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The Secret Horsepower Race - book by Calum Douglas

Calum Douglas

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Errata added to my website, I have only bothered including significant stuff, so things like commas having an unwanted space before them are not "logged" in this list.

 

Dagger

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According to the errata list on your website you made following change for next printing:

page 25, “90% Iso-Octane” should be “90% Heptane”

I suggest you change 90 % iso-octane into 10 % iso-octane (as I mentioned before), not into 90 % heptane, otherwise the whole sentence makes no sense as it would contain the word heptane twice. Reread the whole sentence.

Moreover the octane scale is based on the iso-octane concentration in heptane, not on the (100 minus iso-octane concentration) heptane concentration.

What is the latest deadline for suggestions for the 3rd printing?
 

Calum Douglas

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The errata is just showing roughly whats changed (I`ve now added the full sentence itself to the errata), the actual passage in the 3rd printing will read:

1611483133307.png

The deadline for typo`s correction is tomorrow afternoon (i.e. Monday 25th Jan).
 
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Dagger

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That's a much earlier deadline than I expected from your Jan 14 message.
I have not had time to read the last two chapters yet, but I will (try to) send you my remaining comments for chapters 1 thru 8 via a message to your mailbox on this forum. Nothing serious, mainly missing or superfluous words and letters.

One question I post here, as there may be more readers who are puzzled by it:
Page 373. middle right, inside quote: ".... charge was cooled through 40 oC ...." what exactly does that mean?
 

Calum Douglas

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That's a much earlier deadline than I expected from your Jan 14 message.
I have not had time to read the last two chapters yet, but I will (try to) send you my remaining comments for chapters 1 thru 8 via a message to your mailbox on this forum. Nothing serious, mainly missing or superfluous words and letters.

One question I post here, as there may be more readers who are puzzled by it:
Page 373. middle right, inside quote: ".... charge was cooled through 40 oC ...." what exactly does that mean?

Yes, I`m as surprised as you are that we`ve had to go for another printing this early. The quote on page 373 just means to say that the charge temperature was cooled by 40 degrees C, in the original report its phrased more obtusely, as in the "charge temperature has by dropped from A to B, which constitutes passing through 40 degrees of lowering." (paraphrasing). Anyway, there you have it. I don't really want to get into "tweaking" translations which are not actually "wrong", as thats a slippery slope to re-writing half the book as so much of it is quotes, whilst that could be worded better, I don't think its that open to alternative interpretation. Please remember, even changing one full-stop means we have the pay the page designer to do a "new page", and each change introduces the possibility of further errors - so my editor and I have to look over each new page by-eye, so there is a "balance" to the rework we do in terms of cost/benefit.
 
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Dagger

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I just sent you the message.

Obviously it is up to you which typos you find important enough to include in the next printing.
 

Calum Douglas

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I just sent you the message.

Obviously it is up to you which typos you find important enough to include in the next printing.

Just a quick thanks in particular to Dagger, we delayed the 3rd print run very slightly to sort out some new graphics bits, so I`ve implemented
all the fixes Dagger recorded, and a lot of his suggestions as well. In about a month this 3rd printing will be done.
 

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pathology_doc

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The only thing I ever found wrong with the cover art (and it's strictly a matter of personal taste) is that it depicts a Typhoon, an Fw 190 and a Mustang. Jeffrey Quill records a drag race that was arranged between a Typhoon, the captured Fw190 and the prototype Spitfire IV/XII, DP845, and I half expected the cover art to be a depiction of that until I looked more closely!

Still, what's actually depicted is the three-way tussle between the Sabre, the Merlin and the 190's BMW radial, which is most of what the book is about. And it's very well executed.
 

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In fact I originally wanted it a high-altitude battle, as really the superchargers are immensely important, however, the artist produced this wonderful image, which (by virtue of the proximity to the ground) gave a nice effect of speed with the motion blur, which didnt really come across in the clouds. So my mind was changed by the effect this had.

The cover was basically then conceptually decided upon, and Dan and I talked, we decided three aircraft was a good number (2 being too few for a cross-section of types, and 4 too many as the pics end up too small of each plane). I located a combat report of an Fw 190 D9 and a Tempest at tree-top height, so that seemed to be a reasonable "actual" event to cover, but that left us needing one more plane, preferably American. So the P-51 was then added. It was never anything to do with Mr Quill, or any other author.

Hope that helps.
 

Cannonfodder43

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I do not remember where I first heard of Calum Douglas and his new upcoming book. Given how much time I spend on this forum since I stumbled upon it and around historians on YouTube and Twitter, I am sure I came across them at roughly the same time. Given the wealth of freely shared information I was gleaning from them already the book seemed even more and more tantalizing. Surely worthy of my money. So after some consideration, I preordered The Secret Horsepower Race.

Having completed the book a week or so ago I can say the praise this book has received is 100% deserved.

As a long time history nerd and airplane enthusiast I am very familiar with the stats comparisons between airplanes. The old game of "Top Trumps". And while one can understand some of the technical details of the aircraft and their engines at a surface level and contextualize their strategic and tactical importance. Questions still remained.
  • Why did the Germans never pursue the Two Stage Supercharger until it was too late?
  • Why did the BF-109 have better high alt performance than the FW-190A series?
  • For all of their praise, why did the Hawker Tempest and Fury seem so mediocre past 20,000 feet?
  • Why did the Allison V1710 earn such a bad rep despite seeming so similar to the Merlin? What did Rolls Royce do that Allison did not?
  • What was the Sleeve Valve and why did the British seem to be the only nation obsessed with it?
And many, many other questions. And having experienced both the positive and negative qualities of the engines in games like War Thunder, I was eager for answers. Answers to my at times angry complaining about stupid idiots who failed to invest in improving their engines and superchargers when the positive advantages are obvious, when the enemy is constantly improving. To fall behind is catastrophic.

