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Manga on the World’s Most Capable Seaplane

13 September 2022

US-2: Story of Search And Rescue Flying Boat Development drawn and written by Fuji Tsukishima

This is a manga, the Japanese art form similar to a graphic novel though with a certain dramatic as well as personal presentation. It is the story of a rescue by the crew of a ShinMaywa US-2 which is a remarkable STOL amphibian seaplane. Its ancestor is the Grumman Albatross though the US-2 has much more power and more advanced aeronautical features. It is incredibly capable and can operate in seas as high as nine feet which is unbelievable for a seaplane.

This link will take you to the manga and remember that this is in the Japanese language so page turning is from right to left. Advance by mousing over to the end of the left page and clicking. Similarly, going back is done by mousing over to the end of the right page and clicking.

Enjoy, the artwork is brilliant and so is the research.

Japanese Aircraft 1910—1941

25 August 2022

Japanese Aircraft 1910—1941, Robert C. Mikesh & Shorzoe Abe, 1990, ISBN 1-55750-563-2, 293 pp.

Front cover and the right side of Keith Woodcocks painting of IJN Soryu’s Mitsubishi A5M4 Claude fighters in 1939 over the East China Sea
Back cover and the left side of Keith Woodcocks painting of IJN Soryu’s Mitsubishi A5M4 Claude fighters in 1939 over the East China Sea

Japan defeated the Russian Navy surprisingly as well as spectacularly in 1905 (Battle of Tsushima Strait) and set a course to be a world power. Japan chose to do so by emulating the colonizing done by western powers in the previous centuries beginning with the invasion of Korea in 1910. This was closely followed in 1937 by invading a portion of China (Manchuria)—the Second Sino-Japanese War—but now largely accepted as the beginning of World War II (WW II). This “Asia for Asians” strategy of forceful country invasions by Japan would, of course, lead Japan into World War II (WW II) where she proceeded to invade Burma, Malaysia, the Philippines and other West Pacific island territories—beginning with the attack on the U.S. Navy at Pearl Harbor. 

Japan strove to keep pace with aviation development during this time and remarkably so by building aircraft under license (e.g., Kawasaki-Dornier’s Wal flying boat) as well as developing aircraft of original design. Eventually creating a few aircraft which were among the best of their types during World War II—e.g., the Mitsubishi A6M Zero, the Kawanishi H8K Emily, and the Yokosuka D4Y Suisei Judy. These are the later aircraft models than addressed in this book, but what of the designs which preceded them? Were there many? Were they interesting? Was there a thriving aviation industry with more than the three manufacturers just mentioned?

These question are difficult to answer using English language based sources but, once again, Robert Mikesh has stepped up and polished this hidden facet of aviation’s history. In his spare time serving in the U.S. Air Force while station in Japan for seven years he also studied Japan’s aviation history thoroughly and made vital personal connections. Much of his study culminated in Japan’s Aircraft 1910-1941 which he co-authored with Shorzoe Abe (an aeronautical engineer who was on the editing board for Tadashi Nozawa’s native Japanese language premier eight volume history, Encyclopedia of Japanese Aircraft 1900-1945).

Fortunately, Japanese Aircraft 1910-1941 is much more brief than Nozawa’s epic work since it comes in at a more easily digestible 293 pages. But these 293 pages of wonderful and insightful material are packed with images, data and descriptions. The format of Japanese Aircraft 1910-1941 will be familiar and comforting to readers of Janes All the World’s Aircraft in Service.

Leafing and perusing through this book is perhaps the best way to absorb its material. Given this period of aviation history is all but ignored in western media there are many surprises easily discovered in Japanese Aircraft 1910-1941.  A few of them are:

  • The number of aircraft design firms which number well over the handful made famous for their  WW II aircraft.
  • Aircraft were shipped to Japan from many countries.
  • Japan’s aviation industry had advanced sufficiently to design an ultra long distance aircraft beginning as early as 1932—the Gasuden Koken Long-range Research Aircraft which had several advanced features for the time.
  • The number of floatplane and seaplane designs is astounding.
  • Japan employed German aircraft firms for some of its military aircraft (e.g., the Ki-20 derived from the Junkers G 38)  in 1928—helping both Japan and Germany to prepare for initiating war. 

