stories into a single book, although by the author's own admission, full treatment of all of these issues would require many more volumes.
Delve's approach to telling these tales is challenging, but the end product is eminently readable. He divides the story into successive chunks of time, while weaving the separate threads of the book into a single narrative. Obviously, this reduces both the amount of time which can be devoted to any one subject, and the depth to which it can be described. The result however is a smooth-flowing and informative story.
For reasons which the author illustrates, the book of necessity focuses on WWII. However, the narrative begins with the Zeppelins of the First World War, and ends with the stealth fighters of the modern era. The story of the early days of night-fighting is an especially interesting section of the book - at least for people like myself who were unaware of the story of the night air war in WWI. The story is doubly interesting as the author demonstrates, quite comprehensively, the way in which many of the lessons of WWI had to be re-learned over the course of WWII.
Another interesting and effective touch is the inclusion of information from both sides of the First and Second World Wars (including, much to my own amazement, the view from the Japanese side), and to a certain extent from both sides of the Cold War. In doing so, the author is able to illustrate both how the various military authorities responded to the varying challenges they faced, and which elements of nightfighting proved to be universal.
Readers will be most pleased, however, that despite the constraints imposed by the myriad subjects which require attention, the author gives ample space to first-hand accounts by the aircrew themselves. Much of the early part of the book is given over to pilots' accounts of the early night actions against (and in!) the Zeppelins. The story of the first successful interceptions of the giant airships by fragile biplanes is on its own worth the price of the book.
Indeed, one gets the impression that the rest of the book is designed to support these first-hand accounts. The development and application of the weapons, communications, and support arms are explained first, then the aircrew effectively walk the aircrew through their use. These passages bring an excitement and tension to the book which a purely technical or historical treatment would lack.
A number of elements provide support to the main narrative. A variety of black-and-white photographs are included, and cover the entire space of time from WWI to the modern era. There are also a number of appendices, although these focus mainly on German operations in both World Wars. Finally, there are a number of "boxes" scattered through the text which sketch the development and deployment of the various aircraft involved in the night conflict. These are used to provide detailed back-up to the description of the aircraft's effectiveness given in the text.
Taken altogether, the book is a good introduction into the science of night-time aerial combat. Although other books will tell various chunks of the story in more detail, the author does an excellent job of balancing all of the various issues with which he deals. Furthermore, the inclusion of first-hand accounts makes this a very readable book.
Mark Huxtable, April 2001
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