Book Review: The Royal Navy Wasp. An Operational & Retirement History

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The Royal Navy Wasp: An Operational & Retirement History

So, I have another book from those fantastic people over at Pen & Sword Books to have a look at, this time it’s a subject matter with wings that are rotary rather than my usual fixed wing interest.

This publication looks at the small but mighty Westland Wasp, this was the first helicopter in the world to be designed to be deployed at sea.

The book begins by looking at the conditions during the post war period that lead to the development of the Wasp as a solution. Anti-Submarine operations using aircraft were nothing new, in fact aircraft have been used since the first world war to attack submarines, albeit in a much less sophisticated manner. During WWII though things were advancing rapidly but still ships and aircraft alike needed to catch their prey on the surface to launch an attack.

Technology continued to advance and by the 50s aircraft were able to detect even submerged vessels. It was at this point the Navy decided the use of a small helicopter that could be launched from destroyers and frigates as a weapon carrier in anti-submarine warfare operations could be an effective tool.

From the outset the book includes anecdotes from pilots and crew. From the test pilots, to those that were to use the aircraft in operations and finally those that went on to operate the aircraft in a civilian role. These are taken not only directly from the crew members or official reports, but also from articles in publications such as Cockpit! or Flight Deck Magazines for example. I found many of these to be really fascinating and I loved being able to read these first-hand accounts of what the aircraft was like to operate and the tasks it was asked to carry out.

Moving on we take a brief look at the company that would eventually go on to secure the contract for providing this ship-based aircraft, The Westland Aircraft Works, and how it came to purchase Saunders Roe and with it their prototype project P531. This aircraft was subsequently developed into the land-based Scout and what was briefly named the Sea Scout, which was the basis of what became the Wasp

The development of the Wasp during the early years is looked at, covering everything from engine improvements to safety systems such as the flotation devices for a ditched helicopter. Weaponry and aircraft roles are looked at next including the development of new roles for the Wasp to be utilised in as a counter to emerging threats such as the advent of the Fast Patrol Boat for example.

As the book continues we hear about the initial deployment of the aircraft to the vessels it was to serve from and the trials that those early crews faced, both the flight team and the ships company. More articles from Flight Deck and Cockpit provide a great insight to what these early days of Wasp operation was like.

There are more anecdotal articles describing first-hand what it was like to work with the aircraft including a brief diary covering a year of operations by a Naval Air Engineering Mechanic on board the HMS Naiad during the early 80s. There are also accounts from three different vessels carrying Wasps that were deployed during the ‘Cod Wars’ of the 70s. This makes for interesting reading due to the unusual and sensitive nature of the situation.

Returning to the 80s we head into the Falklands conflict, looking at the aircrafts first real operations in a theatre of war. This section begins with the account of the flight on HMS Endurance which was the only Navy vessel in the area when hostilities began, and it is during this account that we hear about the encounter between the Argentine submarine Santa Fe and the Wasp that saw the first guided missile ever fired by the Royal Navy not only being fired but also meeting its target.

Falklands missions are also described from Flights aboard several other vessels including HMS Plymouth, HMS Yarmouth, the hospital ship HMS Hydra along with HMS Herald and HMS Hecla. Missions after the surrender are also looked at from other vessels.

There are then more personal accounts from crews that flew the aircraft during its service with the Navy, including the book authors own experiences with the aircraft.

Moving away from the Wasps service to the UK the book takes a look at their 2nd lease of life which was to be found abroad. Service was to be seen with New Zealand, The Netherlands, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brazil and South Africa with some aircraft remaining in service well into the 90s and beyond, impressive considering the type first flew in 1962.

Finally, the book looks at the few Wasps that are still active although not in military service. With the aircraft now in civilian hands the trials and tribulations they have faced since becoming civilian owned are covered, such as an impromptu search and rescue mission during a 2016 air show after another aircraft was forced to ditch into the sea.

In conclusion, I have found this book to be a very interesting read. I found the stories from operations to be very compelling and those centred around operations in the Falklands in particular were my favourite part of the book. Whilst it is true that this is an aviation history book more than anything else there are still some great reference images for modellers alongside the fantastic stories and I don’t think the level of detail the book goes into should be off-putting to anyone with an interest in military, naval or aviation subjects.

If you fancy picking up your own copy of this title then you can do so over at Pen & Swords Website, I would also recommend having a good look around on the site too as there are loads of great titles to be found.

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