Pilots! Aircraft! Air forces! Publishers continue to crank out an unending stream of books about aviation in WWII, and those books continue to find their way into our offices where they sometimes overwhelm our abilities to review them all. Here are brief remarks about four recent books of interest relating to airpower.
Lambert, John W. The 8th Air Force: Victory and Sacrifice: A World War II Photo History. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd, 2006
Acknowledgments; Introduction; photos; maps; List of Combat Units; Bibliography
Little doubt can exist that WWII readers love books about airpower and they love books with photos of airplanes. John Lambert gladly feeds that addiction with his photo history of the US 8th Air Force.
The author divides his book into discrete chapters such as "The Aircraft," "The Crews," "The Opposition," and "The Results," with photos neatly categorized accordingly. For example, Chapter Three contains about fifteen pages of shots of crews and individual airmen posing in or alongside their aircraft. Most of the images in this chapter and the others come from official USAAF photographers, but a few snapshots were taken by the crews themselves. In all cases, Lambert asserts that he has conducted "[e]xtensive research...in order to determine the date, locale, units involved, and fate of men and aircraft."
That kind of data is provided in the captions, butbeyond those labelsshort introductions for each chapter comprise the only text in the book. Lambert also supplies a table listing all the combat units of the 8th Air Force.
The vast majority of the photos are black and white, but about fifteen pages at the end contain color images, mostly of nose art.
Connoisseurs will always enjoy books of this nature, and there's nothing inherently wrong with a photo album of the Mighty 8th, but at the same timeeven with new photos and thoughtful organization and captionsthere's a certain sense of "deja vu all over again" when it comes to another volume of 8th Air Force pictures.
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Shores, Christopher and Chris Thomas. 2nd Tactical Air Force, volume 3: From the Rhine to Victory, January to May 1945. Crowborough, UK: Classic Publications, 2006
Acknowledgements; Note from the Authors; Glossary; photos; color profiles; maps; sidebars; Errata and Addenda; Index
Appendices: Air Stores Parks; Group Support Units; Operational Control; RAF Regiment; Repair Units; Groups; Wings
Christopher Shores can always be relied upon to provide heaping helpings of accurate data in his books, and this volumethe third and final installment of 2nd Tactical Air Forceis no exception. We've already reviewed volume one and volume two very favorably, and the third volume is equally good.
This one covers the final few months of the war in Europe, but the organization of the new book is the same as the first two (refer to our earlier reviews for details) with the usual narrative structure plus extensive tables of day-by-day claims and losses for each squadron and pilot. In addition, the authors this time around include seven appendices with further information on various aspects of 2nd Tactical Air Force.
This volume of the series also features a page of "Errata and Addenda" for the first two volumes. In a work of this nature, it's inevitable that a few errors will creep in, so the E&A is not entirely unexpected, and it's simply further proof of the authors' commitment to accuracy. That becomes even more evident upon reading the "Note from the Authors" in which they explain the tangle of mutually inconsistent wartime documents utilized to build this database. It seems that hardly any two records agree, many documents are missing altogether, and the most useful and accurate "Form OR101" was only used within 2nd Tac for about six months. Anyone who believes assembling a book such as this is an easy, straigthforward task should ponder what the authors have to say in their introductory note!
Regardless of the likelihood that some of this data will never be pinned down with utter certainty, Shores and Thomas have provided the best record we're ever likely to see, they've added cogent explanation to the daily action, and they've illustrated it in a fashion that complements rather than overwhelms the fruits of their hard labor in the archives.
Bravo! A solid conclusion to a classy series, and definitely the pick of this litter.
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Yenne, Bill. The American Aircraft Factory in World War II. St Paul, MN: Zenith Press, 2006
Acknowledgments; Introduction; photos; Bibliography; Index
This oversized, oblong volume devotes more acreage to photos than text, and it looks suspiciously like a coffee-table book, but it proves to be considerably more than that. In his Introduction, the author quotes some staggering statistics (for example, the US aviation industry produced 921 military aircraft in 1939 and 96,318 in 1944) and promises "[i]n the pages that follow, I will trace the details behind these astounding statistics and examine the inner workings of a remarkable industry at its greatest moment."
While the book doesn't pretend to be a scholarly treatise (and it dispenses with footnotes), Yenne does a good job of explaining and illustrating the mammoth expansion of American aviation during the war years. He begins with a chapter on the origins of the industry and explains that, unlike automobiles, aircraft continued to be built using the old-fashioned craft method. Only with the opening of hostilities in Europe did aircraft manufacturers begin to gradually modernize and expand, and Yenne captures the mood perfectly with a photo of horse-drawn equipment erecting a new plant in San Diego.
By the time of Pearl Harbor, American industry was already revving up, propelled in part by orders from the UK and in part by the Roosevelt administration's grand vision of endless fleets of warplanes commanding the sky. Yenne looks at all the major aviation companies, many of the huge plants scattered across the country, and traces development of some important models of aircraft. All five chapters are heavily illustrated with period photos, including some very artsy shots (such as rows of plexiglas noses for A-20s reflecting factory lights). Many of the photos feature women working on the assembly lines, and Yenne discusses the "Rosie the Riveter" phenomenon and points out that aircraft production provided some of the best-paying jobs available to women during the war years.
Given the ease with which this volume could have turned into an insipid collection of wartime photos of jovial workers toiling on the Home Front, The American Aircraft Factory proves be pleasant surprise.
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Butler, Phil and Tony Butler. Gloster Meteor: Britain's Celebrated First-Generation Jet. Hinckley, UK: Midland Publishing Limited, 2006
Introduction; Glossary; photos; tables; scale drawings
Appendices: Contracts and serial numbers; RAF Meteor squadrons; Meteors in colour; Squadron markings
The fourth book on the agenda this week covers the Gloster Meteor jet aircraft. As the UK's entry into the late-war jet sweepstakes, the Meteor saw relatively limited service in WWII, butdespite a long and distinguished post-war careerit definitely qualifies as a wartime plane.
The authors cover the Meteor in eight chapters:
- Day fighters and trainers
- Night fighters and target tugs
- British service
- Foreign service
- Engine testbeds, trials, drones, and civilian Meteors
- In detail
The first chapter provides an overview of how the Meteor program began and evolved. Chapter Two looks at each of the prototype machines (DG202, DG203, DG204, etc) and explains its individual history and describes some of the test flights that took place. The next two chapters explore the various Meteor models developed for special purposes over the years.
Butler and Butler tackle Meteor service in WWII and beyond in the fifth chapter. Although planning, development, and testing had commenced considerably earlier, the first operational machines were assigned to the RAF's No. 616 Squadron in July 1944. First missions included chasing V-1 flying bombs over southern England. The chapter as a whole comprises about twenty pages, of which only two seem to be directed related to WWII. The next chapter extends the account to include Meteors in foreign service during the post-war years, including Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, and many more nations.
In addition to all the narrative history and technical detail, the authors provide scale drawings, information about units equipped with the aircraft, and a section of squadron markings in color. The whole is profusely illustrated with photos of Meteors, including many color images.
This is a workmanlike product, but WWII readers should be aware that it focuses on the technical aspects of the Meteor and skims over wartime service. Because of that focus, the book is devoid of operational accounts and material about combat during 1944-1945.
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Available from online booksellers, local bookshops, or directly from the publishers.
Thanks to the publishers for providing these review copies.