History Book Reviews

Birth Of The Black Panthers – William S. Smith

Following the outbreak of the Second World War, His Exalted Highness the Nizam of Hyderbad paid for a squadron of eighteen Spitfires. At £5,000 each, this represented the sum of £90,000 – a considerable amount in 1939. The squadron badge was the Nizam’s headdress but its aircraft were painted with the image of a large black cat leaping over an RAF roundel on the port side. The Black Panthers were born.

William S. Smith has written a detailed account of 152 (Hyderbad) Squadron, the Black Panthers, looking at its operations through the actions of the men that flew and maintained its machines, in particular Ray Johnson, the squadron’s Sergeant Armourer.

Amongst the personal accounts related in the book are those of Rhubarbs in April 1943. “Flight Sergeant Spire and myself were pranging [sic] two Jerry trucks when we were jumped by two ME 109s one trying to get on my tail. F/Sgt Spire seeing this turned on him while I manoeuvred out of the way, also keeping an eye on the other ME 109 above which came down getting behind Spire in case he turned into his sights so I, in turn, turned onto this Jerry giving a five second burst of machine-gun and cannon fire until I saw him go down in flames through a cloud. By this time Spire had seen the red hot tracers coming at him had done a half roll and when on the bottom saw my ME hit the ground and blow up. We came home right on the deck, I doing a victory roll and when on landing was so excited I fell out of the machine.”

This is typical of the many first-hand accounts which will add to our knowledge of this aspect of the war in the air. The book is completed with very many illustrations, some in colour. There are also copies of letters and flight logs.

Review courtesy of Britain At War Magazine.

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