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At Stone & Stone Second World War Books we certainly don't specialize in books about the air war, but sometimes it seems like most of the new items arriving here are about pilots, aircraft, air units, and air battles. That seems to be a reflection of the huge proportion of air-related books being released on both sides of the Atlantic (and elsewhere) by military- and WWII-related publishers, which in turn is driven by the huge appetite among readers of non-fiction for more, more, more about airplanes. This week we look at five fairly new arrivals showcasing different air-related topics in different combinations: memoirs, campaign histories, photo albums, and unit histories.
Rae, Jack. Kiwi Spitfire Ace. London: Grub Street, 2001.
Rae's memoir tells of his journey to Britain via Canada and Iceland. In Britain the New Zealander converted to Spitfires (hence the title) and took part in the belated and ineffective air attack during the Channel Dash. In April 1942 he was posted to 603 Squadron and boarded the USS Wasp, flying off the carrier a week later to join the air defense of Malta. Ten days after that he was shot down but managed to bale out and return to operations. In August 1942 he returned to England via Gibraltar. Exactly a year later his engine failed over France, he was taken prisoner by a group of young Luftwaffe officers who shared a bottle of brandy with him, and he became a POW for the duration. All this is told in the same low-key and matter-of-fact tone which seems to characterize the autobiographies of many aging WWII fighter pilots.
Morrison, Wilbur. Birds from Hell: The History of the B-29. Central Point, OR: Hellgate Press, 2001.
From memoir we move to memoir/campaign history. Morrison has written several books about Allied strategic bombing during World War II, but before he was a writer and historian he was a B-29 bombardier-navigator. Here he interweaves the story of the B-29 bomber and the strategic bombing campaign against Japan with his own personal story. After an introduction about the development of the bomber and his own introduction them, ensuing chapters mix together Morrison's experiences in the mud and in the air with the evolution of the air war against Japan. He quotes his own conversations about food and drink with his buddies as well as General Curtis LeMay's conversations about conducting the war. By the end, in fact, the book centers on LeMay and his role in utilizing the B-29 to its utmost in what was certainly the most thorough and effectiveand controversialbombing campaign of the Second World War.
Mombeek, Eric with David Wadman and Martin Pegg. Jagdwaffe, volume 2, section 2: Battle of Britain, Phase Two, August-September 1940. Crowborough, England: Classic Publications, 2001.
Mombeek combines some campaign historyin this case, the Battle of Britainwith a brilliant photo album. The gang at Classic really has the market cornered on top-notch layout and design for their "Luftwaffe Colours" series. (See also Jagdwaffe, volume 1, section 1: Birth of the Luftwaffe Fighter Force, Jagdwaffe, volume 1, section 2: The Spanish Civil War, Jagdwaffe, volume 1, section 4: The Attack in the West, Jagdwaffe, volume 2, section 1: Battle of Britain, Phase One.) As with the others in the series, the second section (with two more to come) of the Battle of Britain set puts Classic's best work on display: not much text, but crisp photos with ample captions, informative sidebars, OBs, beautiful color plates, emblems and markings, all carefully assembled on every page rather than just dashed together. Interesting, informative stuff, and it's always a pleasure to read a book where so much craftsmanship has gone into the design.
Tullis, Thomas A. Tigers over China: The Aircraft of the A.V.G. Hamilton, MT: Eagle Editions, Ltd, 2001.
The fourth in the Eagle Files series, and perhaps the strongest to date, combines elements of a photo album and a bit of unit history. (See also Eagle Files #3: Augsburg's Last Eagles, Eagle Files #2: Yellow 10: The Story of the Ultra-Rare Fw 190 D-13, and Eagle Files #1: Doras of the Galland Circus.) Many unfamiliar photos (including several pages of color shots), full-color reproductions of squadron insignia, an entire page of "shark's mouth" examples, and the usual gorgeous color plates by Tullis. As usual, little in the way of text other than captions, but probably the best we're likely to see on the camouflage, markings, and insignia of the AVG.
Woerpel, Don. The 79th Fighter Group over Tunisia, Sicily, and Italy in World War II. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Military History, 2001.
Probably the strongest of these five titlescertainly the biggest and heaviestis Woerpel's unit history. The 79th was activated in February 1942 in Florida and the ground echelon traveled by sea via South Africa to Egypt, departing the States in October and arriving at Port Tewfik in November. The pilots, sans fighters, were ferried via the Tokaradi air route across Africa. By March the unit was operating in Tunisia in the final drive to secure the last Axis toehold in Africa. In July the 79th transferred to Sicily during the campaign there, and afterwards operated continuously in Italy until the end of the war in Europe. This is a classic unit history, replete with candid snapshots of planes and pilots and groundcrew as well as local sights and the occasional mascot. Lots of stories of dogfights and memorable incidents that never make it into "serious" histories. A nice job, and a must have for anyone interested in air unit histories.
All of these books are available from online booksellers, local bookshops, or directly from the publishers.
Reviewed 3 December 2001
Copyright © 2001 by Bill Stone
May not be reproduced in any form without written permission of Stone & Stone
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