Utilizing years of archival research and personal experience from his technical background the veil of confusion regarding engine development has been lifted. And it's clear that all the nations made great strides, pushing piston engine technology to their limits in the race for more horsepower.

But it's said we learn more from failure than we do from success. And while all nations made great strides and missteps, none had more of both then Germany.

Germany's aero-engine developments and difficulties are of particular focus. For so much of their developments remained a mystery to most, myself included.

Despite of an early aggressive government push to develop the the German aero engine sector before the war, material shortages and poor industrial oversight and mismanagement would cost them dearly in the long run.

Despite having within their grasp, some of the greatest technologies in the form of the Fottinger coupling, the French Swirl throttle and even the Two Stage Supercharger, effort would be wasted on side projects. Knowledge would not be shared between firms even when it would be in the best interest of the nation. And the RLM's inability to streamline and prioritize development of the most important war-winning engines would cost them dearly.

Yet even if the Germans had the streamlined organization of the British MAP to solve said problems, with shortages of nickel, cobalt, high quality fuels and other strategic materials, the Germans would be hard pressed to compete with the allies. The resulting engine difficulties from 1941 to early 1943 would make themselves painfully apparent to German pilots, forced to take on ever improving allied aircraft while their much hyped improved models were often de-rated just to operate safely. And when the much improved engines finally began to appear, it was too late.

It's a miracle the Germans were as effective for as long as they were.

In a Total War, the whole of industry and government must be efficiently organized to focus on what is important to the war effort; in this respect, the Germans failed totally and it showed.

As a newly certified A&P mechanic, I was glad I could follow along with some of the more technical descriptions. Even then Douglas does a good job explaining the importance of the little but important technical details. Even for the transcripts I skimmed, Douglas summarized them too.

This not an easy book for layman, but not overly complicated either.

A superlative book on a subject long neglected. Answering questions I long held. For any aviation history nerd, this book is a must read. It deserves a place on ones book shelf and will remain the authoritative work on the subject of aero-engine developments on the Western Front in WWII.
 
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Calum Douglas

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I do not remember where I first heard of Calum Douglas and his new upcoming book. Given how much time I spend on this forum since I stumbled upon it and around historians on YouTube and Twitter, I am sure I came across them at roughly the same time. Given the wealth of freely shared information I was gleaning from them already the book seemed even more and more tantalizing. Surely worthy of my money. So after some consideration, I preordered The Secret Horsepower Race.

Having completed the book a week or so ago I can say the praise this book has received is 100% deserved.

As a long time history nerd and airplane enthusiast I am very familiar with the stats comparisons between airplanes. The old game of "Top Trumps". And while one can understand some of the technical details of the aircraft and their engines at a surface level and contextualize their strategic and tactical importance. Questions still remained.
  • Why did the Germans never pursue the Two Stage Supercharger until it was too late?
  • Why did the BF-109 have better high alt performance than the FW-190A series?
  • For all of their praise, why did the Hawker Tempest and Fury seem so mediocre past 20,000 feet?
  • Why did the Allison V1710 earn such a bad rep despite seeming so similar to the Merlin? What did Rolls Royce do that Allison did not?
  • What was the Sleeve Valve and why did the British seem to be the only nation obsessed with it?
And many, many other questions. And having experienced both the positive and negative qualities of the engines in games like War Thunder, I was eager for answers. Answers to my at times angry complaining about stupid idiots who failed to invest in improving their engines and superchargers when the positive advantages are obvious, when the enemy is constantly improving. To fall behind is catastrophic.

Utilizing years of archival research and personal experience from his technical background the veil of confusion regarding engine development has been lifted. And it's clear that all the nations made great strides, pushing piston engine technology to their limits in the race for more horsepower.

But it's said we learn more from failure than we do from success. And while all nations made great strides and missteps, none had more of both then Germany.

Germany's aero-engine developments and difficulties are of particular focus. For so much of their developments remained a mystery to most, myself included.

Despite of an early aggressive government push to develop the the German aero engine sector before the war, material shortages and poor industrial oversight and mismanagement would cost them dearly in the long run.

Despite having within their grasp, some of the greatest technologies in the form of the Fottinger coupling, the French Swirl throttle and even the Two Stage Supercharger, effort would be wasted on side projects. Knowledge would not be shared between firms even when it would be in the best interest of the nation. And the RLM's inability to streamline and prioritize development of the most important war-winning engines would cost them dearly.

Yet even if the Germans had the streamlined organization of the British MAP to solve said problems, with shortages of nickel, cobalt, high quality fuels and other strategic materials, the Germans would be hard pressed to compete with the allies. The resulting engine difficulties from 1941 to early 1943 would make themselves painfully apparent to German pilots, forced to take on ever improving allied aircraft while their much hyped improved models were often de-rated just to operate safely. And when the much improved engines finally began to appear, it was too late.

It's a miracle the Germans were as effective for as long as they were.

In a Total War, the whole of industry and government must be efficiently organized to focus on what is important to the war effort; in this respect, the Germans failed totally and it showed.

