Skua and Roc Bibliography and Sources
Books devoted to the Skua and Roc:
Skua! The Royal Navy's Dive Bomber by Peter C. Smith, published by pen and sword ISBN 1-84415-455-6. Published in 2006, this book added greatly to our knowledge of the Skua. It not only covers the Skuas use as a dive-bomber but also does justice to it's use as a fighter as well. It throws new light on the Skuas use in Norway, the Mediterranean, off East Africa and over Dunkirk. Highly recommended.
Blackburn Skua and Roc by Matthew Willis, ISBN 978-83-89450-44-9, published by Mushroom Model Publications in their "orange" series is a first-rate reference; ideal for the aeromodeller or aviation historian alike. It has plans, no less than 33 colour side-view profiles and lots of previously unpublished photos. Highly recommended.
Wings of the Navy by Captain Eric Brown. ISBN 0 906393 87 6, published by Airlife Publishing Ltd. This book is made up of a series of 16 articles that appeared in Air International magazine. Each article covers a particular Fleet Air Arm aircraft flown by the author, a distinguished combat and test pilot. The 11 page article on the Skua and Roc is lavishly illustrated with photos, a cutaway drawing and cockpit diagram. Highly recommended.
The Aeroplane Magazine of August 9th 1939 carried what was, for its day, informative 4 page article on the design of the Skua, including a magnificent cut-away drawing by JH Clark. This article was reprinted in the August 1989 edition of "War in the Air" magazine.
Flight Magazine of 10th August 1939 carried a 5 page article on the Skua and a double-spread cut-away drawing, albeit much less detailed than the one that appeared in "The Aeroplane" the same week.
Aeroplane Magazine December 2007 has a total of 19 pages about the Skua and Roc in the magazine's "database" format, written by Matthew Willis. Essentially a very condensed version of his "Blackburn Skua and Roc" book, the text is illustrated by some great photos, a few of which I have not seen in any other publication. It includes a reprint of the old 1939 cutaway drawing by JH Clark. Well worth looking out for on ebay.
Blackburn Aircraft since 1909 ISBN 370 000536 by AJ Jackson published by Putnam. Essential if you want details of production batches and serial numbers. The details of the Skua and Roc's operational use are sadly inaccurate.
The Turret Fighters - Defiant and Roc by Alec Brew ISBN 1 86126 497 6 published by the Crowood Press, Ramsbury, Marlborough, Wiltshire. A magnificent book with lots of details about the thinking behind the turret fighter concept and the development of the Roc. Unfortunately the details of the operational use of the Roc are at odds with much of the information you will find on this website (i.e. their use off Norway and over Dunkirk).
Pilots Notes for the Blackburn Roc (Air Publication 1571A) - PDF copies of the pilots notes for the Blackburn Roc often come up on ebay. Most copies have very poor reproductions of the photos of the cockpit interior. They are also available from www.flight-manuals.com.
Blackburn Skua Maintenance and Repair Manual (Air Publication AP1570A Vol2) is available to purchase and download in PDF format from Mach One Manuals at their website www.flight-manuals.com
Aeroplane Monthly Magazine February and March 1990 editions featured two articles in the "Probe Probare" series by Alec Lumsden and Terry Heffernan about the testing of the Skua and Roc at the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment . The February edition covers the Skua and the March edition the Roc. There are some excellent photos of the prototype Skuas.
Boulton Paul 1917-1961- Aircraft, Projects and Studies by Les Whitehouse, published by Crecy in 2021, ISBN 9781910809488 has details of the Blackburn Roc and Boulton Paul's own design for a naval turret fighter (The P85). It has a photo of Rocs being produced in the BP factory and of Rocs lined up outside the factory in two different colour schemes, one scheme for the Navy, the other for the RAF.
Dive Bomber! An illustrated history by Peter C Smith. ISBN 086190 062 6, published by Moorland publishing Co in the UK and the Naval Institute Press in the USA. Covers the Skuas use as a dive bomber. The attack on the Königsberg is covered. Its 9th Chapter gives an interesting account of the thinking behind the specification that gave rise to the Skua.
