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While we're still trying to catch up with the heavy deluge of new titles arriving every day, here are brief comments about four air books of note:
Shores, Christopher and Chris Thomas. 2nd Tactical Air Force, volume two: Breakout to Bodenplatte, July 1944 to January 1945. Crowborough, UK: Classic Publications, 2005
Glossary; photos; color profiles; maps; sidebars; Index
We were favorably impressed with volume one of 2nd Tactical Air Force and, as expected, the new volume proves the first was no fluke. Shores and Thomas provide more of the same detailed coverage of the 2nd TAF's operations in the same format, extending from July 1944 through 1 January 1945.
As with the first volume, each chapter covers a distinct phase of the campaign, in this case Breakout, Pursuit, Assault, Stalemate, and Counter-Attack. Within each chapter, the authors proceed in strict chronological order. For each date, several paragraphs of text explain the daily action which is further summarized in a table showing claims and losses. Data in the daily table includes time of day the event occurred, squadron, type of aircraft, identification of aircraft, names and ranks of pilot and crew with casualties (killed, wounded, prisoner, escaped), type of enemy aircraft claimed (if any) as destroyed - probable - damaged (shown as "d p d"), and cause/location of the claim or loss of the aircraft. (See our review of volume one for an example.) On some busy days the tabular data can occupy most of a page.
The authors also intersperse their pages with sidebars on assorted topics of interest. Among them:
- Pierre Clostermann
- Who got Rommel?
- Tank-busters or morale-busters?
- Introduction of the Tempest V and Spitfire XIV
- Fighter reconnaissance aircraft
- 2nd TAF's first Me 262
The book concludes with Operation Bodenplatte, the Luftwaffe's surprise New Year's attack on Allied airfields to welcome 1945, amounting to a little more than six pages. Here's an excerpt from 1 January 1945:
B.88, Heesch, was not on the list of airfields to he attacked, but it was probably here that the
Germans were next seen as they headed for their designated targets. Most of 411 Squadron's aircraft
were already away from the airfield on a sweep, as were 442 Squadron's Spitfires. 401 Squadron was
at the end of the runway at 0914, awaiting take-off, when some 40 Bf 109s and Fw 190s passed
overhead. 412 Squadron's pilots were just preparing to follow 401. This latter unit scrambled at once
and in the next ten minutes Flg Off G.D. Cameron claimed three Bf 109s shot down while Flt Lt
Mackay used up all his ammunition on one fighter, then chased two more until they crashed as well.
412 Squadron followed and at 0930 spotted 30 Bf 109s over the Venlo area, claiming four of these
destroyed. Meanwhile 411 Squadron's pilots had seen two Fw 190s over the Twente area, Flt Lt Dick
Audet claiming both of these shot down. Returning early, two of 442 Squadron's pilots found fighters
over Heesch, while Flt Lt R.C. Smith, on his way back due to trouble with his drop tank, heard that
enemy aircraft were over Eindhoven; he headed there to find plenty of these over the town. He
attacked them without apparent result. Returning to Heesch to refuel, he was informed that he had
been seen to shoot down one Bf 109 and damage a second.
Flt Lt Don Gordon was also returning early when he saw many fighters near Heesch, claiming two
Fw 190s shot down. His aircraft was then hit by the defending AA fire and he was wounded, crash-landing south of the airfield at 0940. The rest of the Squadron ran into enemy aircraft west of Venlo,
where Flt Lt D.M. Pieri claimed two Fw 190s and two probables, and Flt Lt N.A. Keene, DFC, another
Fw 190. Flg Off D.A. Brigden was shot down and killed, 126 Wing's only casualty of the morning. Me
262s were seen and attacked head-on, two being credited to the unit as damaged; no damage to any
of its aircraft was recorded by KG 51 however.
