David Knights' Weblog

April 3, 2015

Book review: Gladiator Ace

Filed under: Modeling — dknights @ 9:06 am
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Gladiator Ace, Bill ‘Cherry’ Vale, the RAF’s forgotten fighter ace
Author: Brian Cull
ISBN 978 1 84425 657 0
256 pgs
16 pgs B & W photos

Brian Cull, along with Chris Shores, is one of my favorite authors.  I got hooked on his books with the Bloody Shambles series on the early air war in Burma and the NEI.  Since then I’ve read just about everything he has written. However, I’d never heard of this book.  Recently I was on Amazon, where I make many of my book purchases, and this book came up as a suggestion.  This is a great feature of Amazon and one I’ve mentioned in previous reviews.

I’d never heard of ‘Cherry’ Vale.  Apparently, as a high scoring RAF ace, he is actually not that well known.  That is probably attributable to the fact that most of his kills came in the early part of the North African campaign and the battles over Greece and Crete.  He ended the war with 30 kills and 3 probables.  This is all the more impressive when you consider that he ended his combat career in early 1942 and spent the rest of the war training other pilots for combat.  It is also impressive when you consider that he flew Gladiators and Hurricanes in combat, many times against enemy pilots flying much more modern aircraft.

One of the things I like about Cull’s books is that he does extensive research, and many times this provides combat accounts where the author manages to identify the details of the combatants and aircraft involved in a particular action.  This makes building a “dogfight double” easier.  That alone makes this book worth it to me.

The author faced a particular problem in that little had been written about Vale, and he was killed in 1981 in an auto accident.  Faced with this challenge, Cull tries to assemble Vale’s story by using his logbook and official records, augmented by stories from other pilots who served in the same theaters as Vale at the same time.  Much of the information on Vale in Greece is drawn from stories about the famous British pilot Pat Pattle who served in Greece with Vale.  The only problem with this is that the book becomes less about Vale and more about the persons whose stories are used to tell Vale’s story.  Sometimes the subject of the book gets lost in these other tales.

All in all this book is well worth a read.  The main story is only 172 pages of the book.  The rest is taken up with several appendices that records the aircraft that Vale flew and his kills claimed, as well as general descriptions of the theaters he fought in.  While it may not be as good some of the author’s other works, it is still an excellent story well-told.  I can recommend it, especially with the recent release by Airfix of a Gladiator and Hurricane in 72nd scale.  Now, if I can only figure out if someone makes decals for any of Vale’s aircraft.


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