Book Review
The RAF Air Sea Rescue Service
The RAF Sea Rescue Service in the Second World War
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by: Adie Roberts [ IN_WAR_AND_PEACE ]

Brief History

RAF Air Sea Rescue

From 1918 to 1986 the Marine Branch of the Royal Air Force supplied waterborne support, rescue facilities and services for the Royal Air Force throughout the world.
Inaugurated as the Marine Craft Section just eleven days after the Royal Air Force itself was founded, it initially provided back-up for the flying boats but it also developed a rescue service which during and after the second world war became the largest in the world. During the war years alone over 13,000 lives were saved by the crews of the high-speed rescue launches who faced enemy action and all weathers to uphold their pledge of "The Sea Shall Not Have Them".
The Walrus was used for air-sea rescue in the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force. The specialist RAF Air Sea Rescue Service squadrons flew a variety of aircraft, using Spitfires and Boulton Paul Defiants to patrol for downed aircrew, Avro Ansons to drop supplies and dinghies and Walruses to pick up them up from the water. RAF air-sea rescue squadrons were deployed to cover the waters around the United Kingdom, the Mediterranean Sea and the Bay of Bengal. Over a thousand aircrew were picked up during these operations, with 277 Squadron responsible for 598 rescues.

The Book
Publisher: Pen & Sword
Author: Norman Franks
Format: Softback
Subject: Military, History
Pagination: 135
Region: United Kingdom, Rest of the World.
Topic: War, Aircraft, Rescue, Boats
Year of publication: 2016
Language: English

Norman Leslie Robert Franks (born 1940) is an English militaria writer who specialises in aviation topics. He focuses on the pilots and squadrons of World Wars I and II.
He published his first book in 1976. He was an Organisation and Methods Officer with the Nationwide Building Society in London before he retired. He now lives in Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex, with his wife Heather. They have two sons, Rob and Mike, and five grandchildren.
He was a consultant for the Channel 4 television series Dogfight: The Mystery of the Red Baron. His 1995 book on the Red Baron has been published and reissued by three publishers. He is also one of the founding members of the Cross and Cockade Society for World War I aviation historians, which was formed in 1970, and a member of Over the Front, the league of World War I aviation historians.
In total, he has authored over 120 books covering military aviation.

Chapter 1: The Beginning
Chapter 2: The Walrus
Chapter 3: How it is Done
Chapter 4: The Pace Quickens
Chapter 5: The Mediterranean
Chapter 6: Around Italy
Chapter 7: Towards D-Day and Beyond


