Bombers over sand and snow

Title: Bombers over sand and snow
Author: Alun Granfield
Publisher: Pen & Sword Books
Released: 2011
ISBN: 9781848845282
Pages: 384

The story of the allied bombers operating in the Mediterranean and the Middle East has been overshadowed by that of its UK-based counterparts, Bomber Command. Although both forces mainly had the same role, Bomber Command was always about ten times bigger and had the newest and best aircraft at its disposal. The under-privileged and under-resourced squadrons in the Mediterranean and Middle East (No.205 Group) had to use venerable aircraft and had to cope with the demands of the climate. Therefore, Bomber Command played a much more significant and controversial role in the Second World War, which is reflected in the number of books written about both forces. Aspects of the story of No.205 Group have been told in other books, but there has not been a comprehensive history of the Group. Alun Granfield tries to fill this gap with his book ‘Bombers over sand and snow’.

Alun Granfield is a Doctor of Philosophy and spent thirty years working in the field of social sciences. Besides that, he always has had a passion for military aviation history. Now retired, he has found time to research No.205 Group. Over ten years ago, he started to build an No.205 Group archive with the intention to turn it all into a book.

After a brief introduction, Granfield describes the air war in the Mediterranean and Middle East, which lasted from June 1940 to April 1945. He has spread the story over eleven chapters. Each chapter covers a period of a couple of months and provides the reader with a sketch of the land battles in which the Group played an important role and a description of operations carried out by the aircraft and crews of No.205 Group. The book contains many operational statistics, which demanded an extensive research. Especially when the reader bears in mind that the official sources weren’t always as accurate as these of Bomber Command. This as a result of the difficult conditions in which the squadrons had to operate. They usually operated from Advanced Landing Grounds (LG’s) scraped out of the bare desert. The personnel lived in tents and the squadrons were moved around regularly. A situation not comparable with the permanent and well organised bases in the UK.

Granfield’s description of the operations that were carried out covers every sortie flown between June 1940 and April 1945. This results in a brief outline of each operation which mentions the number of aircraft, the target, the results of the attack and the losses suffered. Most of these outlines do not cover more than half a page. If you are looking for an extensive description of a single raid or loss, this book doesn’t contain enough details. It has been Granfield’s aim to put together a comprehensive and readable summary of the Group’s operations.

The book also contains four appendixes, of which the third is especially interesting. This is an overview of all squadrons which operated in the Mediterranean and Middle East. The overview contains a description of every squadron’s war-time efforts, as well as a summary of operations. The latter are presented in a table, sorted by year and type of aircraft. The last appendix contains five maps on which the airfields and LG’s used are indicated. This is a very useful addition, especially because the LG’s were out in the desert and therefore only numbered. But also because a lot of readers might not have a proper knowledge of the topography of North Africa and the Middle East. Unfortunately, the book does not contain a map for the targets as well.

Until now, there had not been a comprehensive history of No.205 Group, but with his well-researched and informative account of the bomber war in the Mediterranean and Middle East Granfield has filled this gap. However, if you are looking for a painstaking description of a single raid, this book won’t be convenient. This is a comprehensive and readable summary of the Group’s operations and, as such, can be regarded as the best account of the history of No.205 Group there is.

Rating: Very good


Article by:
Pieter Schlebaum
Published on: