Author Topic: Kings of the Air: French Aces and Airmen of the Great War  (Read 564 times)

Offline Bluesfan

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Kings of the Air: French Aces and Airmen of the Great War
« on: February 21, 2019, 11:22:09 AM »
by Ian Sumner

This was a very good read. I've just finished it and would highly recommend it, especially with the recent appearance of the new Nieuport 17 kits, and the revived hope that we may see more new kits of French subjects. But I'd better say straight off that it does concentrate on the airmen and their stories, and isn't a modeller's resource book. There's a photo section in the middle, which features many of the more prominent characters from the narrative, but doesn't primarily illustrate the aircraft types.

However, it certainly reports many of the pilots' feelings about their aircraft. The book fills in many of the blank spots in my knowledge of French Great War aviation, and the main question I had was, why, despite having the world's biggest aircraft industry by some way at the onset of hostilities, did the French operate so many obsolescent types for so long, even to the extent of building the Sopwith 1 Strutter in huge numbers and putting it into service when it was already on its way out of British service? The pilots very much knew they were being ill-served. The answer is complicated, but it's wearyingly familiar: politicking, lobbying, and plain old corruption at work between manufacturers, the government, and the various parts of the labyrinthine French military organisation. Some parties seem to have spent more time combatting each other than the Germans.

Don't be alarmed, the book doesn't smother you with all of that; it's written as a year by year account of the experience of the French at war, told through the words of participants. These voices are mainly airmen, both the famous names and the obscure; but at times we also hear from ground crew, backroom staff, civilians in Paris during the Gotha raids, ordinary soldiers and others. As the notes at the back make clear, the author has undertaken extensive trawls through the archives, and the result is an engaging and highly readable story, expressed in direct speech as much as possible.

Largely in translation of course. I'd like to offer the highest compliments here; the translation appears to be expertly done, and along with that, I didn't spot a single typo or grammatical or spelling mistake anywhere. This is definitely not the case in most books I have bought recently, especially in anything 'printed on demand' from Amazon  >:(

It's a very human story, touching and poignant and tragic and joyous in turn. The anecdotes, drawn from all sorts of published and private sources, cover every aspect of the airmen's experience of war, from the heat of combat to the celebrity treatment enjoyed by the 'aces' on leave. In passing, the book's fine cover illustration reminds me that it's made me move on a bit from the glib ideas I had about the characters of Fonck and Guynemer. Sometimes you have to tell yourself, people are complicated! For many of us modellers, it's the kind of book which fires us up more and more to honour those men in the models we might put together. And now I've finished it, the urge to see a new SPAD XIII or Breguet 14 (and others) is all the greater...

Cheers,
Mark

Offline Doug Mace

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Re: Kings of the Air: French Aces and Airmen of the Great War
« Reply #1 on: March 09, 2019, 09:22:09 AM »
Thanks for writing this, Mark...I just found a very reasonably priced copy on ebay and snagged it. I've been needing to read such a book for some time now....looking quite forward to it. Thanks again.              -M
" 'One man's owl is another man's nightingale!' says the Rittmeister ".  - Lt Karl Bodenschatz, March 21, 1918

Offline Bluesfan

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Re: Kings of the Air: French Aces and Airmen of the Great War
« Reply #2 on: March 09, 2019, 11:50:28 AM »
Thanks for your thanks - hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Mark

Offline Jamo

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Re: Kings of the Air: French Aces and Airmen of the Great War
« Reply #3 on: March 09, 2019, 02:13:00 PM »
Thanks for the review, sounds like a book to buy!
Cheers
James

Offline RAGIII

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Re: Kings of the Air: French Aces and Airmen of the Great War
« Reply #4 on: May 07, 2019, 11:07:49 PM »
Thanks for posting this. Looks excellent and I now have it on my wish list!
RAGIII
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