Few countries are ever prepared for war. Much thought may have been given to its possibility, some far-sighted people may have even started tentative planning, but most plans are so basic as to be almost useless.
Traditionally Britain has never been ready, and once the inevitable happens it takes time to plan, produce, formulate and make effective whatever is deemed necessary to counter enemy aggression. In 1939 therefore, Britain's Royal Air Force (RAF) had no bomber aircraft with which to attack Germany effectively and any that might reach German targets had no effective method of finding it or of bombing it with any accuracy. The RAF's Coastal Command had no real way of locating German U-boats, and if by chance one was found, either on the surface or just under it, had no effective ordnance to sink it. RAF Fighter Command was receiving new monoplane fighters, but still few. The basic thinking was that if Britain had to bomb Germany, it could do so as it had done in World War 1, from French airfields, and that any German bombers that attacked Britain would have to fly unescorted across the North Sea and thus fall prey to the RAF's newly equipped Hurricane and Spitfire squadrons.
The fall of France in June 1940 threw all that thinking into the wastebasket. Way down on the list of priorities was any thought of what might happen if airmen should be forced down in the sea, either the North Sea of the English Channel. Bomber and Coastal Command aircraft carried rubber dinghies should this happen; presumably it was thought that fighter pilots would have no business being over water, but just in case they were provided with life preservers- the famous yellow “Mae West” life vests. Even so, no real thought had been given to how to rescue any of these airmen, other than relying on the Royal National Lifeboat Institution or Royal Navy motor launches dotted around the ports of the UK's South and east coastlines.
In any event, this would be a very hit-and-miss affair. A large aircraft coming down at night in the North Sea would go largely unnoticed unless the radio operator had managed to broadcast an SOS signal and the aircraft's rough position. Bomber crews carried a homing pigeon for belt-and-braces, with the assumption that a man in a sinking aeroplane can extract himself from the aircraft and collect the pigeon box!
Even if a fighter pilot was unlucky enough to be over water when, say, his engine failed, other than a Mayday call(if he had the time and was high enough for his call to be picked up) it would be pure luck if he was near enough to the coast for someone to spot his plight and call the police. What is not appreciated is that it was 1941 before fighter pilots carried dingies as a matter of routine.
The Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) had been the responsible party for the rescue at sea throughout most of the First World War but within days of the amalgamation of the RNAS and the Royal Flying Corps into the Royal Air Force on the 1st of April 1918
The first RAF aircraft to be used in the role of Air-Sea-Rescue was the Westland Lysander, formerly employed for Army co-operation duties in support of land armies, but once France had fallen the aircraft had limited use.
The Westland Lysander was a fairly good plane for doing searching across large expanses of water with it being able to fly at very low level giving the pilot and rear gunner a good chance of finding someone. With its high wing it gave it good stability at a low level and low speeds, however, this also made it a sitting duck for any trigger happy Luftwaffe fighters that may be lurking about after all they used the He 59 twin-engined floatplane for there air-sea rescue and the RAF had been told to attack if they see them. Although attacks on Lysanders was few and far between, another of the first aircraft to be used was the Boulton Paul Defiant a single-engined monoplane that proved itself at night fighting but not daylight fighting. The next early edition to the ASR role was the Hawker Hurricane fighter, which provided an increase in the area of search as well as protection over the area in which the Lysander may also be operating.
However diligent the Lysander and or Defiant crews, there were still several cases when a high-speed launch (HSL) arrived only to discover the pilot or crew member had succumbed to the cold and all they could do was bring the body home. It did not take a genius to work out that if the aircraft that found the downed airman could also land and get him out of the water this would be a major step in saving the man's life. There was a solution at hand. It was called the Supermarine Walrus amphibian.

Being an Images of war series it is picture heavy and as I have said before a picture can say a thousand words and this book is full of them. The first few pages are all about the Lysanders, Defiant and their crews who with the equipment available to them they did a sterling job with there limitations.

The book comes into its own once you start the first chapter called the Walrus, the Walrus was not a new aircraft, the prototype had made its maiden flight, as the Seagull MkV as far back as June 1933. Affectionately known by those who flew it as the 'shagbat' it had initially been a private venture, an amphibian designed for use onboard Royal Navy ships.

Pen & Sword have done a fantastic job with these Images of war titles the pictures are numerous and all come with captions that make it all clear as to what is going on and some of the pictures would be a valuable source for those diorama builders amongst us.


The book follows the same layout as all of the Images of war books that I have read and done a review on, though this one is as much more for me with one of my grandfathers having flown Lysanders, before being posted to the Royal Naval Air Service and training on various aircraft including some time on the Supermarine Walrus in a search and rescue capacity for the RNAS before being posted to a Seafire squadron in the Mediterranean. The book does flow from start to finish with superb pictures and great captions and covers a lot about the history of some of the bravest men in the world.
I do for me, at least, this is one of the best books in the series of Images of War that I have read and reviewed just so much information written superbly by author Norman Franks
a credit to Pen and Sword for publishing such a great book.

Highs: This is one of the best books that I have ever read and reviewed such an easy read with the writing flowing from start to finish
Lows: The book came to an end
Verdict: I wholeheartedly recommend this book it really is such a great read with some of the best pictures of the walrus, Lysander superb book
Percentage Rating
  Scale: N/A
  Mfg. ID: ISBN 1473861306
  Suggested Retail: £14.99
  Related Link: 
  PUBLISHED: Aug 30, 2020
  NATIONALITY: United Kingdom

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About Adie Roberts (In_War_and_Peace)

I am disabled after a terrorist bomb I have in the past made models for TV and film and work with local museums making new models for display. I also take on commission builds for people

Copyright ©2021 text by Adie Roberts [ IN_WAR_AND_PEACE ]. Images also by copyright holder unless otherwise noted. Opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of AeroScale. All rights reserved.


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