As a newly certified A&P mechanic, I was glad I could follow along with some of the more technical descriptions. Even then Douglas does a good job explaining the importance of the little but important technical details. Even for the transcripts I skimmed, Douglas summarized them too.

This not an easy book for layman, but not overly complicated either.

A superlative book on a subject long neglected. Answering questions I long held. For any aviation history nerd, this book is a must read. It deserves a place on ones book shelf and will remain the authoritative work on the subject of aero-engine developments on the Western Front in WWII.

Thanks for your kind words, however, I DONT want it to forever "remain" the "authoritative work". Part of the reason I went to so much trouble to carefully reference everything, and even put in page numbers, markings, page dates, letter reference numbers and so on, is that I WANT historians to now go and READ all these files, I want lots of people to go and study them and over time, expand upon the start I`ve made. It is only a start, there is so much more to include and expand upon. Experimental types, cancelled projects, Russian and Japanese stuff, its almost infinite.

I prefer to think of this book as a firm "stake" in the sand, one big leap further out into the mire than we had before !

(Having said that, somewhat idealistic goal, my editor Dan would probably tell me that I`m being far too optimistic and that nobody will bother going to the archives and it will all be still down to me to do a 2nd edition one day myself to progress it. haha)
 

pathology_doc

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Have just discovered all the Secret Horsepower Race vids on YouTube. Worth a look if you haven't yet got the book, but even if you have, it's nice to see and hear the author! Calum's demolition of the view of Britain as a nation that muddled through the air war is very well done. As with the book, it's an eye-opener to see just how badly Germany was struggling the whole time - the miracle is that it held out as long as it did.
 

Calum Douglas

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Just finished signing 800 books for you lot, I`m knackered.

Think we`ve got 200 of the Merlin cover edition left:

... and about 65 of the Daimler-Benz one left.

Text inside is all the same, but they`re signed, have special covers and also the inside faces have photos
from the RAE in 1945 with the German aircraft exhibition.

IMG_20210309_144133914.jpg
 

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I have now finished reading my copy and thought I would add a review.
This is probably one of the most talked about and analysed aviation books of the year! Which is I think is a sign of its quality as well a wider desire to get our teeth into something technical and beyond the usual type monographs.

I live only a few miles from the former ICI Heysham site, so there was an element of local interest in it for me too. Given its importance as a 100-octane production site it was only bombed once, and not intentionally. On March 13th 1941 a Luftwaffe bomber following an aborted mission dumped its bombs near the refinery but they ended up in fields and sadly killing the occupants of a semi-detached house in a nearby housing estate. The book doesn't cover German targeting intelligence, but it does seem that the Germans were largely unaware of Britain's high octane programme or simply lacked the will to attack these sites. It must rank as one of their largest mistakes.

I must agree with everyone else who has read the book that this a superb work of research with a lot of information packed in and it is never too technical to be unpenetrable to a general reader who is reasonably well versed in aviation or mechanical subjects. The narrative is neatly balanced and is objective throughout.
It was interesting to get into the fuel types and the impacts that alone had on aerial combat, a rather overlooked aspect in most histories. It was fascinating to get an insight into the Germans material problems from even early on during the war. There seems to be no evidence of the conquests of 1940-42 having materially improved the raw material situation at all. Having seen some original German engines and aircraft in museums I have often thought "that looks rough and ready" but I never realised the extent of the poor materials being used and of course in the latter stages of the war, slave labour can hardly have helped quality control either.

Equally interesting was the emphasis on the people and the networks they operated within and personal tensions. The confused organisation of Nazi Germany is wonderfully brought to life here and I think this book certainly smashes the 'Wonderwaffe' and 'Napkinwaffe' and their ilk for what they really were; products of engineers who seemed to have no 'off' switch when it came to tinkering and doodling even while things crumbled around them, happily duplicating someone else's efforts in the pursuit of their own dreams with nobody in the centre controlling things. I was certainly unaware of the extent of technical manpower shortages in the USA.

I feel that the temptation to only use primary sources has perhaps led to some omissions. Another reviewer here pointed out Miss Shilling gets a few name-drops in the conclusion passages but there is no attempt to explain her orifice and what it achieved. This is fine if you are reasonably well read in the area, but a more general reader might be left puzzled.
Also, even primary sources are not unbiased or erroneous and they never tell the full tale. Some secondary sources are always useful to balance a narrative. I cannot fault the footnotes, one of the most comprehensive set I've seen in an aviation book and future historians should be able to pick up your tracks fairly easily.

The photographs were excellently chosen, the technical diagrams on the whole were very well reproduced with a few a little too small to read the details. Graphs were good, some were too small to make out the labels, and my technical German is non-existent, but its possible to get the gist of the information from them and it was good to see the originals alongside your own graphs.

Much has been written about the quotes and the font used. I got used to it pretty quickly and found them readable. I still think it was a little 'gimmicky' by the publisher but given the size of the quoted portions of the text some kind of different font was necessary and the typewriter font might have been a better choice than plain italics for example.
From a personal perspective I think there might be a tendency to over-quote. Naturally with such riches of archival material there is a desire by any author to share what you have discovered and to let the sources speak for themselves. This is good, but at times the quotes seem to duplicate information already given and at times seemed irrelevant. For example in the 1940 Chapter there is discussion on how Britain had too many engine programmes and suddenly we get a quote about Al Deere being shot down. I understand a desire to keep track of combat developments alongside the technical progression but it just felt like an awkward insertion. A brief recap of the Battle of Britain fighting conditions in terms of altitudes and capabilities might have sufficed. I do feel though that this became less noticeable in later chapters.