Operation Skua by Major R.T. Partridge, FAA Museum 1983. A Biography of Major Partridge including the sinking of the Königsberg and the disaster at Trondheim. It includes details of the recovery of the Skua remains now at the FAA Museum at Yeovilton. There is a brilliant website devoted to this recovery at the following link...Operation Skua Website
Into the Assault, famous dive-bomber aces of the Second World War by Peter C Smith. (pub John Murray) ISBN 0 7195 4247 2. Each chapter tells the story of a different dive-bomber pilot from WW2. The chapter on Major Richard Partridge, tells more about the attack on the Königsberg and other missions. The cover of the English edition has a painting of a Skua, done by Lt Guy Griffiths when in a POW camp following his capture during the Fanad Head incident
The History of Dive Bombing by Peter C Smith. (pub Pen &Sword) ISBN 184415592 - 7. Includes more on the development of the Skua and many first hand accounts from Skua pilots. Note the book was first published in 1981 under the title "Impact - The Dive Bomber Pilots Speak."
Carrier Fighters 1939-1945 by David Brown published by Purnell Book services Ltd (1975). Covers the use of the Skua as a fighter, including details of the Norwegian and Mediterranean campaigns. It gives a good overview of all the carrier based fighter operations of World War II. Well worth getting if you can find it at a good price on ebay.
Dive Bombers in Action, also by Peter C Smith ISBN 0 7137 1957 5, published by Blandford Press. This book features an interesting account of flying the Skua and Roc in combat with 801 Sqdn by Captain Tom Harrington DSC RN.
What Were They Like to Fly? by Squadron Leader D.H. Clarke DFC AFC, published by Ian Allan Ltd 1964, has a chapter each on flying both the Skua and Roc - albeit very short, a little over two pages each. They are essentially shortened reworks of the earlier 3 articles Clarke wrote for the RAF Flying Review in 1959 -1961. "Ghost Fighters over Dunkirk" in the April 1959 edition. "The Decision is Always the Pilots" in the October 1961 edition and "The Shunned Skua" in the December 1961 edition. The magazine articles are much more detailed than the book.
Flying Sailors at War: Fleet Air Arm Operations During the Second World War Volume 1. By Brian Cull with Bruce Lander and Mark Horan. published by Dalrymple & Verdun. ISBN 978-1-905414 -14 -7. It covers September 1939-June 1940, Northern Europe, Norway, North Sea and the North and South Atlantic. A very good attempt at an over-arching yet detailed account of Fleet Air Arm operations in the early months of WWII when the Skua was in the front-line. I was a little bit disappointed with the description of the Fanad Head incident again repeating the line that the Skuas carried out dive-bombing attacks, when in fact the Skuas each attacked at extreme low level. Otherwise the book deserves high praise.
"806 Naval Air Squadron" By Brian Cull and Frederick Galea, published by Fonthill media in 2019, ISBN 978-1-78155-750-1. The first chapter covers 806 Squadrons combats over Norway and Dunkirk, the second chapter covers the the Squadron's visit to Bermuda on HMS Illustrious. Then it goes on to cover the Squadron's exploits flying Fulmars in the Mediterranean. An excellent study of a Fleet Air Arm squadron during the early to mid-war years.
The German Invasion of Norway April 1940 by Geirr H Haarr, first published in 2009 by Seaforth Publishing (Pen & Sword) ISBN 978 1 84832 089 5. It has a whole chapter devoted to the German capture of Bergen and it covers the actual Skua attack on the Konigsburg in great detail while placing it in the context of what happened at Bergen as a whole and within the framework of the grand plan of the German Invasion of Norway and the political and economic reasons behind the Invasion.
The Battle for Norway April - June 1940 by Geirr H Haarr published in 2010 by Seaforth Publishing (Pen & Sword) ISBN 978 1 84832 057 4 Is the follow on work that charts the battles fought on land, in the sea and in the air for Norway after the initial invasion. Highly recommended.
