Heaven High, Ocean Deep

Naval Fighter Wing at War

Tim Hillier-Graves

The first full history of the 5th Fighter Wing who fought many prolonged, intensive aviation battles with the Japanese in the Indian Ocean and then the Pacific, from April 1944 to August 1945.
Date Published :
April 2019
Publisher :
Illustration :
80 black and white photographs, maps
No associated books available.


In 1944, with the invasion of Europe underway and battles in the Atlantic and Mediterranean all but won, the Royal Navy`s strength could be focussed on the Far East and the Pacific where the Japanese were still a long way from defeat. Since the Battle of Midway, in June 1942, the United States had been slowly forcing the Japanese back, but it was a long, bloody process. The Allies needed to combine their forces more effectively if they were to bring the war to an end quickly. In response the Royal Navy massed its ships to add weight to the US Navy. With an attack force of four fleet carriers, and two more on the way, the RN`s role would be significant, but would take time to work up to the state of preparedness of their American cousins. And so a fleet was born for use in the Indian Ocean and, later, the Pacific.

From April 1944 to August 1945 they would successfully fight many long, intensive battles. In this time each carrier would contribute greatly to victory, none more so than HMS Indomitable with her 5th Fighter Wing. They would be in thick of the fighting, achieve success and live perilously for a prolonged period, losing many men along the way. It was a war of attrition, which allowed little room for compassion or benevolence.

The story told in this book is about the exceptional group of young men, from Britain, Canada, New Zealand, Holland and South Africa who joined the Fleet Air Arm as pilots. With their American-built Hellcats they were in the thick of the action, providing a hard, professional core to this fighting fleet that few would equal. Although its operational history is second to none, this was only achieved by the sacrifice and endurance of the men who flew many dangerous missions and daily lived with the specter of a searing death. And so the book is about them, with war providing a back drop that broods and eviscerates in turn. How did these men come to be fighting as pilots with the Fleet Air Arm, how were they trained, how did they live, how did they prepare themselves to kill or be killed, what sustained them and what did they feel about their extremely dangerous experiences? Luckily some survived to record their thoughts and others left poignant memories for the curious to follow and explore. And here the author was lucky to meet or correspond with nearly all the survivors and be privileged to hear their stories. He follows the young pilots lives from selection, through training to operations. The 5th Wing went to sea in 1944 and were in continuous action, in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, from then until the last days of the war. They participated in strikes on Sumatra with the aim of destroying its highly important oil refineries, then they joined in the battles for Leyte and Okinawa, before moving with the British Fleet to begin the invasion Japan itself.

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 – Learning to Fly, Learning to Fight, Learning to Die.
Chapter 2 – And So to War.
Chapter 3 – HMS Indomitable.
Chapter 4 – Into The Cauldron.
Chapter 5 – Into The Fire.
Chapter 6 – Meridian.
Chapter 7 – A Long Day’s Journey Into Night.
Chapter 8 – Gammy Goes West.
Chapter 9 – Night and Day.
Chapter 10 – Murder at Changi.


'For giving a voice to these remarkable young men, and chronicling their experiences, this book is highly recommended.''

- The Naval Review

'...can be thoroughly recommended to anyone interested in the Forgotten Fleet.''

- The Aviation Historian

"This badly neglected story needed to be told. The author and his publisher have done a first-rate job"

- Baird Maritime

"This is a beautifully produced book from Casemate. Black and white photographs are liberally sprinkled throughout, many featuring men mentioned in the narrative. There is also a superb glossy colour photo section that brings everything to life"

- Aircrew Book Review

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