The book tells the story of how the Harrier went from an airshow attraction to an iconic symbol of British combat aviation.

A short while ago, I was sent a copy of ‘Harrier 809‘ by author Rowland White in the hope that I would have the time to review the book. Last week I ended up in Dunoon for most of the week, near Faslane naval base’, in a hotel overlooking the Clyde in full view of the coming and going warships and submarines. What better setting to sit and read?

I’m glad I found the time to sit and read the book and I am thankful to Rowland for sending me a review copy.

Rowland White is the author of three critically acclaimed aviation history books, namely Vulcan 607, Phoenix Squadron (I’ve read this one and I think it’s great) and Storm Front. All three have been Sunday Times top ten bestsellers. Rowland studied Modern History at Liverpool University and is well known for his research efforts and gripping style.

Anyway, on to the book! In short, Harrier 809 is about a Sea Harrier squadron at war in the Falklands and the wider effort to keep the carriers safe from air attack.

I should point out that I am far, far from an expert on Harriers or the Falklands War, I’m certainly familiar with both but I wouldn’t rely on my answers if questions about either came up on a pub quiz but that being said, the book was accessible to someone with my level of familiarity with the topic and I’ve come out of the other end feeling more informed.

What more could you want from a book on the topic, really?

The book tells the story of 809 Squadron under Lieutenant Commander Tim Gedge, transported south to the Falklands on the ill-fated Atlantic Conveyor. Don’t worry, I’m not going to give too much away, trust me you’d rather read it for yourself.

Reading with the pace of a thriller, the author manages to include comprehensive research in an effort to explore the full story of 809 Naval Air Squadron being reformed, trained and sent south to fight. Of note is just how quickly this was managed, done at a fraction of the time it would normally have taken, something discussed in great detail in the book.

A story of skill, courage and imagination: how Britain's Sea Harriers stole  victory against the odds | The Spectator
A Sea Harrier piloted by Lieutenant Commander Tim Gedge approaches Atlantic Conveyor.

The book doesn’t shy away from the mishaps and tragedies either, detailing for example instances in which two pilots were believed to have collided in mid-air and a pilot being taken prisoner.

‘Harrier 809’ truly seems to be an honest account of what happened. It tells the tales it sets out to tell in an authoritative, gripping and accessible way.

Today, 809 Naval Air Squadron is being reformed to operate the F-35B fifth-generation stealth aircraft that will fly from the Royal Navy’s new Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers, you can read more on that here.

You can order his book here and here. I fully recommend that you do.

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Geoff

I am curious as to what this adds over Sharkey’s account….
I guess a little less anger and resentment…

julian1

809 as a quickly formed squadron (from the training unit?) comes with its own story and challenges. Quickly becoming operational? Heading south on the AC? Getting OFF the AC before it was hit will be a different narrative to Sharkey Ward. I read 2 of the other 3 Roland White books mentioned and he picks more obscure but to me more-so fascinating material. His writing is excellent and I fully intend to read this.

Alan Reid

Hi Geoff, The book has just arrived at the Reid household – and I’m looking forward to getting my teeth into it. I’m a big fan of Roland White, particularly his “Vulcan 607” – he skilfully writes narrative history like a fast-paced novel. After a quick flick through the pages, though, I must confess that sections focused on Sea Harrier air-combat don’t seem to add greatly to what is already out there – in particular the material already in “Air Combat South Atlantic” (1983) by Alfred Price and Jeffrey Ethell. A book that I would certainly recommend – with an… Read more »

geoff

Morning Alan. geoff with a small ‘g’ here. Regarding the “mishandling of..the Squadrons capabilities”, it would be interesting to know the specifics of these allegations. It would seem that the air-element should have been given maximum input in the operation but in all fairness to the Admirals staff, how do you incorporate that into the overall battle plan where strategic and tactical considerations apply and of cours there would have been political considerations thrown in to the mix? Will look out for the book here but your thoughts would be interesting in the meantime. Can you finish it by Friday?… Read more »

geoff

ps An example of this would be Churchill’s restriction of RAF fighter cover over Dunkirk for which he received much flak but in the end would seem to have been the right choice when the end result of the Battle of Britain was such a near run thing! Those precious few fighters that may have been lost in that action could arguably have cost us Victory. The Harrier was critical to the win in the Falklands and a conservative approach to how it was managed might have justified the Admirals interference. Just playing Devils Advocate here.

Alan Reid

Hi geoff Thanks for your interesting observations, my friend. Probably a 4, 000 word essay is needed to do justice to your post! But I hope these 500 words might do meantime …… I think criticisms made by Sharkey Ward and Jerry Pook observed that Woodward’s staff were not well versed in the capabilities of the Sea Harrier’s Blue Fox radar and NAVHARS – or had sufficient understanding of modern air-to-ground combat tactics. As a submariner, Woodward was not experienced in carrier operations and therefore somewhat reliant on his staff – including his controversial Flag Captain on Hermes, an ex-Buccaneer… Read more »

geoff

Thank you Alan. I appreciate the time you have taken to reply to my Devils Advocacy! Military conflict in history is littered with incidents initiated by individuals whose commands have changed the shape of our futures! Going up the wrong valley in Crimea is one that comes to mind!!
BTW-I used to receive a CMS message telling me when posts had been replied to but has stopped for some reason so have to keep remembering where I posted 🙂
Cheers from Durban

Alan Reid

Hi geoff, I would certainly recommend “Harrier 809” The author has skilfully synthesised material from a variety of sources to create a rattling good yarn. Although the breakneck deployment of 809 squadron is White’s main hook into the Falklands conflict, he does widely cover the Harrier’s air-war – and the contribution of the other SHAR squadrons on Hermes and Invincible. Plus their Argentinian opponents are not left out, either. The RAF is not neglected – and there is an interesting section on its secret deployment of units to Chile, and the operation of a Nimrod R1 on SIGNIT duties from… Read more »