Strike from the Sky ISBN 0 586 21022 9 (Grafton Edition) by Alexander McKee. This book on the Battle of Britain features some fascinating accounts by Squadron Leader DH Clarke of flying Skuas and Rocs during the Dunkirk and Battle of Britain periods, including plans for Skuas to "set the sea aflame" by dropping incendiaries onto oil pumped off the likely invasion beaches. After its initial release in 1960 by Souvenir Press, it was then issued in a "Mans Book Club" anthology by Odhams press the following year, that version can be found online and in second-hand bookshops at very low prices. It was then reprinted by other publishers in the 1960s. An updated paperback edition was released by Grafton books in 1990 for the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.
Fleet Air Arm - The Admiralty Account of Naval Air Operations -A wartime (1943) HMSO publication (SO Code 70-427). Includes a one sentence mention of Rocs being used to dive-bomb Boulogne harbour.
Ark Royal - The Admiralty Account of her Achievements - Another wartime HMSO publication (1942 SO Code 70-400). Well worth seeking out in second-hand bookshops.
Haul Taut and Belay - published by Spellmount ltd 1992. ISBN 1-873376-12-1. The memoirs of Vice Admiral Sir Donald Gibson "the luckiest pilot in the Fleet Air Arm". Survivor of the attack on the Scharnhorst, and of many other brushes with death. However his time on Skuas and the raid on the Scharnhorst is covered in a scant 6 pages.
The Four Ark Royals - By Micheal Apps ISBN 0 7183 0344X, 1976, has a brief overview of the Fanad Head incident along with with other details of the use of Skuas. The actual description of the incident in the book is incorrect, giving the impression all three Skuas arrived at the same time and dive-bombed the submarine. However the book does contain the transcript of a letter from Lieutenant Guy Griffiths which gives a true account of events as he observed them. The book also features some of the photos taken by Geoffrey Halnan.
One Man's War - By Stuart E. Soward ISBN 0-9697229-3-1, Published by Neptune in Canada. The recollections of Sub Lt R.E. Bartlett, wartime Skua pilot. Has an outstanding account of the attack on the Scharnhorst. This book had only a very limited print run. One to snap up if you ever find a copy online or in a second hand bookshop.
So Be It! - by Don Sutherland. Includes memories of flying as a passenger in Skuas. Available on Kindle and Smashwords
Wings Over Bermuda: 100 years of Aviation in the West Atlantic- By Ewan Partridge & Tom Singfield, ISBN 978-1-927750-32-2, Published in 2014 by the National Museum of Bermuda. Available in the UK from the Aviation Bookshop, Tunbridge Wells. A big "coffee table" book packed with photos. It has a couple of paragraphs dealing with the Rocs operated by 773 FRU in Bermuda and the best part of two pages devoted to "Black Sunday" and the loss of Skuas from Illustrious. This book is the most authoritative and well-researched account of the events of "Black Sunday" and debunks the more lurid accounts of that day that can be found in "great military disaster" books and on the internet. The book as a whole is a fantastic source of information on aviation in Bermuda and deserves a place on every aviation enthusiast's bookshelf.
Flypast Magazine, March 2007- It features the story of the Roc's only combat "Kill".
Aeroplane Monthly Magazine, June 1978 - Has an article by AR Chapman and Bjorn Olsen about the shooting down of Heinkel He 111 5J+CN of KG4 by Lt Cdr HP Bramwell and Lt WH Martyn. The Heinkel was recovered from its isolated crah-site in 1976 and restored. It is housed at the Norwegian Armed Forces Aircraft Collection.