I liked the chronological narrative approach. It risked some repetition of points and information, but it was probably the best way to structure the book. Separate themes on fuel and cooling etc. might have got bogged down and lost the inter-connections with other technical problems being faced at the same time. With a chronology it is easier to keep track of the different paces of each nations' developments and how the war evolved and imposed different strains and stresses and how relationships between the personalities altered over time.
The only weakness of relying on a chronology was that some engines and developments seemed to suddenly appear without explanation and some projects seem to be mentioned once and then never re-appeared at all. The summary chapter at the end was very useful in tying everything together though and was very welcome.

It was a shame that there wasn't more scope for greater coverage of France's efforts in the 1930s with the Gnome-Rhone series and some of the later Hispano-Suiza developments but I guess the source material sadly wasn't available. The same could be said for Italy's other engine programmes, they seemed to have a wide range of radial engines and Isotta-Fraschini inlines and had very mixed success. It would have been interesting to know more on how Italy's fuel situation impacted on aircraft performance too.

One question that intrigued me and which the book doesn't offer an explanation for is how Italy managed to build very good copies of the DB605? Did they have access to better materials for valves etc. than the German suppliers? Did their fuel allow better running and higher boost?

One omission seems to be the Bristol Hercules. I think the book comes to a fair conclusion on Bristol (and Napier's) use of resources (and Fedden's obsession) in trying to make the sleeve-valve work for little practical gain, but the book tends to gloss over the Hercules which did work and perhaps explaining why the Centaurus took longer to get right than the Hercules. I know that the Hercules was mainly used on bombers but its use on the Beaufighter could surely have allowed it to sneak further into the book?
The Vulture also seems elusive without ever getting to the bottom of its troubles. Rolls-Royce seems to have argued it was not a serious failure as the RAF made out and that cancelling it was RR's self-sacrifice to the Merlin altar for the national good. As his hinted in the text, this seems a whitewash exercise and perhaps one instance where the primary sources could lead the unwary reader astray.
I was hoping for some background on the Exe, but alas none to be found. It would have been interesting to see Rolls-Royce's thoughts on why they felt an air-cooled inline was the way to go.

Overall, despite any niggles I've outlined here from my own personal views, this is a must read book and its certainly no surprise that its been through three print runs already. If there was an Aviation Book of the Year award, I think it would win it for 2020 hands down.
 

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"wonderwaffe" "napkinwaffe" Oh the thrill of putting down the Jerries... I strongly suspect that if the situation was turned around and the British faced the same situation as existed in Germany then we would hear nothing but "the heroic efforts" of all involved. Perspective is important.
 

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In 1940 the situation was pretty dire for the British. They kept their heads and applied their efforts where it was most effective (e.g. develop the Merlin) instead of spending countless engineering hours on wunderwaffen. In many aspects of the war, the Germans squandered what advantage they had by chasing dead ends.
So let's not reduce the rather glaring difference between the Germans and pretty much all of the Allies to just perspective.
 

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You have provided no new information. None. Your bias is based on a lack of information. And I was not referring to all of the Allies, just the British. The Germans had fuel injection early on, the British did not.
 

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I was not putting down the Germans.
I was referring to the absurd post-war fascination with Luft 46 jets with 1950s aerodynamics, missile technologies, Type XXI U-boats, Maus tanks, legions of troops with Sturmgewhers - all super war turning weapons that could have beat the Allies so the revisionist story goes.
All these fantasies have no root in reality when you look at the dire condition of the German war economy and the supply situation. They were at best a handful of barely completed prototypes, there was a serious shortage of metals and alloys, oils, plastics, trained manpower etc. that prevented maximum performance and would have caused serious production problems.

There was nothing wrong with German engineering ability. Its wrong to suggest either side was better than the other in engineering prowess. In some areas one side held an advantage but were weaker in others. Production and raw materials is a different matter entirely.
Look at the book, sparrmetals already in use before war even began to save stocks of key materals, serious fuel quality problems and very small stocks of high-octane fuel throughout the war. By 1945 even methanol for boosting was out of stock.
From the sources in the book it seems that even despite the Battle of the Atlantic and shipping losses that British engine manufacturers never lacked the alloys they needed or worried about it. Their high octane plants were never bombed and fuel stocks never ran dangerously low despite operating a far more fuel-thirsty strategic bombing fleet.

The Luftwaffe did great feats with what it had, probably performing better than it should have during the early part of the war. That should not be forgotten, but in a war of attrition the balance firmly favoured the Allies.

The designer can design the perfect mechanical object but if its built from sub-standard materials and run by poor qaulity fuel and operated by a minimally-trained pilot/driver/crew then the designer's performance dreams will never be realised.
 

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I have now finished reading my copy and thought I would add a review.
This is probably one of the most talked about and analysed aviation books of the year! Which is I think is a sign of its quality as well a wider desire to get our teeth into something technical and beyond the usual type monographs.

I live only a few miles from the former ICI Heysham site, so there was an element of local interest in it for me too. Given its importance as a 100-octane production site it was only bombed once, and not intentionally. On March 13th 1941 a Luftwaffe bomber following an aborted mission dumped its bombs near the refinery but they ended up in fields and sadly killing the occupants of a semi-detached house in a nearby housing estate. The book doesn't cover German targeting intelligence, but it does seem that the Germans were largely unaware of Britain's high octane programme or simply lacked the will to attack these sites. It must rank as one of their largest mistakes.

