Torpedo Leader by W/C Patrick Gibbs DSO, DFC and Bar

Discussion in 'Books and Films' started by Antipodean Andy, Feb 7, 2008.

  1. Antipodean Andy

    Antipodean Andy New Member

    Picking up where Not Peace but a Sword left off, Torpedo Leader finds the author spending several months at sea in transit to Egypt. Officially, he is being rested after his tour of anti-shipping ops over the North Sea and Channel approaches. He escapes his instructor posting by requesting an overseas post and eventually arrives in Egypt hoping for a posting to the only Beaufort squadron, 39 Squadron. Unfortunately, in January 1942, there is a severe shortage of aircraft (the West African route is in its infancy) but a glut of crews so, despite his efforts, Gibbs is assigned to RAF HQ in the not so green Garden City precinct of Cairo. Here, he is in charge of the minor activities of the RAF's coastal operations - minor in HQ when compared to Fighters, Bombers and Army Co-operation.

    After being so anxious to escape England and the instructing posting, Gibbs is not happy in Egypt either. He wants to be flying rather than shuffling his and one of his colleagues' paperwork. However, he develops a fascination for the tactical situation in the Mediterranean at the time. Rommel's Afrika Korps are pushing hard and consolidating their efforts as they push closer to the Suez Canal. Gibbs sees the enemy convoys steaming from Italy and Greece to resupply Rommel's forces and notices the lack of resources to intercept these supplies. He notices Malta, under siege, convoys failing to get through, but the island continuing to resist.

    With this strategic overview, Gibbs is eventually posted to 39 Sqn as a replacement after a shipping strike results in several losses. His boss at HQ sends him on his way with a note saying, "Post S/L Gibbs to Beaufort Sqn. What's left of it." Gibbs arrives to find a sqn in the desert, with few aircraft and low morale. New aircraft eventually arrive and an operation against the Italian fleet, in which Gibbs hits a battleship, sees the squadron open its score card. Various operations follow including one that ends in Malta. Here, Gibbs has a revelation (to be honest, it was building for some time) and lays the groundwork for strike squadrons to be based out of Malta. When a detachment finally arrives on the island, it is not long before it makes its presence felt on the convoys and, all of a sudden, Rommel's supply lines are threatened.

    The flying is edge of your seat stuff, rarely more the 50 feet above the sea for most of the trips. Gibbs feels the frustration of the occasional failure but adapts well. What he never gets used to though is the loss of his men. As you read, what comes through very clearly is that while these losses don't affect Gibbs professionally, personally he begins to wear down and his promise to be home by Christmas '42, seemingly impossible at the start of the book, seems all the more likely as his operations count mounts and good friends are lost.

    I had not realised how much of a pioneer Gibbs was in terms of anti-shipping in the Mediterranean. Not only was he instrumental in getting Beauforts to Malta but, after several heavy encounters with flak from the convoys, he loads the escorting Beaufighters with bombs and then has them strafe the escorts as well. Having read Nesbit's Armed Rovers recently (these two books complement each other well) and seeing this as being the major tactic (torpedo bombers and anti-flak), I realised TL actually takes you through the development/genesis of that approach.

    Like Not Peace..., this book is a very personal read. Gibbs is a gifted writer. He comes across at times as excessively worriesome about his immediate future, particularly when he thinks his plans, personal and professional, look like unravelling. He is inspired by an impressive cast of characters around him - his crews, his leaders on Malta (the legendary Hugh Lloyd and Keith Park), his contemporaries in command such as Adrian Warburton, the photo reconnaissance guru, and, last but not least, his aircraft, the Beaufort. He returns home after one final body blow, that of losing a close friend who led an operation in Gibbs' place after the author was ordered home at tour's end. Already feeling pangs of guilt for leaving his crews behind, he leaves Malta an exhausted, decorated but troubled man. He heads to an uncertain future again. Gibbs is always looking forward and he went on to become a noted journallist but, as he says, he did not return home by Christmas, the sea claimed him as it claimed so many of his crews.
  2. Kyt

    Kyt Άρης

    Dammit Andy! I really must get around to reading the two. They sound excellent
  3. Antipodean Andy

    Antipodean Andy New Member

    I was a bit worried that you wouldn't have to given the length of the review above! So much happens in what is barely eight months!

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