Review: Air Britain's The S.E. 5 File

Ray Sturtivant & Gordon Page, The S.E. 5 File (Air-Britain Publishers,1997) 8.5x12, hard back, 176 pages, 253 photographs. 20.00 (16.00 for Air-Britain and Cross & Cockade members).

Like most American enthusiasts, the editors have always been a bit dumbstruck by the peculiar British propensity for recording the serial numbers and operational histories of individual aircraft. But, like the group's earlier Camel File, Air Britain's S.E. 5 File shows how valuable a contribution such odd pastimes make to our understanding of the history of aviation.

The text lists every serial number of every SE.5 and SE.5a built. Where possible, the authors have included a brief description of each of machine's service and combat records. To keep the text manageable, the authors use a set of abbreviations listed at the beginning of the volume. Unfortunately, the authors seem to have made no attempt to include camouflage and markings data for each of the aircraft listed. This was one of the real strengths of the Camel File. They do supply a notably brief account of the development of the SE.5 in their preface. The author's parsimony when describing matters that have been covered elsewhere saves space for more interesting material, such as a compact and informative account of SE.5s in foreign and post-war service and a brief section on aircraft finishes and squadron markings.

While the book contains a commendable number of photographs, many of them are small (2 x 3.75-in). Air Britain's editors have reproduced a number of the higher quality originals to a larger size, but the book would have been of immensely greater value if it were 20 pages longer with larger photos. There are few detail or closeup photos.

The relative shortcomings of the photographs are more than offset by 8 pages of about 50 color profiles of both SE.5s and SE.5as, in both wartime and post-war use. A very nice set of 1/48-scale plans fills out the last section of the book. Commendably, Air Britain's page designers have been careful to keep the various drawings out of the gutter between pages.

To sum up, this book is of immense value, particularly when used to buttress resources that focus on RFC/RAF operations, squadron histories, and individual memoires or machines. While it does not supply the detail views that the modelers covet, hobbyists will find that it lets them easily determine what details should appear on a particular airplane, given a serial number. You can quickly discover which production batch it came from and which engine it used. Historians will value it for tracing patterns of production and allocation to units in the field. Using this volume, one can now easily check whether a given airplane could have been involved in a given action at a specified time and place. In short, The S.E. 5 File is as thorough and scholarly a document as is likely to be published on this aircraft. Highly recommended.

Next page

Return to Table of Contents

Text © 1997 by Charles Hart and Robert Craig Johnson.