Flames Over Norway by Robert Jackson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Pilot Officer Ken Armstrong is one of a small and select band of Spitfire pilots.
In the winter of early 1940, freezing in their cramped cockpits, the pilots set out to photograph German targets that will be attacked when the ‘Phoney War’ gives way to a shooting war — the heavy industries of the Ruhr Valley and, above all, warships of the German Navy, standing ready to break out into the Atlantic and prey on Britain’s vital convoys.
Suddenly, in the early days of April 1940, an armada of German warships begins to move from the north German ports. Armstrong and his fellow pilots have the task of shadowing them, and soon establish that the invasion of Norway is beginning.
Shot down during a photo-recce sortie over Norway, Armstrong finds himself fighting with Allied ground forces before reaching an RAF fighter squadron operating from a frozen lake in the far north.
He is soon involved in an amazing intrigue with Norwegian government officials, desperate to salvage Norway’s remaining gold reserves and fly them to England.
Finding an aircraft capable of doing the job is a problem — which Armstrong and his new friends set about solving. The obvious answer is to steal one from under the noses of the conquering Germans…
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This is the second book by this author that I've read, and my experience was similar. Flames Over Norway is set during the very early stages of World War Two, and the central character is a young reconnaissance pilot who flies dangerous photographing missions over enemy territory in an unarmed aircraft. The story moves along quite well and describes the scene very well, almost documentary style in places with the author filling in the background tactical situation of the posturing armies and air forces. As the title suggests, the largest section of the story takes place in Norway, where the German forces are trying to gain a foothold due to the valuable strategic nature of their shipping ports, essential for their naval vessels trying to get to the North Atlantic. The story turns more into a blow-by-blow account of tussles between the local militias, British garrisons and the invading Nazi troops, and is well-written and interesting, but the story still lacks a definable overriding plot or story. There are some particularly cool naval battle scenes that I found interesting and there is a small amount of intrigue around a train load of gold that the Norwegians are desperately trying to whisk away from under the Germans' noses, but not a heavy enough plot to really engage. Had there been a bigger story at work (other than the whole World War Two thing) then this book would've been a lot harder to put down. The author's knowledge of the period and of the aircraft and hardware appears to be vast and accurate, and this lends itself to a book that is more educational than entertaining. I reckon that anyone who is an enthusiast of World War Two aviation in particular would enjoy the book, but I wouldn't recommend it to a typical reader looking for a rollicking yarn. This is a bit of a shame because the writing style is good and the story flows well enough, it's just missing that "big picture" to keep the reader firmly on the hook.
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