I must agree with everyone else who has read the book that this a superb work of research with a lot of information packed in and it is never too technical to be unpenetrable to a general reader who is reasonably well versed in aviation or mechanical subjects. The narrative is neatly balanced and is objective throughout.
It was interesting to get into the fuel types and the impacts that alone had on aerial combat, a rather overlooked aspect in most histories. It was fascinating to get an insight into the Germans material problems from even early on during the war. There seems to be no evidence of the conquests of 1940-42 having materially improved the raw material situation at all. Having seen some original German engines and aircraft in museums I have often thought "that looks rough and ready" but I never realised the extent of the poor materials being used and of course in the latter stages of the war, slave labour can hardly have helped quality control either.

Equally interesting was the emphasis on the people and the networks they operated within and personal tensions. The confused organisation of Nazi Germany is wonderfully brought to life here and I think this book certainly smashes the 'Wonderwaffe' and 'Napkinwaffe' and their ilk for what they really were; products of engineers who seemed to have no 'off' switch when it came to tinkering and doodling even while things crumbled around them, happily duplicating someone else's efforts in the pursuit of their own dreams with nobody in the centre controlling things. I was certainly unaware of the extent of technical manpower shortages in the USA.

I feel that the temptation to only use primary sources has perhaps led to some omissions. Another reviewer here pointed out Miss Shilling gets a few name-drops in the conclusion passages but there is no attempt to explain her orifice and what it achieved. This is fine if you are reasonably well read in the area, but a more general reader might be left puzzled.
Also, even primary sources are not unbiased or erroneous and they never tell the full tale. Some secondary sources are always useful to balance a narrative. I cannot fault the footnotes, one of the most comprehensive set I've seen in an aviation book and future historians should be able to pick up your tracks fairly easily.

The photographs were excellently chosen, the technical diagrams on the whole were very well reproduced with a few a little too small to read the details. Graphs were good, some were too small to make out the labels, and my technical German is non-existent, but its possible to get the gist of the information from them and it was good to see the originals alongside your own graphs.

Much has been written about the quotes and the font used. I got used to it pretty quickly and found them readable. I still think it was a little 'gimmicky' by the publisher but given the size of the quoted portions of the text some kind of different font was necessary and the typewriter font might have been a better choice than plain italics for example.
From a personal perspective I think there might be a tendency to over-quote. Naturally with such riches of archival material there is a desire by any author to share what you have discovered and to let the sources speak for themselves. This is good, but at times the quotes seem to duplicate information already given and at times seemed irrelevant. For example in the 1940 Chapter there is discussion on how Britain had too many engine programmes and suddenly we get a quote about Al Deere being shot down. I understand a desire to keep track of combat developments alongside the technical progression but it just felt like an awkward insertion. A brief recap of the Battle of Britain fighting conditions in terms of altitudes and capabilities might have sufficed. I do feel though that this became less noticeable in later chapters.

I liked the chronological narrative approach. It risked some repetition of points and information, but it was probably the best way to structure the book. Separate themes on fuel and cooling etc. might have got bogged down and lost the inter-connections with other technical problems being faced at the same time. With a chronology it is easier to keep track of the different paces of each nations' developments and how the war evolved and imposed different strains and stresses and how relationships between the personalities altered over time.
The only weakness of relying on a chronology was that some engines and developments seemed to suddenly appear without explanation and some projects seem to be mentioned once and then never re-appeared at all. The summary chapter at the end was very useful in tying everything together though and was very welcome.

It was a shame that there wasn't more scope for greater coverage of France's efforts in the 1930s with the Gnome-Rhone series and some of the later Hispano-Suiza developments but I guess the source material sadly wasn't available. The same could be said for Italy's other engine programmes, they seemed to have a wide range of radial engines and Isotta-Fraschini inlines and had very mixed success. It would have been interesting to know more on how Italy's fuel situation impacted on aircraft performance too.

One question that intrigued me and which the book doesn't offer an explanation for is how Italy managed to build very good copies of the DB605? Did they have access to better materials for valves etc. than the German suppliers? Did their fuel allow better running and higher boost?

One omission seems to be the Bristol Hercules. I think the book comes to a fair conclusion on Bristol (and Napier's) use of resources (and Fedden's obsession) in trying to make the sleeve-valve work for little practical gain, but the book tends to gloss over the Hercules which did work and perhaps explaining why the Centaurus took longer to get right than the Hercules. I know that the Hercules was mainly used on bombers but its use on the Beaufighter could surely have allowed it to sneak further into the book?
The Vulture also seems elusive without ever getting to the bottom of its troubles. Rolls-Royce seems to have argued it was not a serious failure as the RAF made out and that cancelling it was RR's self-sacrifice to the Merlin altar for the national good. As his hinted in the text, this seems a whitewash exercise and perhaps one instance where the primary sources could lead the unwary reader astray.
I was hoping for some background on the Exe, but alas none to be found. It would have been interesting to see Rolls-Royce's thoughts on why they felt an air-cooled inline was the way to go.

Overall, despite any niggles I've outlined here from my own personal views, this is a must read book and its certainly no surprise that its been through three print runs already. If there was an Aviation Book of the Year award, I think it would win it for 2020 hands down.

Thanks for the feedback and excellent review !