JG 11 caught most of 125 Wing on the ground at Y.32, Ophoven, inflicting damage on three of
130 Squadron's Spitfire XIVs, while one of 350 Squadron was destroyed and two more damaged.
Flt Lt Tony Gaze of 610 Squadron was in the air and shot down an Fw 190D which is believed to have
been an aircraft of 12./JG 2, flown by the Commanding Officer, Lt Fritz Swoboda. Gaze was then
attacked by P-51s in the Malmedy area, where the US pilots were undoubtedly looking for Bf 109s.
Some of the TacR pilots who had been in the air prior to the attack, now began to take a further
toll of the attackers as they returned towards their bases. Near Helmond at 0930 Sqn Ldr Gordon
Wonnacott, Commanding Officer of 39 Wing's 414 Squadron, claimed two Bf 109s and an Fw 190,
for which he received an 'Immediate' Bar to his DFC. Somewhat later Wt Off W. Woloshuk claimed
an Fw 190 shot down and a Bf 109 damaged over the Roermond area. 268 Squadron's Flt Lt J.B. Lyke,
who had shared in the destruction of the Ju 88G at 0915, claimed again half an hour later in the
Utrecht area, when he damaged an Fw 190.
Good job! Recommended, and we look forward to volume three, due in February.
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Glines, Carroll V. Those Legendary Piper Cubs: Their Role in War and Peace. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd, 2005
Foreword; Introduction; photos; Acknowledgments; Bibliography; Index
Appendices: Evolution of the Cubs; General Specifications; Records
Carroll Glines has been a prolific writer on aviation topics for years, with quite a few of those titles devoted to WWII subjects. His new book looks at civilian and military use of Piper Cub aircraft before, during, and after World War II.
The first three chapters chart the introduction of the Cub and its development in the pre-war years. In 1939 the aircraft received a boost with enactment of the Civilian Pilot Training Act of 1939, a program which created more pilots and more demand for aircraft. The light aircraft earned a sterling reputation enhanced by shrewd promotional campaigns including a flight taking Eleanor Roosevelt aloft. By 1940 Cubs were being used unofficially by troops in Texas to adjust practice artillery fire and to help control traffic movement during the Louisiana maneuvers. In 1941 light planes performed demonstrations during various maneuvers, including flights by George Patton, who "used his own light plane for reconnaissance."
Finally, in January 1942 the Army asked for bids for the first 1960 "Grasshoppers" for service with the field artillery. From that point the Cubs began to serve with the military all around the world in many different roles, and Glines devotes two chapters to their wartime duties, including the Korean war.
One of the most interesting developments to assist in light plane
operations during World War II was known as the Brodie System
or Brodie Device. Named for Capt. James H. Brodie, it was a mechanism that enabled a pilot to take off from ships or from jungle areas
without any runway. It consisted of a cable 500 feet long that was
stretched between two 65-foot masts. A hook was mounted on top
of the fuselage that permitted an aircraft to take off and land while
suspended about fifty feet above the water or ground. A steel cable
and a loop of nylon was suspended from a taut, horizontal cable. In
landing, a plane snagged the loop with an overhead hook. and a
friction brake gradually halted it. In taking off, the friction brake
held the aircraft until sufficient power was applied, which allowed
the plane to run down the cable until the pilot yanked a lanyard,
releasing the hook from a stirrup attached to the nylon loop. He
would then be free to proceed with his mission. All equipment and
a nine-man crew could be carried in cargo planes and landed by
It was not the first time such a system had been tried. Adolphe
Pegoud, a French pilot, had made a takeoff and landing in a Bleriot
XI from a wire in 1911. Although he was successful, the idea was
abandoned because it was thought that only a pilot with great skill
could accomplish such a feat.
Brodie had conceived the idea on his own during the dark days
in early 1942 when German submarines were sinking American
ships off the Atlantic and Gulf coasts daily. An engineering graduate of the University of Minnesota, he drafted the plans for a rig
and obtained $10,000 in government funds, but only after many
conferences with officials in Washington, many of whom thought
the idea was too far-fetched to merit any interest. Assigned to redesign cargo ships for the Army Transportation Corps, Brodie began
to build his first device on his own time at New Orleans in April
1943, which he simulated being used on a ship.
