The Last Torpedo Flyers tells the story of the wartime exploits of Arthur Aldridge DFC.
Arthur Aldridge was enjoying life as a student in Oxford when war broke out. In early 1940, against his parents wishes Arthur quit his studies and enrolled in the RAF.
After his basic training, which included a time in Canada for navigation training Arthur was posted to 7a Squadron which flew Beauforts. Originally detailed as regular bombers the Squadron was switched to drop torpedo’s, which Arthur says was done with very little training. In the dark days of late 1940/41 and with Churchill demanding victories the men of 7a Squadron were repeatedly sent on missions that seemed to increase in difficulty as the RAF top brass try to deliver the moral boosting victory the British people needed.
As Arthur sees more and more of friends and colleagues killed and injured he resigns himself to the fact that it is only a matter of time before he ‘Cops it’.
From bombing runs to the French mainland to attacking shipping in the Channel Arthur soon learns to love the machine he is flying and develops the technique that will allow him to sink shipping safely and will earn him a DFC.
It is in 1941 that a new gunner is assigned to Arthur’s crew. Bill Carroll is a young, brash and cocky Londoner and him and Arthur immediately hit it off. They would spend the rest of the war flying together and form a bond very few people experience.
From the terror of being sent on a one way trip to sink the Tripitz to the mind numbing exhaustion of defending the Island Malta during the worst of the siege, Arthur and Bill stick together and endure the worst that the war can throw at them.
70 years later, despite an ocean separating them they are still the best of friends and are the last of the Torpedo Flyers.
I really enjoyed this book, Arthur is a very engaging character and he tells his story in a humorous and compelling manner.
He really manages to get across the sheer terror of the early years of the war and explains how he developed the almost fatalistic attitude of flying at the limit of his ability and not worrying about the consequences. The story of Malta really captures the hell it must of been on the island and how the almost constant flying wore men down, which lead to mistakes and men being killed.
While Arthur is the main man in this book the really star is Bill Carroll. Were as Arthur is a middle class Oxford student with a love of classical music and tennis, Bill is a working class Londoner with a love of beer and practical jokes.
Almost every story that Bill tells it ends with large amounts of alcohol and him in trouble with his superiors. He looks at war as an opportunity that he wouldn’t otherwise have and decides that he is going to make the most of it. Arthur is a lot more restrained and does come across as a bit of a cold fish at times but I guess being a non drinker in that environment is always going to be difficult.
This is a great book that captures the spirit of these amazing flyers and gives you an insight into the true meaning of War.
Published: Simon & Schuster