When we think of aviation during the Second World War, we usually conjure up visions of fast fighters streaking across the sky, clouds of bombers releasing their deadly load or masses of lumbering transports dropping paratroopers. And we tend to forget the other, essential, tasks played by other branches, flying less glamorous looking craft.
One of those branches was (or is) the AOP or Air Observation Post that guided and controlled the artillery. In the words of Field-Marshall Bernard Montgomery: “The contribution of the artillery to the success of our operations can hardly be overstated!” But to provide effective support for infantry and cavalry, the artillery has to “see” their targets. And that’s where the AOP comes in.
This book – one of the two in existence about this subject – proved to be a fascinating read. The AOP pilots had to be expert “gunners” first – and excellent pilots second. They also had to be incurable rule-breakers as most of their flying took place under circumstances and at altitudes that would have crisped the hair of a RAF Wing-Commander. Operating from small, makeshift fields, they flew small, fragile Austers that would do all of 118 mph going flat out. Directing the fire of literally hundreds of artillery pieces while flying behind the enemy lines, there was a real risk of being hit by a “friendly” shell. They had to keep an extra eye open for enemy fighters that could come at them at 250 mph. Reaction and evasion had to be instinctive, hesitation would be fatal.
The book is an account of Captain Lyell Munro’s wartime experiences and takes the reader through his training and then on, from the beaches of Normandy all the way through Holland to the final death-throes of Nazi Germany around Hamburg. It is easy to read and very well illustrated.
Munro had completed a first draft in 1990 but the publishers wanted a more substantial work. Unfortunately, Munro died in 2002 so he never saw this version, completed by his children and his nephew, Squadron Leader Alan Munro RAF (Retd).
I highly recommend this book to all of you who are interested in the more unusual aspects of wartime flying as well as the personal feeling of those at the sharp end of the sword.
“Above the Battle”
Ronald Lyell Munro
Pen & Sword Books Ltd. 2016
ISBN 978 1 47387 275 2