Achtung! Swordfish! by Stanley Brand

Achtung Swordfish coverUpdated 7 December 2014 | Polk City, Florida. Stanley brand’s Achtung! Swordfish! Merchant Aircraft Carriers represents a most valuable contribution to the largely untold and rarely popularized history of the Royal battle against marauding Kriegsmarine (Nazi Germany’s navy) U-boats and associated hunting ‘Wolfpacks’ during World War II and the venerable Fairey and Blackburn ‘Swordfish’ cloth-covered biplane torpedo bombers.

The personal story records Brand’s journey from teenager to commissioned Royal Navy pilot and subsequent action in Atlantic waters from Merchant Aircraft Carriers, which were oil tankers and bulk grain ships modified to accommodate a flight deck and a very small complement of Swordfish aircraft carried for anti-submarine and reconnaissance missions.

Swordfish with worn finish. Photo: Fleet Air Arm

Swordfish with worn finish.
Photo: Fleet Air Arm

Author Brand comments about the merits of his mount. A Swordfish (‘Stringbag’) was versatile tool, for, Stanley explains,  “like granny’s string shopping bag, it could always be relied upon to carry things over and above the designed specifications.” The Stringbag, Brand concludes, “was a very sound aircraft for tasks where it would not meet large numbers of fast fighters. . .” In short, the aeroplanes were nearly ideally suited for the job they were tasked with undertaking.

Naval Ensign of the United Kingdom.

Naval Ensign of the United Kingdom.

What British and Commonwealth naval personnel endured, during wartime training in within the United Kingdom and later as a result of the often foul weather and treacherous ocean conditions and a determined enemy, is simply incredible. Incredibly, Brand’s Telegraphist Air Gunner (Johnny Hopkins) was ‘on ops’ at age sixteen and even after thirteen months in as a member of the aircrew had still not attained eighteen years of age!

Contrary to conditions aboard modern warships, the Merchant Navy Aircraft Carrier (‘Macship’) warriors daily had to cope with a pitching and heaving deck, freezing temperatures, no hangar or a small hangar, and oftentimes abysmal flying conditions. The men did so without complaint, knowing the desperate need for their sacrifices. The continual deprivations these sailors suffered alone would be unacceptable to contemporary crewman.

World War II Merchant Marine poster.

World War II Merchant Marine poster.

Stanley Brand’s Achtung! Swordfish! provides a stirring and fitting record of the era and struggles faced by fighting men. His account is a unique resource and is highly recommended to readers.


This reviewer (John Stemple) salutes the WWII Royal Navy aircrew, fitters & riggers of the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm, and Royal Artillery gunners, Merchant Navy seamen and Royal Air Force (RAF) personnel who valiantly served despite the multifaceted and seemingly ever-present dangers and hardships encountered on Atlantic and North Atlantic waters. (Note: The RAF turned its Swordfish over to the Royal Navy in 1939, and some of the RAF’s men therefore subsequently served at sea; in fact, Stanley Brand records the presence of a Flight Sergeant aboard Macship Motor Vessel (MV) Alexia.)

A somewhat related article may be viewed by clicking this title link: A (Fairey) Swordfish tale on the anniversary of the Pearl Harbour attack

Sources and Suggested Readings & Viewings

Brand, Stanley, Achtung! Swordfish! Merchant Aircraft Carriers, Horsforth, Leeds: Propagator Press, 2005.

Classic Aircraft ‘Bombers’ – Fairey Swordfish (Note: Video features Stanley Brand.)

Fairey Swordfish (Video)

Fairey Swordfish Mk II (Video)

Fairey Swordfish — Wikipedia

Merchant Aircraft Carriers — Wikipedia


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