Wednesday, March 15, 2017

A Question of Loyalty (Four Stars)

An interesting book that puts the circumstances surrounding General Billy Mitchell's court-martial into perspective. Mitchell, a latecomer to military aviation but one of its strongest proponents, had made his name during the Great War as the combat leader of the United States Air Service in France. He was not its chief. When he returned to the United States he was made Deputy Chief of the Air service and worked with the Navy to prove that land-based aircraft (bombers) could destroy battleships during a demonstration off the Virginia coast. He was not its chief. He appealed directly to the American people for an opportunity to show what airpower could do by pushing for an air force co-equal with the Army and the Navy. He used newspaper articles and books to spread his ideas about airpower. For his troubles he was sent out to Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
When the Navy suffered two aviation fiascos in one week (the destruction of the airship Shenandoah and the disappearance of a Navy amphibian trying to reach Hawaii nonstop from the West Coast) Mitchell could not help himself: he wrote a press release accusing the government, the Navy and the Army of frittering away the lives of pilots because they were ignorant of the needs and potential of airpower.

In doing so, Mitchell made many enemies (including the president).

A good book, although the way it jumps forward and backward in time is a little hard to track at times. The author clearly has some research behind the material he uses. It also includes some helpful photos.

 I review almost exclusively history books (with rare exceptions). I will gladly review any book having to do with antiaircraft or air defense. Get in touch with me for more information. Most of my book reviews are also on Goodreads and Amazon.

Darwin 1942 (three stars)

Not well known in the United States, the February 19th, 1942 Darwin Raid saw the Allies once again taken by surprise by the Japanese. This book is one of the few that really looks at the topic.

While the author clearly knows the topic, the emphasis seems to be a bit off in this Osprey book, which is part of a series that focuses on specific campaigns. While the author does provide background (the "road to war" type info) he seems to be more obsessed with the U.S. Army Air Corps unit which just happened to be at Darwin during the raid, the P-40s of the 33rd Pursuit Squadron. This unfortunate unit, just formed using pilots who had no combat experience and didn't know each other, did not last long at the hands of the veteran pilots of the Imperial Japanese Navy. While this is an important story, does it warrant describing the circumstances of each pilot's shootdown? Does it make any sense to map where every single P-40 went down? And is it necessary to discuss the motivations of one of the pilots involved in the melee?

As I said, the author obviously knows the topic, as evidenced by map produced showing the attack patterns of the various Japanese elements. But little is said about the antiaircraft artillery present other than a few impressions here and there. Did the guns lack experienced crews? Did they not have ancillary equipment such as predictors? Were any of the zeros dedicated to suppressing the flak? None of this is looked at.

Good artwork, maps and photos.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

MacArthur (Four Stars)

One of the Ballantine illustrated paperbacks of WWII, this volumes packs a lot of information, photos and maps  good information about General MacArthur's prior to WWII, such as his role in the Philippines following the Spanish-American War, the fighting he did during WWI with the AEF, his role in the Billy Mitchell court martial and in suppressing the Bonus March... a lot of material. In fact, this book does an admirable job in telling the story of a man whose life touched so many episodes of the American saga. It does not include a discussion of his role in reconstructing Japan or as Supreme Commander in Korea, but as I understand it, this is covered in a second book in this series.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Far Away in the Sky (three Stars)

David Koren went to Nigeria's eastern region as a Peace Corps volunteer, a school teacher, in the 1960s. After he completed his tour he went back to the United States but when Nigeria was torn apart by civil war he took an opportunity to help with the humanitarian relief efforts underway to save the women and children of the breakaway state of Biafra. This is his story.

Koren does a great job talking about his work with children in the eastern region, his own personal life on leaving the Peace Corps and the problems his group found at Sao Tome on arrival there. I like his attitude... when Nigeria needed teachers he was a teacher. When the airlift needed people to organize the aid coming in for Biafra he helped sort out the warehouses. When they needed aircraft mechanics more than they needed warehouse minders he became a mechanic. And in all of this Koren does a great job of telling the story of the airlift itself, a dangerous job given the problems involved in airlifting aid at night to indifferent airfields in Biafra, flying older aircraft and doing it all during the ever-present threat of Nigerian MiGs. A great memoir. Illustrated with black and white photos.

Monday, January 16, 2017

This is the Army, Mr. Jones! (Five Stars)

What a unique book! Chrisman, serving in the Pacific during WWII, didn't simply use his one-page V-Mails to write letters to his family and friends... he used it to draw cartoons about his service and military life in general. And Harry Chrisman was a REALLY good cartoonist. So when Sheryl Jones put these one-pagers together in a single book (with some background on each of the cartoons) it becomes something that is entertaining, educational AND funny. 

Thunder in the Mountains (Five Stars)

This book looks at the short conflict which took place in southwest West Virginia when violence escalated, first when private detectives in the pay of the coal companies got into a gunfight with locals in Matewan when the detectives came out to evict the families of miners trying to unionize. and then exploding when the local pro-labor constable, Sid Hatfield, was shot down on the steps of the courthouse in Welch by detectives in broad daylight as he was about to go to trial. The detectives were freed on bail.

The situation rapidly spun out of control as miners collected their rifles and pistols and decided to march to free other miners being held on murder charges related to the Matewan incident. It became clear that state police could not stop the men and there was no National Guard in West Virginia at the time, so federal troops were brought in to restore order or, if necessary, fight the miners. General Mitchell sent fighters and bombers to suppress the uprising. The United States appeared to be on the verge of another civil war.

This is an amazing story, one I was only vaguely  familiar with. Mr. Savage has written a great book on this topic, bringing several of the characters to life discussing the political and social issues involved in coal mining in the 1920s. His book is detailed without getting bogged down in details. If you only want to read one book on this topic then this should be the one. Includes black and white photos.