Brodie's principal problems were development of adequate
brakes and the reduction of shock during the process of getting the
landing trolley accelerated. He finally got satisfactory braking performance by use of an aluminum reel, two standard hydraulic automobile brake assemblies and automatic brake delay screw, a tension adjuster, and a gauge for determining line tension. The delay
screw permitted rotating parts to become accelerated to airplane
speed upon contact with the landing sling.
Brodie designed the trolley in a half-moon shape, which allowed the lower half to pendulum forward before the trolley wheel
was set in motion. The hook arm swung to a horizontal position
and then telescoped outward about two feet upon contact with the
A plane would be suspended by the hook on its top to a heavy
nylon sling that dropped down a trolley on a cable. The pilot would
give the plane full throttle, speed down the cable, and yank a lanyard to break free of the hook. When returning, he would maneuver
the plane into position to engage the hook. cut the throttle, and be
slowed down to a stop.
Lt. C. B. Wheeler, an Army service pilot, made the first takeoff
from the device in late August 1943. The first round trip from take-off to a successful landing was made by Major James D. Kemp on
September 3, 1943. By mid-September, the first regularly assigned
Brodie system test pilot arrived. He was Sgt. (later Flight Officer)
Raymond A. Gregory, fresh from maneuvers as a liaison pilot in
Louisiana. He made more than 300 landings and takeoffs from the
rig and was convinced that any pilot capable of handling a plane in
normal flight could use the Brodie system.
The last four chapters cover the post-war years of the light planes from circumnavigation of the globe to crop duster work to the most modern avionics. Although Those Legendary Piper Cubs is by no means a mere photo album, the author includes a great many pictures of very interesting variants of the aircraft, including unusual military configurations.
This book will probably find its biggest audience among general aviation fans, but WWII enthusiasts will enjoy the chapters on the Cubs' wartime service.
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Thiele, Harold. Luftwaffe Aerial Torpedo Aircraft and Operations in World War Two. Crowborough, UK: Hikoki Publications, 2004
Introduction; photos; color profiles
Appendices: German torpedo aircraft; Airborne torpedoes; Chronological listing of Allied ships hit; Total of airborne torpedo successes; Side views of ships; Personal recollections of torpedo operations in the Red Sea; The He 111 as a torpedo aircraft; Missions flown against PQ-16 and QP-12; Allied intelligence reports on Luftwaffe operations against PQ-16
A little less ambitious, perhaps, than the other three books covered here, and also slightly disappointing, Harold Thiele has put together ninety-six pages of text and photos covering a fairly small and obscure corner of Luftwaffe operations. Even at that Thiele focuses on a specific part of the topic. The author largely eschews technical data, OB information, and general narrative in order to concentrate for the most part on chronological notes about Luftwaffe torpedo operations, claims, and successes.
An introductory chapter briefly surveys the development of airborne torpedoes and torpedo aircraft during World War I, the inter-war years, and the beginning of World War II. The latter part of the chapter in a total of two pages discusses the status of torpedo bomber aircraft and operations in the UK, France, Italy, Soviet Union, US, and Japan. Expanding this information to better contrast affairs in other nations with developments in Germany might have strengthened the book, but was clearly not the author's goal.
The next chapter opens with about eight paragraphs devoted to "General Overview, 1939-1940" before beginning approximately four pages of chronological notes. Here's the very first date listed:
9 October 1939 - North Sea
Eight He 59s from either Ku.Fl.Gr 706 or 406 attempted an attack on Royal Navy vessels with airborne torpedoes, but the enemy was not located. Two He 59s had to make an emergency landing because of lack of fuel.
This somewhat ambiguous example is unfortunately fairly typical of the chronological entries. As Thiele indicates in his Introduction, precise information is not always possible to obtain and in some cases the sources prove contradictory. The issue of mistaken identifications and inaccurate claims by pilots in the heat of combat also arises. Thus, the author is not to blame, but the results on his pages nevertheless are not as complete or accurate as most readers would prefer.