I`ll just say that if something really obvious (like `the orifice`) isn't described in depth, its because I couldn't find archive documents sufficient to do so. Sadly in this particular subject, without wishing to be rude to previous efforts, most of the relevant books are such that I just do not trust them to use as secondary sources, and the cornerstone of the whole book (is, I feel) its status as brand-new irrefutably accurate primary-source research material - which I felt would have its credibility ruined with even one serious mistake from a badly done bit of research by someone else. I therefore accepted that the flow of the narrative would suffer, and that gaps would emerge. I judged that this was (on balance) an acceptable compromise to ensure the integrity of the materials. As mentioned a few pages back, on this thread, I am in touch with Dr Nina Baker who is actively trying to generate a working relationship with Beatrice Shilling`s descendants, which, if successful, may enable me in the future to release a new edition with genuine materials on it. You`ve hit the nail on the head with the font, the quotes are so huge that you do need some method of distinguishing it from main body text, and I felt that italics was even worse for readability. I did actually want to use SPECIAL ELITE, which is considerably bore "bold" in style than the final font used for quotes, but I was informed by the typesetters just before printing that (*reasons*) they wouldn't guarantee the print fidelity if we used it (you`ll notice that the book in general has extremely high resolution, so the slightest bit of blockiness in the font would come straight out), so I had to change it last minuite. For why more stuff on RR wasnt dug, up, see previous comments about the opening hours and copying procedures allowed in their archive for explanation there. The Hercules as you say could just about have been snuck in using the Beufighter as justification, but as the book had reached gargantuan proportions, I had to basically decide if I could chuck out any material to make room for another 50 pages and six months more research to do the Hercules, and decided I couldn't. There IS (thank God) a very good amount of archive materials left on the Hercules (about 20x more than survives for the Centaurus) so it would in principle be possible to write about in future.

I would (all things being equal) agree with you that many of the quotes are (by normal standards) excessively long. The main reason I put them in, complete and in such quantity, especially the German stenographic records, was that some of the conclusions were potentially contentious and I thought that I might be accused of cherry picking if I just paraphrased it all and said "Germans engines all broke down and were unreliable!". So I went to the opposite extreme and thought, "how can I prevent anyone being able to say that", and so decided to put it all in (in fact @newsdeskdan did have me trim out about 3 pages of stenographic records, so before editing it was even worse...hahaha). I`m actually glad I did have it all, as (as predicted) on youtube I`ve already had two upset Germans/German plane fans, throwing insults at me for daring to write about the BMW 801 and Daimler-Benz talking about how poor their early reliability was.

Rather a shame as if they bothered reading the book they`d see that my respect for the German engineers was extremely high and only grows with knowing more about the problems they had to cope with, its incredible that Germany "achieved" so much militarily in the air in my view.

1615452569456.png

Hope that helps, I have submitted the book for some prizes, however I think it immensely unlikely I`ll win any, as the winners for most of these things are always big-name TV personality types. However, if I`m really lucky maybe I`ll get shortlisted for one of them.
 
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newsdeskdan

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Sadly in this particular subject, without wishing to be rude to previous efforts, most of the relevant books are such that I just do not trust them to use as secondary sources, and the cornerstone of the whole book (is, I feel) its status as brand-new irrefutably accurate primary-source research material - which I felt would have its credibility ruined with even one serious mistake from a badly done bit of research by someone else

This has been my experience too. Recent progress in technology (PCs, email, high-resolution digital cameras with easily swappable big capacity memory cards, automated digital scanners etc.) has made it possible to cover more ground more quickly than past researchers/authors could have dreamed of. They undoubtedly did the best they could with telephones, letters, film cameras, photocopiers, pens and paper. Sadly, all too often you find that certain important questions are skated over even by the most famous, well-regarded and authoritative pre-2000 authors or those questions are answered with what seems to be little more than a guess (with the guess being confidently stated as fact). Footnotes and archival references are seldom given. In short, older books are often simply not sufficiently reliable to quote.
On the subject of lengthy quotes, while carrying out research I have sometimes encountered phrases in original period documents which sounded remarkably familiar. Going back to published books on the same subject, I have discovered that certain famous, well-regarded and authoritative authors have literally copied sections from those original period documents and put them in their books without quote marks - or indeed anything to indicate that the text in question is a quote at all.
In one instance, a famous author had written a particularly clever, cutting and incisive conclusion regarding a rather outlandish project. I was impressed. My estimation of the author's talents rose - this guy really knows what he's talking about, I thought. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that exact same section of text, word-for-word, in an official 'secret' report written decades before the author's book was published. The author had just lifted it and assumed no one would notice.
In Calum's book, all the quotes are clearly marked as such and come from named sources - there's no unattributed copying. Calum's words are his own words and you can rely on the quotes being accurate. Should anyone have any doubts, they can simply go and see the original for themselves using the references given in the back of the book.
 
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Pasoleati

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Perhaps Calum could write a separate monograph on the Hercules.
 

steelpillow

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I suspect that Calum may be faced with much continuing misunderstanding of this book.

One misunderstanding just noted is the idea that it is some kind of balanced historical overview of the whole of engine development in this period. It is not, it is an account of primary sources from specific archives and, like any scrupulous academic, Calum avoids plagiarism. In many situations, the research would have been published piecemeal over the years as a string of peer-reviewed journal articles and papers, for each archive. The definitive blockbuster account, comparing sources and analysing contradictions for motive and plausibility, would have been held back until the complete picture had emerged. Many folks will naturally assume this to be the background here. That it is not, will create much misperception of it.

