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Torpedo Bombers 1900–1950: an illustrated history

11 October 2021

Torpedo Bombers 1900–1950: an illustrated history, Jean-Denis Lepage, 2020, ISBN 978 1 52676 347 1, 394 pp.

Torpedo Bombers 1900-1950: an illustrated history by Jean-Denis Lepage

Defeating opposing ships by-way-of underwater explosions near, or against, a warship’s hull has always been heavily sought after. Water is powerful. The force of water rushing back into the volume created by the gas of the explosion can cripple or fracture a hull. Ensuing reverberations sent through and along the hull can rupture pipes, circuits and even frames, rudders and screws. The foregoing damage can quickly immobilize, even sink, a ship in mere minutes—but such a hit can surely taking it out of the fight as the crew swarms to control the resultant fires and flooding instead of fighting the ship (as the USN says when the ship is in an engagement).

The preferred weapon of choice in this regard is the torpedo and it was the torpedo bomber which ruled naval aviation warfare for a time—especially in concert with the dive bomber. Little has been written to explain the subject. Even less about the contribution of countries which applied some of their best designers to produce aircraft capable of delivering a one punch knock out. That is until Jean-Denis G.G. Lepage applied his knowledge and artistic talent in Torpedo Bombers 1900-1950: an illustrated history.  

Lepage is as handy with his pen in writing as well as drawing. All manner of countries and their aircraft are captured in this well organized and friendly book to read. It would be hard pressed for the reader to find a torpedo bomber aircraft not mentioned or illustrated—even a few pressed into torpedo bomber service as needs dictated. Torpedo Bombers is the book for the subject, bar none.

The author avoids reciting aircraft types with their vital statistics. He easily guides the reader to clear understandings of both the torpedo and the torpedo bomber, their evolving tactics and the incredible bravery of their flight crews as they flew straight, predictable courses at steady, slow, airspeeds for minutes on their runs-ins. Lepage’s writing especially impresses as readers are transported to a torpedo bomber on its attack run.

Nowhere to hide. No way to dodge. Plenty of time to get shot at by primary and secondary armaments as well as the dedicated antiaircraft cannon and machine guns. Amazing that crews could be found to man these machines.

Nearly every page has a drawing or sketch or two—or more—of his drawings. Lepage brings life to these aircraft as most drawings are done in shaded relief and of varying perspectives. Innovative designs. Puzzling designs. Failed designs. All seem to be contained concisely and accurately in this soon to be salient book on the age of the torpedo bomber. 

His brief essays on torpedo bomber-borne weapons are interesting to read as well as accurate. Additional essays on tactics and specific aircraft carriers bring historical spice and the context of the times.

After the end of World War Two aircraft engines became so powerful that aircraft did not have to segregate into dive bomber or torpedo bomber as either mission could be performed by the aircraft of the day. By the, torpedo attacks against combatant ships had fallen out of the mainstream and replaced by missile launches. Though torpedoes still were paramount for certain land targets (e.g., dams) as well as against submarines—so attack aircraft, helicopters as well as flying boats and amphibians all became torpedo bombers. Lepage smoothly addresses this mission evolution as well as the more remarkable aircraft types of the waning torpedo bomber days. His closing drawings are also wonderfully accomplished artwork:

  • The UK’s Saunders-Roe SR.A/1 (daring aircraft design of a turbojet powered flying boat fighter/bomber)
  • Japan’s Shin Meiwa PS-1 (essentially a Grumman HU-16 Albatross design on steroids with STOL performance)
  • The USA’s Martin P6M Seamaster
  • The USSR’s Beriev Be-12
  • The Republic of China’s AVIC TA-600

Lepage’s bibliography as well as comprehensive index enhance and orient this encompassing reference on the aircraft type which was paramount during the 1930’s through the mid 1940s. The brief but meteoric phase of naval aviation that was held by the torpedo bomber and its crews. 

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