This is the story of pilots who served in Royal Navy escort carriers in World War II, fighting the Germans and the Japanese. To me, it was also a story of an unknown type of ship fighting a much harsher war than I had imagined.
These “Woolworth Carriers” – rebuild freight ships – were not the headline attracting fleet carriers. But apparently a number of these ships were built, many were sent to the Royal Navy, and Winged Escort is a well-told, compelling and compassionate story of one of them. It starts in 1943. The scope of operations is vast, ranging from the North Atlantic to the North Sea, the Southwest Pacific, and finally home in the UK.
Tim Rowan, a Navy fighter pilot, is assigned to the new, American-made escort carrier HMS Growler, the flagship of a task force set up to protect Allied convoys sailing the Arctic route to supply Soviet Russia. This service is extremely hard and the action plentiful. Rowan and Growler fight German submarines, heavy bombers, fighters, and even a heavy German cruiser. Clearly the British are up against an overwhelming force, but Growler, her escorts, and the men give it their all.
In late 1944, Growler is transferred to the Indian Ocean. There they come up against Japanese fighters as well as the Kamikaze and barely survive a vicious onslaught. Bad leadership becomes a huge issue.
Reeman, who served in the Royal Navy during World War II, not only tells a tale full of action, excitement, and some remarkable characters, he also presents a story filled with details only someone who has been in action could relate. The characters in Winged Escort are well developed and complex. So are the many and differing relationships among them. It rings with authenticity on every page.
It is a great novel – it tells a terrible, very rough story with a warm human touch, but still in a very realist fashion. Both the side stories about the various relationships and conflicts on the one hand and on the other hand the battle descriptions are very good. To my mind, Winged Escort is one of Douglas Reeman’s finest!