The Dawn of Carrier Strike: And the World of Lieutenant WP Lucy DSO RN. - By David Hobbs, ISBN 978 1 4738 7992 8, published in 2019 by Seaforth Publishing. This is a hard book to categorise, in turns both brilliant and disappointing. It might be best considered in three parts; in the first chapters the development of the Fleet Air Arm after WW1, through the 1920s and into the 1930s is very well told, using lots of original research from access to official files (as you would expect from an author who spent eight years as curator of the Fleet Air Arm Museum). The comparison with the development of aviation in the US Navy is very illuminating. The book is worth reading for these early chapters alone. Then, as the book progresses it uses more and more material from the family archive of WP Lucy, one of the foremost Royal Navy Air Branch commanders of the first year of the war and the only Skua "Ace", again this is brilliantly told. It is the bit in the middle, the "meat in the sandwich" as it were, that I found strange. I may be unfair, but it seems to me that when two sources give different accounts of an action, the version chosen is, more often than not, the one that shows the Royal Navy in the best light. One example; the incorrect description of the Fanad Head incident is taken straight from the old 1976 "The Four Ark Royals" by Michael Apps, even though other, later, works listed in the book's bibliography give more precise details of the same action. One noteworthy ommision from the bibliography is Brian Cull's "Flying sailors at Sea" (published in 2011) which meticulously checks Royal Navy fighter claims against Luftwaffe records; if this had been consulted it would have cleared up the "mystery" of the letter congratulating WP Lucy on attacking a submarine (detailed in Cull's book as happening on 12th March 1940). Then there are some unaccountable technical errors as well; for example, we are told the Blackburn Roc had, "provision for a 250lb bomb to be carried on the centreline...." (it didn't, it could carry two 250 lb bombs, one under each wing). Likewise, we are told that in the Blackburn Skua "The wireless compartment was just aft of the pilot..." (it wasn't, it was to the rear of the TAG/Observer, only the prototypes experimented with putting some of the radio equipment directly behind the pilot). We are also informed that the Fairey Albacore's armament was ".... similar to the Swordfish" (it could carry twice the bombload twice the distance of the Swordfish, which would have transformed the range of missions available to a carrier strike force if it had been available earlier and in greater numbers). The lack of any mention of the feud going on onboard HMS Glorious between the Captain and his Air Commander, as to the correct use of air-power, except only as an afterword to the sinking of the Glorious, is strange for a book that sets out to explore that exact topic (the correct use of carrier air power). So, in summary, this book should be on the reading list of anyone interested in the Royal Navy's carrier force between the wars and into WW2, I just wouldn't jump straight to it as my first reference when looking up technical or action details.
Air Power and the Royal Navy 1914-1945 -A historical survey by Geoffrey Till. ISBN 0 354 01204 3 Published by Jane's in 1979. Gives an overview of the Royal Navy's thoughts on the the use of aircraft between the wars. It casts light on why the use of multi-role aircraft like the Skua and Swordfish was favoured. A very good book that is well worth looking out for on ebay.
"Shopping for Naval Aircraft in the Thirties" in the "Out of the Archives" section of Air-Britain "Aeromilitaria" Volume 28 Issue 109 Spring 2002 (pages 28-30).
Fleet Air Arm Camouflage and Markings - Atlantic and Mediterranean Theatres 1937-1941 by Stuart Lloyd, published by Dalrymple and Verdun Publishing 2008, ISBN 978-1-905414-08-6. This has a fantastic collection of photos of Skuas and Rocs in service and they are reproduced in large format in excellent quality so that it is possible to see details you might easily miss in other sources. Many of the photos have never been published before. The author does a fantastic job of explaining the evolution of FAA camouflage. There are also numerous colour profiles. Highly recommended.
Model Aircraft Monthly, Vol 6 Issue 10 October 2007. Has a series of articles on the Skua, including a very extensive potted history of the type by Tony O'toole. This is illustrated by a really nice selection of photos, including colour shots of L2991 and a page full of shots of L2942.
Aeroplane Monthly, February 1995 edition carried a 5 page article by Peter London which featured a selection of excellent photographs of the Skua. Well worth tracking down on ebay.
Aircraft Illustrated Extra, No 12. A small, almost A5 size magazine, a quarterly "extra" to the monthly Aircraft Illustrated magazine, had an 8 page article on the Skua by Chaz Bowyer with some excellent clear photos. Again worth looking out for on ebay.
Plastic Aircraft Modelling International Magazine, June/July 1978 (issue 22) edition has an 8 page article by Neil Robinson that is illustrated by numerous photos. The article also features some black and white diagrams of Skua colour schemes drawn by the author. It details how to go about making a decent representation of the Skua from the old Frog model kit. Another magazine worth keeping an eye out for on ebay.