Another is that someone is blindly German-bashing, it has to be admitted a tradition long practised by the British public but no longer politically correct. No doubt there are hardcore nationalists/fantasists elsewhere who are equally livid at any criticism of British, American or Italian developments they can scratch up, real or imagined - in fact brewing up false accusation against the author (or other commentators, see for example above) is far preferable to pointing out real ones, as trying to prove a negative on the Internet is the troll's favourite food.

My hope and trust is that Calum will continue his researches and continue to report on what he finds, regardless of the heat, flames and general absurdity which surrounds anything and everything of true value (and, if you study your ancient classics from Greece to India to China, is not actually an Internet phenomenon but always has done and always will).
 

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I think Calum has done a great job and has achieved the goals he has set out to achieve and I hope has inspired others to follow on in his footsteps.
I'd be equally fascinated to see how the USSR and Japan coped with material shortages in their engine designs (and what effects Russian fuel might have had on Western engines) and what influences made Japan stick with radial engines to the almost exclusion of indigenous inlines. I know the archival material is probably highly fragmented and we can but dream, but it would be a fascinating story.

Its sad that some people will make a fuss about bashing the Germans, but then that's to be expected these days, people love a drama. I think the book is pretty even-handed, its clear all the nations covered made some quite serious mistakes.
 

steelpillow

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Two of my favourite comedians are John Cleese and Henning Wehn.

John Cleese [as Basil Fawlty]: "I mentioned the Germans once, but I think I got away with it."

Henning Wehn [produces full-size plastic replica of the 1974 FIFA World Cup]: "Everybody's got one".

How can anyone dislike a nation which sires such wonderful gentlemen...


...or makes such wonderful aero engines?
 

starviking

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On the subject of lengthy quotes, while carrying out research I have sometimes encountered phrases in original period documents which sounded remarkably familiar. Going back to published books on the same subject, I have discovered that certain famous, well-regarded and authoritative authors have literally copied sections from those original period documents and put them in their books without quote marks - or indeed anything to indicate that the text in question is a quote at all.
In one instance, a famous author had written a particularly clever, cutting and incisive conclusion regarding a rather outlandish project. I was impressed. My estimation of the author's talents rose - this guy really knows what he's talking about, I thought. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that exact same section of text, word-for-word, in an official 'secret' report written decades before the author's book was published. The author had just lifted it and assumed no one would notice.
Very much an aside, but I suspect that before the ability to easily search texts by computer this was far more common, and perhaps the Puritanism (from the US?) which gives us such plagiarism rules as “don’t copy yourself” had not the chance to spread because of the lack of fertile ground (i.e. the internet & prominent cases).
 

newsdeskdan

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On the subject of lengthy quotes, while carrying out research I have sometimes encountered phrases in original period documents which sounded remarkably familiar. Going back to published books on the same subject, I have discovered that certain famous, well-regarded and authoritative authors have literally copied sections from those original period documents and put them in their books without quote marks - or indeed anything to indicate that the text in question is a quote at all.
In one instance, a famous author had written a particularly clever, cutting and incisive conclusion regarding a rather outlandish project. I was impressed. My estimation of the author's talents rose - this guy really knows what he's talking about, I thought. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that exact same section of text, word-for-word, in an official 'secret' report written decades before the author's book was published. The author had just lifted it and assumed no one would notice.
Very much an aside, but I suspect that before the ability to easily search texts by computer this was far more common, and perhaps the Puritanism (from the US?) which gives us such plagiarism rules as “don’t copy yourself” had not the chance to spread because of the lack of fertile ground (i.e. the internet & prominent cases).

I suspect that you're right. As even more of an aside, I'm a fan of The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco as well as having studied medieval religious history during my university days. I was interested in Eco's reference, during the disputation section of the book, to an 'English necromancer' named Branucerton. About 10 years ago I googled 'Branucerton' (I later found out, after corresponding with Professor Patrick Nold of SUNY about him, that his real name was Thomas of Braunceston) and discovered that Eco had actually lifted sections of the religious disputation in his incredibly famous and successful book, including the Branucerton reference, word for word from an account of a real-life contemporary debate (which, when I come to look for it now to get its correct title and date, no longer seems to be available). No wonder it sounded so complex and convincing - I always wondered how Eco managed it. Without google and its tireless book digitisers, I would never ever have noticed this. However, I doubt google will ever start digitising actual archival documents relating to aviation 'secret projects'. Someone 'borrowing' a few paragraphs from one of those might well think that the act would never be discovered.
I don't know about the plagiarism rule of 'don't copy yourself'. However, working for a publisher, I'm aware that Amazon has filters in place which prevent books being uploaded as digital editions if they contain more than a certain percentage of words from existing known sources. Precisely how this works and what thresholds have been put in place are unclear but it does exist (similarly, I don't know whether this 'pagiarism checker' would be tripped if the existing known sources were actually earlier books written by the same author).
Nevertheless, we had an author (again, this is quite a number of years ago) whose text we tried to upload as an ebook to Amazon and it was rejected on the grounds that it did not contain enough original material. We had been told that the text was 100% original material. But further investigation subsequently revealed that this was indeed not the case.
 
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Hood

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Sounds like Amazon are using software like Turnitin which we use to check all student's coursework.
It will match the text against its database of copies of other submitted papers, a copy of the publicly accessible internet, plus commercial/copyrighted pages from books/newspapers/journals. Turnitin checks the submitted document for unoriginal content by checking its similarity to these sources and then generates a Similarity Report and score. The similarity score is the percentage that matches the content in Turnitin's databases - this is the important caveat.
I presume Amazon would have a database (e.g. like Google books and other repositories) to match from.

