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Combat Biplanes of World War II

Combat Biplanes of World War II Book Review

By David L. Veres

Date of Review March 2016 Title Combat Biplanes of World War II
Author Peter C. Smith Publisher Pen & Sword
Published 2015 ISBN  9781783400546
Format 304 pages, hardbound MSRP (USD) $39.95


In a conflict that introduced operational turbojet propulsion, ballistic missiles and nuclear weaponry, Pen & Sword offers intriguing accounts of aerial anachronisms.

And the title tells it all.

Combat Biplanes of World War II – available in North America from Casemate – methodically outlines the employment of the world’s last two-wing warplanes in 324 fun-filled pages.

Respected historian Peter C. Smith tackles his terrific topic in 17 alphabetically arranged chapters:

  • Avia B-534
  • Fairey Swordfish
  • Fairey Albacore
  • Fiat CR.32
  • Fiat CR.42 Falco
  • Gloster Gauntlet
  • Gloster Gladiator
  • Hawker Audax & variants
  • Hawker Fury
  • Heinkel He 50
  • Heinkel He 59
  • Henschel Hs 123
  • Nakajims E8N “Dave”
  • Polikarpov I-15 Chaika & variants
  • Polikarpov Po-2 & variants
  • Supermarine Walrus & Seagull variants
  • Vickers Vildebeest & Vincent

Chapters roughly divide into two parts. The first recaps subject design, development and technical specs. The second summarizes operational service. Here, text charts – country-by-country, unit-by-unit in key cases – major deployments, incidents and actions.

The last biplane kill of World War II. The November 1940 Taranto attack. The sinking of DKM Bismark. The North African campaign. The Battle of the Atlantic. Malta. China. Singapore.

You name it. And if biplanes participated, Peter C. Smith likely notes it.

Some chapters prove decidedly chunkier than others. Fairey’s Swordfish, for instance, devours 50 pages – while Nakajima’s E8N “Dave” nibbles at five.

Remarks on preserved examples also season some sections. And coverage includes just one multi-engine type – Heinkel’s He 59. Otherwise, Smith spotlights celebrated single-engine subjects.

With one glaring omission: Mitsubishi’s F1M floatplane. With over 1,100 manufactured, “Petes” waged war throughout the Pacific Theater – and certainly deserved, I thought, inclusion.

Especially since Smith’s roster includes famed 1930s designs with just limited or second-line WWII service – like the Fiat CR.32, Gloster Gauntlet and Hawker Fury. My personal favorites – but peripheral participants, nonetheless.

Some goofs, gaffs and gremlins also skulk this study. Typos. Nomenclature nits. And minor mistakes. Soviet invasion of Lithuania occurred in 1940 – not 1941. The Hispano-Suiza 12NB [sic: 12Nb] was a liquid-cooled V-12 – not a radial. That’s Vistula – not Vistual. And Ilmavoimat is the Finnish air force – not Flygvapnet.

You get the picture: Pen & Sword needs better editing.

But enough nitpicks! Smith’s admirably annotated and indexed effort proved highly informative – and thoroughly entertaining. I loved it.

Robustly recommended!

With thanks to Casemate for the review copy.