The story of the Falklands War has quickly become a part of the British mythos. A hastily thrown together Task Force, with two small carriers and twenty even smaller fighters taking on the might of the Argentine Air Force and Navy. It was a close-run thing. In Rowland White’s latest book Harrier 809, he returns to two of his previous subjects, the Falklands War and 809 Naval Air Squadron, and shows us that things really were, at times, upon a wing and a prayer.
Harrier 809 opens with rookie Sea Harrier, or in Navy slang SHAR, pilot Lieutenant Simon Hargreaves strapping himself in and blasting off from HMS Hermes to intercept an Argentine Boeing 707 reconnaissance flight. As Hargreaves races to 40,000’ to intercept the Boeing, it dawns on him he may have to kill. The two belligerents have met and the shooting will start soon. Hargreaves had only been out of training for two months.
White’s opening is a carefully managed juggling act. Having covered the incredible urgency of the Task Force’s departure in that spring of 1982 in greater detail in his sublime Vulcan 607, White chooses to focus on his new cast of characters. We are introduced to Lieutenant Commander Tim Gedge who is in the middle of a lecture on the upcoming Naval Redundancy programme. War really never comes when one expects it and if you wrote that in a film script, no one would buy it. With the Fleet Arm Arm’s two squadrons of Sea Harriers, 800 and 801 Naval Air Squadrons (NAS), deployed upon HMS Hermes and Invincible respectively, Tim Gedge was ordered to a now-empty RNAS Yeovilton to resurrect a phoenix. 809 NAS was to be reborn, from scratch, just as quickly as he could. There was a couple of hitches though, 809 didn’t have a ship to deploy onto, let alone any Sea Harriers to actually fly.
Harrier 809 is an incredible tale, deftly told and leaves you wanting more. Thankfully, White leaves us with a ‘Post-credit Sting’ that would make the Marvel people green with envy. The story does not quite end at sea.
Harrier 809 by Rowland White is released on 15 October 2020 and is published by Bantam Press who kindly provided this review copy. If you would like a copy of Harrier 809 might I suggest using the Bookshop.org link below? By using that link, 10% of each sale will go to supporting The Damcasters.