There is a difference between academic malpractice (not quoting your sources properly) and academic misconduct (you went out to deliberately deceive and copy). The former gets you a metaphorical wrist slapping and a reduced mark, the latter gets you a zero and do it more than once and its possible it ends up with expulsion.
For authors of course they get no slapped wrists and if they copy something juicy they get kudos and sales. I remember well that infamous case of a well-known historian who was writing his own book reviews to further boost sales and his kudos. Even cases of inventing sources to bulk out footnotes is not unknown.

In the pre-digital age it probably seemed a safer bet for historians to copy directly, only a specialist in your area was ever likely to dig out the same materials. These days access is becoming easier, but also the emphasis has changed with citation scores etc. and there would be more temptation I think to fill the footnotes to prove how much sweat and tears you spent in the archives (or at least your RA did).
 

newsdeskdan

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For authors of course they get no slapped wrists and if they copy something juicy they get kudos and sales. I remember well that infamous case of a well-known historian who was writing his own book reviews to further boost sales and his kudos. Even cases of inventing sources to bulk out footnotes is not unknown.

In the pre-digital age it probably seemed a safer bet for historians to copy directly, only a specialist in your area was ever likely to dig out the same materials. These days access is becoming easier, but also the emphasis has changed with citation scores etc. and there would be more temptation I think to fill the footnotes to prove how much sweat and tears you spent in the archives (or at least your RA did).

With aviation books, I've never come across an obviously invented source. However, where footnotes/endnotes are given it's much more common for an original document to be cited BUT without saying where it is. Certain authors will give a document title, author and date but without any archival reference code. Attempting to verify their work, and thereby regard it as a 'safe' reference point, then becomes much more difficult.
I have also found instances of authors providing archival references which, when tracked down and viewed, don't actually say quite what the author says they say. In one instance, an author said a project would take 'a year' to complete, based on a cited source. The actual source said it would take 'years'. This seems like a minor point but it actually made a big difference. Changing 'years' (i.e. no end point in sight) to 'a year' (i.e. a quantifiable delay) seriously bolstered the author's argument. Had the quote been correctly given as 'years' the author's case would have been undermined somewhat. There are other instances where the same author cited a document but, I discovered, misquoted it completely. Again, presumably the author was so certain that nobody would ever check, they felt confident enough to give the actual archival reference for the original document that they misquoted.
Still more authors will fill their footnotes with references to unreliable secondary sources, which is the fatal error which Calum has worked so hard to avoid. You might pick up a book and see that every page has 4-5 footnote references on it (academic books are often like this). But when you look at the notes, they are referencing books published in 1970, which don't themselves include any archival references and which are known to contain fundamental inaccuracies (again, a lot of academic books seem to do this but no one bats an eyelid and the authors of said academic books are heaped with praise).
 

Mike Pryce

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This is becoming a historiagraphical thread (or 'an histori....'!) so may warrant splitting off.

There are long debates about what is a fact in history. Von Ranke versus Carr etc.

Archives have problems, the worst example I know of is someone faking documents and inserting them in files at Kew to prove a point.

I think if authors are clear on their approach the reader can decide what they want to get from a book. A great story, prejudices confirmed, a challenge? Often all the facts won't change minds anyway, but what sells is what gets published.

E.g. TSR2 was clearly a bit rubbish. The archives are clear. But who wants to read about that?

One fact seems clear to me though. Calum has written a great book.
 

newsdeskdan

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Archives have problems, the worst example I know of is someone faking documents and inserting them in files at Kew to prove a point.

I think if authors are clear on their approach the reader can decide what they want to get from a book. A great story, prejudices confirmed, a challenge? Often all the facts won't change minds anyway, but what sells is what gets published.

E.g. TSR2 was clearly a bit rubbish. The archives are clear. But who wants to read about that?

One fact seems clear to me though. Calum has written a great book.

The well-documented Kew forgery case appears to have been a one-off.

I think most authors simply write a history on the assumption that most readers will accept it no questions asked.

One of the areas where The Secret Horsepower Race excels is in not assuming this. It presents the evidence and shows where the evidence came from. And its conclusions are based on this evidence rather than some preconceived notion or prejudice of the author. Calum went where the evidence took him, and as he points out above, his book looks without favour at developments in Britain, Germany and America. Based on the evidence, each can be seen to have particular strengths and weaknesses. Britain was very slow on the uptake with fuel injection and with the realisation of what constituted the 'ha-ha' process. It also riskily put all of its eggs into the Merlin basket to the exclusion of other promising developments. Yet it also had strong communications between those in charge of ordering war materiel and the factories where it was being produced. And of course it had ready access to raw material supplies that the Germans could only dream of. Germany was even less effective at learning from enemy technology, had poor communication between central command and the factories, lacked raw materials and put its eggs into too many baskets where engine technology was concerned. Yet ongoing innovation and technological advancement allowed German aircraft to remain competitive right up to the end.
All this stuff isn't proven by just one or two documents (or even 29) from one or two archives. There's a sheer weight of evidence, often from reports and accounts that many would find tedious or mundane in isolation (unlike the Kew forgery case, where, as I understand it, each document was mind-blowing), which Calum has gathered from archives literally all over the world and upon which he's based his account. And the fact that those sources are clearly identified allows anyone with doubts to go and see them in person.
Unlike TSR2, the archives are not particularly clear on the issue of WW2 fighter engines. There's no 'Crisis in Procurement' report for this topic - the only way to study it is through years of hard grinding work in archives.
 
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