length has to count for something too and when you get a mere 200 pages, or essentially a third or half of a full autobiography, I can't bring myself to bring out the fourth or fifth star. the writing's good. it's just there's not all that much to this. can be read inbetween coffee and dessert, and that sucks.
historical significance: contains details of Dahl's deployment to Greece and participation in the air war there. During the Battle of Athens (air), Dahl faces something like a 1% chance of survival, but with typical British understatement, just lets you do the math yourself. certain scenes, car-rides, give foundation for understanding short stories and other works in the Dahl ouevre.
secondarily, the first half of the book contains some adventures in Africa / Kenya, where Dahl goes for a three year deployment courtesy Royal Dutch Shell and is present during the outbreak of war, with interesting effects on the native population and the Germans who still reside there. some morally ambiguous situations are treated with delicacy, and we capture some of what colonial life was like, with fresh papaya-fruit and sugar for breakfast.
what would be a four-star work if combined into a large book, can only really be given 3 stars due to length. the publishers of course are smart to maximize their profit by bringing this out separately from [b:Boy|39999|The Boy in the Striped Pajamas|John Boyne|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1320507879s/39999.jpg|1148702], but the reader in 2012 expects 400 page books not 200 page ones...
what could be expanded: long car ride in Sinai-- became foundation for some of Dahl's writing; what did he think about? / Africa section was nice, but more about daily mechanics of life, what was different, what was the same. the individuals members of his squadron, Dahl waves his hand and says 'hard to get to know,' but we miss out on learning even minor aspects of their personality. more context for Greece/British would have been helpful. all in all, should have been longer...although not as famous as the Spitfire, Hawker Hurricanes actually had more kills in the Battle of Britain. this plane was also flown by the expeditionary RAF in Athens by Dahl and the UK's top ace, who fell in the battle, of the war. Marmaduke 'Pat' Pattle, fell to a Messerschmitt Bf110 of the Horst Wessel group
the Germans had the Bf109 and the Focke-Wolfe Fw190, two great fighter designs, but in the Athens theater, the planes fighting were the heavy fighter / dual-person Bf110, which was large and big and slow and non-agile. though usable as a night-fighter late in the war, in strict fighter combat, the second person in the plane, rear-facing, was almost useless as enemy fighters would fly from below and behind if they wanted to strike. so the Brits were willing to fight 12 vs. 200.
so German engineering, believed so perfect and absolutist, was capable of producing errors. the heavy fighter concept was discarded; as it remains discarded today; fighter planes are small and agile, generally. ww1 biplanes may have benefited from a rear-facing gunner, but by the 2nd world war, it was necessary for planes to aim at and shoot at simultaneously. adding extra weight and a rear-gun damaged a plane's turning radius, agility; rate of climb-- all these were shown to be far more important in air-superiority combat.