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Ralph Barker was born in Middlesex in 1917. He joined the editorial staff of Sporting Life in 1934 and later went into banking. He had some early success as a writer, and several of his sketches were performed at the Windmill Theatre. In 1940 he joined the RAF as a wireless operator and air gunner. After completing his training, he served with torpedo bomber squadrons, taking part in dangerous missions to attack ships bringing supplies to German forces. He left the RAF in 1946 to return to banking, but rejoined two years later. He went on to broadcast with the British Forces Network and work for the Air Ministry. Barker began to establish himself as a serious author on RAF subjects and his first book, Down in the Drink, was published in 1955. This was followed in 1957 by The Ship-Busters, inspired by his wartime experiences. He was subsequently invited to write The Last Blue Mountain, which was first published in 1959. He retired as a flight lieutenant in 1961 and became a full-time writer. Cricket was Barker's lifelong passion, and he played for the RAF and various Surrey clubs. His first cricket book, Ten Great Innings, was published in 1964, followed in 1967 by Ten Great Bowlers. Barker continued to write non-fiction titles on mainly aviation, survival and cricketing themes, including a compendium of England-Australia Test matches and authoritative histories of the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War. His final book, Men of the Bombers, was published in 2005. He died in 2011.
In 1957, five members of the Oxford University Mountaineering Club set out to reach the peak of Haramosh, a previously unclimbed mountain in the Karkoram range that extends from Afghanistan to Tajikistan. Karkoram is the second highest mountain range in the world, exceeded only by the nearby Himalaya. It’s highest peak, K2, is well known to mountaineers, perhaps less so to those of us not so well versed in that world. The Last Blue Mountain is the story of this ascent, and of the tragedy that unfolded. It is a tale not of success or failure, but of human spirit and the determination to survive. Originally published in 1959, this re-publication now contains an enlightening foreword by writer Ed Douglas, former editor of the Alpine Journal. Two of the four OUMC climbers died on Haramosh. A third was killed descending the Weisshorn in 1963. Tony Streather, the final member of the team, died in 2018 at the age of ninety-two. The opportunity to speak with these men is gone but, thanks to the excellent writing and research of Ralph Barker, the chance to learn from them and to live their story is not. As I reached the end of The Last Blue Mountain and closed the final page I confess I said a silent thanks. It was not just to the late Ralph Barker for writing this excellent book, but to Tony Streather and his fellow climbers, who are the kind of men who inspire us and whose tales of bravery and resilience will continue to enthral for generations to come.
With the Battle of Britain won, Winston Churchill and his military chiefs now faced an even more fearsome challenge in the Battle of the Atlantic. Thwarted in his plans to invade, Hitler decided instead that he would starve Britain into submission. Operating in conjunction with U-Boats, long-range Condor aircraft attacked allied shipping far beyond the range of any land-based fighters. To counter the Luftwaffe threat, RAF and Fleet Air Arm volunteers to be catapulted from merchant ships in specially modified Hawker Hurricanes. With nowhere to land it was a one-way mission. If the British fighter pilots survived combat, they had no option but to bail out or ditch in the North Atlantic and hope they would be picked up by the one of the convoy escorts. Survival was anything but certain ...
'Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines meets Le Mans. Hugely entertaining. And deadly serious' Rowland White, Author of Vulcan 607 It was the greatest international competition of its day - a thrilling, globe-trotting, high speed air racing series that married cutting-edge technology with astonishing skill, bravery and danger. Duelling at 400 mph just a few feet from sea surface left pilots little margin for error. For over a decade, as aircraft of Great Britain, the United States, France and Italy fought for the prize, the Schneider Trophy represented the pinnacle of aviation development. A succession of world records fell to machines that combined super-charged brute power with streamlined good looks. With the RAF's Supermarine S6B, legendary aircraft designer R.J Mitchell, honed the genius that produced the Spitfire, while Rolls-Royce advanced the state-of-the-art with a powerful V-12 engine that paved the way for its war-winning masterpiece, the Merlin.
Low-level strikes by British torpedo-bombers against enemy naval vessels ranked among the most dangerous aerial tactics developed during World War II. But the risks frequently paid off, whether in the attack by a single bomber on the German battleship Lutzow, the torpedoing of the Gneisenau, or the crippling blows against Rommel's supply lines to Africa. Colorful in its depiction of aircrew life and stirring in its descriptions of torpedo-bombers in combat, Ship-Busters is a classic account of World War II in the air.
Recounts one of the greatest sea stories of World War II. It is the story of how George Binney, a 39 year-old civilian working in neutral Sweden when Norway was overrun by the Germans in 1940, set about running vital cargoes of Swedish ball-bearings and special steels to Britain through the blockaded Skagerrak, where German air strength was dominant and where the Royal Navy dare not trespass. Despite Admiralty gloom and in the face of political objections that were overcome by Binney's persistence, five ships carrying a year's supply of valuable materials for the expanding British war industries were successfully sailed to Britain in January 1941. A following attempt was not as successful and ended when six ships were sunk or scuttled. But then came the saga of the Little Ships, the motor gunboats flying the Red Duster that operated out of the Humber to and from the Swedish coast in the winter of 1943/44, defying the strengthened German defences and the wrath of severe weather.
This accessible text covers the all of the major First World War battles, from Bloody April 1917, when the squadrons suffered enormous casualties, through Third Ypres and Passchendaele to the chaotic retreat from Ludendorff's offensive. Drawing extensively from letters and diaries of the men who took part, Ralph Barker creates a bird's eye view of the battleground from the menacing skies above France and brings fresh off the page the exhiliration of combat, the debility of the shakes , the grit of observers and gunners, the strain of low-level flying, the bonding of pilot and ground mechanic, and the awareness of tragedy as brave men gave their lives.