Living and Dying with the Corsair

Tim Hillier-Graves

How the determination of young pilots transformed the Corsair from an aircraft considered too dangerous to fly from carriers into a successful carrier fighter.
Date Published :
August 2020
Publisher :
Illustration :
50 photographs
Format Available    QuantityPrice
Binding. : Hardback
ISBN : 9781612009124
Pages : 214
Dimensions : 9 X 6 inches
Stock Status : In stock
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Covers the development of the Corsair for the US Navy, why it was condemned for carrier use, and how British pilots used it.

“Despite everything, I felt very lucky to have flown Corsairs. They were the best, you know, even though it took me sometime to realize this when so many friends died flying them.” (Colin Facer, Corsair pilot, HMS Illustrious)

The Vought-Sikorsky Corsair was one of the most potent fighters of the Second World War. It was also one of the most flawed. Conceived by Rex Beisel, Vought’s Chief Designer in 1938, the US Navy condemned it as being too dangerous for carrier operations and refused to certify it safe for use at sea. With the British Aero Industry unable to build fighters with sufficient range and potency for carrier use, the Admiralty sought alternatives. With the Roosevelt's Lend Lease program in place, they could acquire weapons from American factories. In practice, this meant standing in line behind the US Navy, Marines, and Army for service, but it still opened up new opportunities to be exploited. So, with newly built Corsairs being stockpiled and the promise of an improved version on the way, the Royal Navy saw a opening worthy of development and exploited it.

By the end of the war, the Fleet Air Arm had acquired more than 2,000 Corsairs to equip its squadrons. But the risks identified by the USN were largely ignored by the Royal Navy and far too many men and aircraft were lost in accidents as a result. Yet in the hands of experienced carrier pilots, its virtues were only too apparent and, in due course, they achieved great things. Eventually, the US Navy noted this “success” and certified the Corsair for use on their carriers too, but the aircraft never entirely lost its reputation as a “widow maker.”

This book describes the Corsair’s development and tells the sad but inspiring story of the young men who struggled and suffered to make the Corsair a going concern in the most vicious unforgiving war one can imagine. To do this, the author met and corresponded with almost a hundred veterans from America, Britain, New Zealand and Canada. Their recollections made this book possible and through their vivid memories we can experience what it felt like to be barely of age, a civilian called to arms, and a fighter pilot.

About The Author

Tim Hillier-Graves was born in North London in 1951. From an early age he was fascinated by steam locomotives. In 1972, Tim joined the Navy Department of the MOD and saw wide service in many locations. He retired in 2011, having specialized in Human Resource Management, then the management of the MOD's huge housing stock as one of the department`s Assistant Directors for Housing. On the death of his uncle in 1984, he became the custodian of a substantial railway collection and in retirement has spent considerable time reviewing and cataloging this material.

He has published a number of books on locomotives and aviation.


Chapter 1. Rex Buren Beisel
Chapter 2. A Corsair Takes Shape
Chapter 3. Boom or Bust
Chapter 4. "What Did You Expect When You Volunteered?"
Chapter 5. Taming Two Beasts
Chapter 6. New Horizons, New Enemy
Chapter 7. And Now It Gets Serious
Chapter 8. Enduring
Chapter 9. To The End Of Time
Reference Source


"History, engineering feats, intimate accounts of combat action, and losing squadron mates in the American-made Corsair are vividly described...This book should resonate with aviation, World War II, and history buffs in general."

- Air & Space Power Journal

"Hillier-Graves has deftly integrated the pilots’ memoirs into the bigger picture. Nearly every British Corsair lost seems to be documented in the narrative. Besides including these details, the book outlines the significant operations conducted by the British Pacific Fleet, with credit given to other aircraft types when appropriate."

- Air Power History

"…an account of its [The Corsair's] record in combat, spiced with many first-hand accounts, American and British."

- Aeroplane

"Well written, there is a nice balance between the type's problem plagued development and the roller coaster of personal experiences which saw the Corsair come of age."

- Classic Wings

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