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Bloody Paralyser: The Giant Handley Page Bombers of the First World Wa

Toby Brayley

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Bloody Paralyser: The Giant Handley Page Bombers of the First World War

Rob Langham

Published by Fonthill Media ISBN 978-1-78155-080-9

I consider myself to be a somewhat amateur fan of all things aviation, particularly the dangerous and pioneering early days of military aircraft design and use in combat. The giant Handley Page bombers were hitherto not really covered in any great detail and certainly not in the detail that Rob Langham has gone into on the pages of this publication. For amateurs of the subject, such as myself, the emphasis on the use of large “aircraft” was really confined to the German use of Gotha and Zeppelin bombers over the British mainland. Bloody Paralyser from the outset sets to put this right and give these revolutionary, record breaking aircraft and their crews the place in history which they deserve!

Bloody Paralyser covers the use of the O/100 and O/400, briefly touching on the V/1500 types. From the outset, the author’s passion and knowledge on the subject is clearly apparent. Langham takes us through the background of the Handley Page Company, its workers, designers and chief test pilots. Details of the factories used to build the bombers are mentioned and how they were required to be expanded to meet the requirements of such a large aircraft. The design process is covered in great detail as are the first flights of the prototype at Hendon in 1915: even the dramatic and farcical sounding journey, across land, from the HP factory at Cricklewood to the aerodrome Hendon is covered in brilliant and amusing detail.

Every aspect of the O/100 is covered, in much greater (and still interesting) detail than I thought possible. The construction and initial problems encountered with the aircraft are reported, such as the whole tail unit twisting on reaching the dizzy speeds of 75mph! The subsequent rectifications and improvements are covered in a brilliant not overly technical style that will keep the average aviation enthusiast hooked.

The armament carried by the O/100 and O/400 types, as excepted are covered in great detail from the usual Lewis Guns to the bizarre 6pdr “recoilless” Davis Gun. An expert break down of all the different style of aerial bombs used is present, from the massive SN 1650lb bomb, the “baby” incendiary incendiaries and many more. I was most impressed with the amount of detail that the author went into on this subject; explanations of fuse types, intended targets and the method of storing and releasing them from the aircraft are explained as are some interesting reports on the effects of various bombs on different types of targets. These pages, whilst not entirely relating to the aircraft, further enhance the book and just prove the amount of work and research that has gone into this work, the author is to be commended. Even the weaponry the Handley Pages would have faced is covered, from the “Flaming onions” of the 3.7 Hotchkiss to motor vehicle mounted 7.7cm AA guns, eyewitness accounts, from both sides give a brilliant indication of what it must have been like to be on the receiving end of such weapons.

A particular highlight for me was the inclusion of how these behemoths were to be stored and moved on the aerodromes. Often overlooked as mundane, (but in my opinion a crucial part of history) the author explains how hangers large enough to house the aircraft had to be sourced and constructed. Usually aircraft were able to be manhandled by the ground crew, the O/100 being so large was responsible for the introduction of a 35HP “tractor” to move it around. The author notes this was the first time that an aircraft required such a vehicle!

The Rolls Royce Eagle, the engine that powered the O/100 and the O/400 is covered. Other aircraft that used the engine, as well as proposed replacements and other sources for the engine (owing to a lack of supply etc) are all discussed in the expert detail that you will, by now have come to expect.

For myself the book really comes alive once the O/100 is first committed to action with the RNAS in March 1917. The author’s excitement and passion is once again evident in the pages. The individual tales heroism of the crews are told in their own word, some read like a tale from the pages of Boys Own!

The early missions, successes and failures are told (The Germans knew all about the O/100 even before the first combat sortie owing to a navigational mishap!), again all in great detail with aircraft numbers, dates and intended targets…from U-boats to German cities brilliant stuff!

Of note is that it is not just the side of the aircrews that is heard but that of the mechanics and fellow groundcrews, their accounts of life on base and what it was like to work with the aircraft are a refreshing change. The infrastructure required to carry out the missions is covered very well, supply, navigational issues and accidents are all present within the page. I was most impressed with the inclusion of the bizarre and technologically advanced navigational/identification equipment, both on the aircraft and on the ground that were used to aid the aircrews in the night bombing missions that the O types became so well suited.

The action is not just confined to the Western Front but includes the Dardanelles , where a single O/100 was dispatched to raid Ottoman shipping in Constantinople. The perilous journey from the UK to Mudros is just as exciting and interesting as the daring mission itself. The famous story of Lawrence of Arabia and his single, morale lifting, O/400 is not forgotten.

Most of the operational section is devoted to 1918, again plenty of well-chosen first-hand accounts from all ranks have been covered. Included is an entire chapter devoted to “The Worst Night” in September of 1918 when ten Handley pages were lost in action. The HP V/1500 is briefly mentioned as is the overlooked career of the types in civilian service post war.

When you finish The Bloody Paralyser you come away from the book with not just an intimate knowledge of the O/100 and O/400 but that of its designers, its crews, and its ground crews. Many aviation books easily get lost in the overly technical specifications of the aircraft, thankfully Rob Langham has avoided this (you can at times tell when the author has had to cut himself off to prevent this from happening!) but has still left the reader with an in-depth knowledge of the workings and evolution of the aircraft. From start to finish it is presented in an easily digestible and exciting way. A thoroughly enjoyable, interesting and informative read from start to finish Rob Langham’s knowledge on all things aviation (the aircraft, to operational procedures, weaponry and even the tender vehicles) is clearly seen and felt in the pages, one only hopes that this is the first of many refreshing and accessible works.


Toby Brayley

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