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Book Review Time!


Somnus
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So, I've had a lot of free time lately, and I've actually been able to do some reading. I'd like to share with you all just what I've been reading.

 

Viper Pilot: A Memoir of Air Combat by Dan Hampton

 

This is a pretty good book by an F-16 Viper pilot. His career spanned 20 years, the majority of the time in the F-16, and he was what is called a Wild Weasel: a SAM hunter. The book has some very exciting first person retelling of mission that he flew, mostly in Iraq, sprinkled with some not so exciting (but still somewhat interesting) details about how fighter squads are organized and ran. Of special note for me at least is that he was a member of the 77th "Gamblers" fighter squadron, one of the squadrons stationed at Shaw AFB, where I spent a total of 9 formative years of my life.  Lt. Col. Dan Hampton is an excellent story teller, and his tales of luring SAM sites into "turning on" and firing so that they could be located and destroyed are exhilirating. They make me wonder if BMS Falcon have the F-16CJ model so I can be a Wild Weasel too!

 

Woodbine Red Leader: A P-51 Mustang Ace in the Mediterranean Theater by Lt. Gen. George Loving (ret.)

 

This book, while interesting in the fact that it tells stories of a relatively uncovered theater (compared to Europe), was not a very good read. It's written more as list of facts about the missions that Lt. Gen. Loving flew, without any of the interesting details. It's a lot of "On this date, we flew this mission. We saw this many Me-109s and shot down 2." I didn't feel like I ever got to know the author. Regardless, I still read the whole thing!

 

An Ace of the Eighth: An American Fighter Pilot's Air War in Europe by Norman "Bud" Fortier 

 

This book was more interesting that the previous, but it still had its "bare bone description" feeling of the the previous at times. However, at other times the author slips into first-person story mode and gives some exciting details about the missions that he flew. He details common tactics that the Germans used, such as "roller coaster" attack where a group of 109s or 190s would approach a bomber group head on, dive down below them, and then pull up to attack the bellies of bombers. It also seemed quite common for the German planes to split 'S' in order to get away from escort planes. Most of the encounters that he and his squadron had ended up with the Germans doing this.  There's also stories he tells of encounters with the first jet plane, the Me-262. One of my favorite parts of this book was a story of chase of a 109 that he told from his perspective, and then gives us from the German perspective, which was written down and he found after the war, while researching this book. All in all, this was a pretty good read, though it certainly had its moments where I was skimming, more than paying close attention. 

 

 

 

 

Currently I'm reading "Lords of the Sky" by Dan Hammond, which is billed as a history of fighter pilots and air combat, from the Red Baron to the F-16. I'm only a few chapters in, and they've all been about WWI so far. It's very well told, telling the history of combat in this era, as well as detailing stories of certain pilots such as Richthofen, Voss, McCudden etc., and explaining developments such as the interrupter and synchronizers for the Guns, and the Aldis sight. It's been very good so far, though I feel like he didn't do the story of the death of Werner Voss justice. 

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Great reviews!  Thanks for posting them Somnus.

 

If you're interested, I highly recommend The Roots of Blitzkrieg: Hans von Seeckt and German Military Reform, by James S. Corum, and it's companion book The Luftwaffe: Creating the Operational Air War, 1918-1940.

 

If you've ever wanted an in-depth understanding as to what exactly happened to the German military during the Weimar Republic, and how it pulled itself back together again, these are excellent reads.

 

Plus, Corum's notes and references are impeccable.  I've discovered a lot of other wonderful books based on his recommendations.  And I've been able to avoid a few disasters too, like Hoyt's Angels of Death: Goering's Luftwaffe.  I won't even link it, because it's awful.

 

Either way, James S. Corum is a retired US Army Lt. Col., and is an air-power and counter-insurgency historian.  And he puts a lot of emphasis on demystifying and de-propagandizing the Wehrmacht by bringing the readers attention to the shear volume of badly researched and poorly written material, authored by non-historians, published post-1945.  In his mind, those crap books (like Hoyt's Angels of Death) have done a lot of damage to our understanding of the Second World War.  He says in The Luftwaffe book, for example, that you really shouldn't be writing a serious work on the Wehrmacht if you: don't read German, don't have a background as a military historian, and don't have access to primary sources.  He talks a lot about how reliance on secondary sources has created a lot of false information.

 

Either way, it's very interesting stuff.

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