In any event, the heart of the book continues in the same fashion with more entries in chronological sequence and occasional paragraphs with broader information. Here's an excerpt:
24 March 1941
In the eastern Mediterranean, the British tanker Mane
Maersk (about 8,300 GRT) was supposedly damaged by
bombs. However, as there were German and Italian
torpedo aircraft active in the same area and hits on several
steamers were reported, the Marie Maersk was probably
hit by a torpedo. The ship succeeded in reaching Piraeus
hut was bombed on 12 April and rendered a total loss.
Four He 111s with torpedoes failed to locate a convoy
reported by reconnaissance but three of these aircraft
found another convoy about 28 km south of Cape Littinos
and claimed two steamers hit. This cannot, however,
An He 111 attacked the Norwegian motor vessel Hav
sailing from Piraeus to Alexandria, but the torpedo missed
because of the heavy swell. The He 111 maintained
contact and summoned two Ju 88s which hit the ship with
bombs. Nevertheless, the Hav succeeded in reaching
Alexandria under its own power.
German aircraft damaged the British motor tanker Scottish
Musician (7,000 GRT). According to contradictory reports,
bombs or torpedoes may have been used.
At the end of April 1941, only three He 111 H-4s with
torpedoes were ready for action.
Given the dearth of other English-language works about Luftwaffe torpedo aircraft and operations, Thiele's book is certainly not without value. However, readers need to be aware that, because of gaps in the sources, this is not by any means an absolutely thorough and complete record of the topic.
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Walker, James. The Liberandos: A WWII History of the 376th Heavy Bombardment Group and Its Founding Units. Waco, TX: 376th Heavy Bombardment Group Veterans Assn, 1994
xxv + 613 pages
Dedication; color profiles; Preface; Distinguished Unit Citations; Commanders of the 376th; Introduction; maps; photos; Bibliography; Index
Appendices: Mission summary; Missions and targets from individual bases; Cities with military targets bombed from individual bases; Combat losses of B-24s; Nose art; Mickey operations; Royal Yugoslav Air Force Detachment; Princess Catherine Caradja, protector of POWs; Photos of Liberandos combat crews; Poetry and songs
One of the most interesting and distinguished USAAF heavy bomber groups of World War II, the 376th was not the subject of a published unit history until almost fifty years after the end of the war. With publication of this thick tome in 1994, however, the Liberandos could boast one of the most interesting and distinguished written histories. This was accomplished after eight years of work despite the fact that "a substantial portion of the wartime records of the 376th Group was lost while being loaded aboard a ship in Taranto harbor, Italy, as the Group was preparing to return to the United States in April 1945."
Using wartime mission debriefing reports, journals kept by various Liberandos, and the recollections of surviving veterans, the author has put together one of the most impressive of all WWII air unit histories. While he's to be commended for doing an excellent job, the breadth of the 376th's service certainly provided a remarkable canvas on which Walker could work.
The unit began as the Halverson Project (known as Halpro), a plan formulated in early 1942 to utilize B-24 bombers to attack the Japanese home islands from bases in China. In conjunction with the more famous Doolittle carrier-based raid, these air attacks were designed not only to strengthen American morale, but also to demonstrate to the Japanese the vulnerability of their cities. Walker opens his book with the story of Halpro and the unit's odyssey en route to China, including identifying all the aircraft and crews involved. While in Khartoum in June 1942, however, the plan was changed due to the triumphant Axis advance toward Alexandria and Cairo. Instead of proceeding to China, Halpro was diverted to Egypt to assist the Allied forces attempting to stem Rommel's march. The unit consequently spent the next year and a half flying missions from Egypt, Palestine, Libya, and Tunisia.
While based in Libya, a crew of the 376th had the misfortune to become the center of the tragedy of the Lady Be Good when their B-24 overshot its base and crashed deep in the Libyan desert. Not until 1958 was the wreck discovered and the mystery eventually untangled by search parties and local contractors over the next few years, including discovery of the remains of the crew who had attempted to trek across the desert. Walker tells this remarkable story in a chapter of more than sixty pages.