Flypast Magazine, June 2006. Has a 3 page article by Lennart Berns on the crash-landing of Skua L2942 in neutral Sweden. It has some splendid photographs of the recovery of the Skua. The same magazine has an article by Mervyn Spencer Doe describing a hair-raising flight in the back-seat of a Skua that led to a collision with electricity cables and the court-martial of the pilot.
Flypast Magazine, August 1982. Had two complimentary articles by Peter C Smith. A 3 page article on dive-bombing and 5 page article on the Skua. Some of the information in the Skua article is out of date with more modern research (most of it by Peter C Smith himself) and the photos are not well reproduced (at that time Flypast magazine was published on lower-quality "pulp" paper).
The Fleet Air Arm in Camera 1912-1996 ISBN 07509 1254 5 by Roger Hayward has photos of Skuas and Rocs including one of a Roc target tug tail-up on the deck of HMS Formidable and another of Rocs painted ready for delivery to Finland.
Eagle's War by Peter C Smith. (pub Crecy) ISBN 0 94755460 2 has a photo of a Skua on the flight deck of HMS Eagle in the Eastern Med.
Pictorial History of the Fleet Air Arm by J.D.R. Rawlings, published by the Military Book Society (1973) features some interesting pictures of Skuas and Rocs, a couple of which I have never seen reproduced anywhere else, albeit that many of the pictures are blurred and indistinct.
Boulton Paul Aircraft ISBN 0 7524 0625 6 In the "Archive Photographs" series by the Chalford publishing Company features four photographs of Rocs (they were produced at the Boulton Paul factory near Wolverhampton).
Boulton Paul Aircraft ISBN 0 7509 1028 3 by Alec Brew in the "Britain in old photographs" series similarly has three photos featuring Rocs.
Wartime aircraft recognition film of the Skua can be found at this link : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PUyCTEA8JXc
There are quite a few shots of Skuas operating from the Ark Royal in the wartime film "Ships with Wings" . Note that extensive use of models is also made in the film. The model Skuas are surprisingly accurate, the way they move through the sky is not!
The story behind "Operation Skua" inspired the feature film "Cross of Honour". Unfortunately the special-effects budget did not stretch to showing the aircraft involved (other than a mock crashed Heinkel 111).
The most in-depth discussion of Skua colours and camouflage schemes are articles written by the late, much-missed, I. D. Huntley for Scale Aircraft Modelling Magazine. They appeared in the November 1987, December 1993 and May 1994 edition. I am indebted to Nikos Tselepides for making me aware of these articles (via Jamie Tindall). Ian D. Huntley also wrote a short article dealing specifically with the black and yellow "Tiger Stripe" Skua scheme in the September 1974 edition of Aircraft Illustrated Magazine, this quotes an official Air Ministry memorandum from March 1938 on how manufacturers should paint aircraft destined for target-towing duties.
Skua losses over Dunkirk are mentioned briefly in the Appendix to "Air Battle Dunkirk" by Norman Franks ISBN 1 902304 50 0
A more comprehensive list of claims and losses is in "The Battle of France Then and Now" by Peter D. Cornwell. Published by After the Battle ISBN 9-781870-067652
The use of the Roc from aircraft carriers during the Norwegian campaign is from combat reports in the Public Records Office at Kew, relayed to me by Mark E. Horan. This has subsequently been confirmed in Peter C Smith's "Skua!", and the books of Brian Cull.
Paper on the British Navy air operations over Noway by Peter Hore on the The Swedish Society for Maritime History Website
Follow up reading:
For those wishing to read an overview of the Norwegian campaign can I recommend "Denmark and Norway 1940 - Hitler's Boldest Operation" by Douglas C Dildy with illustrations (including a magnificent double-page spread of Lt Spurway's Skua releasing its bomb over the Scharnhorst) by John White. From Osprey Publishing in their Campaign series (No 183). ISBN 978 1 84603 117 5. If you require a more in-depth history I recommend Geirr H Haarr's two-volumes (see above).