The degree of preservation of the five bodies was a surprise to even the experienced Mortuary investigators. Sterile surroundings had
precluded disturbance of the remains by animals or
insects. The normally stable gravel surface at
the last camp of the men had been lightly disturbed by their final movements allowing the
underlying fine sand to drift around the remains
and erode exposed portions to skeletal form.
Sand-covered areas of the bodies were preserved
During the course of examining the clothing
scattered about the recovery site, Capt. Fuller
made a dramatic discovery. In the pocket of a
rolled up pair of flight coveralls with a leather
name tag embossed "Lt. R.F. Toner," he found a
small reminder-type diary. The diary, perfectly
preserved and belonging to the Lady Be Good
copilot, answered many of the questions still
surrounding the lost plane and crew. Entries in
the diary began with the departure of Lt. Hatton
and his crew from Morrison Field, Florida on
March 2, 1943 and ended on April 8, 1943.
Toner's penciled notes illuminated the events
leading up to the Lady Be Good running out of
fuel and the crew's subsequent struggle to survive after bailing out:
Sunday, April 4, 1943
Naples ‹ 28 planes. Things pretty well mixed
up. Got lost returning, out of gas, jumped, landed
in desert at 2:00 in morning. No one badly hurt.
Can't find John [Woravka]. All others present.
Start walking N.W. Still no John. A few rations, 1/2 canteen of water, 1 capful per day. Sun
fairly warm. Good breeze from N.W. Nite very
cold, no sleep. Rested and walked.
Rested at 11:30. Sun very warm, no breeze.
Spent p.m. in hell. No planes, etc. Rested until 5:00
p.m. Walked and rested all nite, 15 minutes on, 5 off.
Same routine. Everyone getting weak. Can't get
very far. Prayers all the time. Again, p.m. very
warm, hell. Can't sleep. Everyone sore from ground.
Hit sand dunes. Very miserable. Good wind
but continuous blowing of sand. Everyone now
very weak. Thought Sam and Moore were all
done. LaMotte eyes are gone. Everyone else's
eyes are bad. Still going N.W.
Shelley, Rip, Moore separate and try to go for
help. Rest of us all very weak, eyes bad. Not any
travel. All want to die. Still very little water.
Nites are about 35 degrees. Good N. wind. No
shelter, 1 parachute left.
Still having prayer meetings for help. No signs
of anything, a couple of birds. Good wind from N.
Really weak now, can't walk. Pains all over. Still
all want to die. Nites very cold. No sleep.
Still waiting for help. Still praying. Eyes bad.
Lost all our weight. Aching all over. Could make it if we had water. Just enough left to put our tongue to. Have hope for help very soon. No rest. Still same place.
No help yet. Very cold nite.
Most of the book, of course, describes missions flown by the unitincluding Ploestiand daily life at the various bases where the Group served. In late 1943 the 376th moved to Italy and continued to fly its B-24s day after day. All 451 missions flown by the Group are carefully charted and cross-referenced by Walker. A tabular mission summary gives number, date, target, aircraft taking off, aircraft over target, aircraft returned to base, mission leader, bomb load, and more for each. The next appendix lists each individual base and the missions flown from that location with target and mission number. The third appendix takes the same data but turns it to show each target attacked, with details of where the raid came from. Further appendices include a complete roster of losses, an extensive photo section of nose art, and material about the Royal Yugoslav Air Force detachment serving with the 376th.
Walker has assembled a model air unit history, and one that every WWII air enthusiast will want. Although the original edition was sold out, a reprint edition has recently become available via a veteran of the 376th with the blessing of the unit association.
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Available from online booksellers, local bookshops, or directly from the publishers.
Thanks to the publishers and their importers/distributors for providing these review copies.
Reviewed 7 August 2005
Copyright © 2005 by Bill Stone
May not be reproduced in any form without written permission of Stone & Stone