Thankfully the authors explain the naming system of the Imperial Japanese Army as well as the Imperial Japanese Navy. There are also four appendices which are especially helpful:

  • A list of WW II Japanese aircraft employed in the Pacific Theater of Operations (PTO)
  • Calendar conversion dates from Japan’s imperial calendar to the Gregorian calendar for the aircraft type numbers
  • As well as a compete bibliography as well as glossary.

Mikesh sagely optimized Japanese Aircraft 1910-1941 to address that country’s aircraft designs up to the onset of the attack on Pearl Harbor, bringing the U.S. into WW II—though aircraft employed by the Imperial Japanese forces in the 1937 invasion of China are included. But why? Well, for good reason in that both authors recognize René Francillon’s book Japanese Aircraft of the Pacific War as the signal publication for this phase of Japan’s aviation history. Obviously this is an excellent reference book for anyone with interests in Japanese aviation as well as the years between WW I and those leading into WW II.

Leaving no detail of presentation forgotten, the book’s cover wraps from the front all the way around to include the back as a marvelous copy of an original Keith Woodcock painting. It shows a pair of Mitsubishi A5M4 Claude fighters which were assigned to the Imperial Japanese Navy’s Soryu while flying a mission over the East Chine Sea in 1939.

Zeppelin Onslaught: the Forgotten Blitz 1914-1915

24 August 2022

Zeppelin Onslaught: the Forgotten Blitz 1914-1915, Ian Castle, 2018, ISBN 978-1-84832-433-6, 356 pp.

Ian Castle’s recent talk made during Aviation Cultures Mk VI was highly interesting for a few reasons:

  • The tech software broke down but he segued to an extemporaneous talk which was entertaining and jammed full with facts, observations and insights. It was obvious to all in the internet conference that Mr. Castle not only knew his subject matter but had been carefully considering all the research he had uncovered.
  • He is quite knowledgeable in the types of airships, and makers, flown for the Kaiser during World War I (WW I) as well as intimately aware of the effects of the various bombing endeavors. So much that he is writing a trilogy on the subject with the first two books, Zeppelin Onslaught: the Forgotten Blitz 1914-1915 and Zeppelin Inferno: the Forgotten Blitz 1916, already published.
  • Castle pleasantly spoke of his keen insight as well as objectivity to both sides of the aerial conflict—England’s first blitz—and how each side matured their respective tactics and strategy.

The first title, Zeppelin Onslaught: the Forgotten Blitz 1914-1915 centers on Imperial Germany employing a new weapon (the airship and the airplane) in an innovative way (long range aerial bombing) and how Great Britain reacted defensively—and a bit offensively at times. Castle has sussed out the sequence of events, people who made significant decisions as well as a bit of their personalities. He writes brilliantly with a smooth easy style using clever word phrasing on occasion—like a chef adding layers of flavor while cooking.

Zeppelin Onslaught also describes the remarkable evolution of the airships made my Zeppelin as well as Schütte-Lanz during this time. This development continued rapidly during 1914—1915 both in production numbers as well as sizes. Additionally, bombing raids, novel for the time, increased in frequency as well as audacity. In brief, airships became more capable for the Imperial German forces (army and navy) in terms of range, load, altitude and speed while Great Britain struggled to find raiding airships much less intercept them with the aircraft of the day.

Castle addresses the anti-airship weaponry employed quite well. This ranged from conventional artillery to the dropping of bombs and grenades from aircraft flying above the raiding airships—including, incredulously, a grapnel like device loaded with TNT explosive at the end of a 1000 foot cable.  He also closely follows the thinking of Germany’s military leadership influencing the Kaiser’s decisions initially from greatly restricted targeting to essentially opening London up as a free-fire zone—while keeping the homes of his relatives off the targeting list. Balanced against this is his telling of Great Britain’s initial slowness to address the threat, especially the Admiralty.

There were the innovators, however, and Castle writes of their boldness and leadership. From Admiral Sir Percy Scott to a variety of German airship captains. People who have long been unknown for their great achievements such as the developer of an anti-aircraft artillery shell design to produce smaller fragments (increasing the safety factor for those on ground below the detonated shell) to the multitude of rescuers of bombing victims amid the rubble of destroyed structures as well as the bravery of aircrews.

Ian Castle details the deaths, casualties and monetary losses almost blow-by-blow and shows how extraordinarily ineffective this original blitz was. The overall destruction has been neatly tabulated but Castle also retains the suffering of the victims by noting their wounds and deaths on an individual basis. The dichotomy of airship crews braving electrical storms (recall the airship lifting gas was hydrogen) and inadequate navigation ability to somewhat randomly drop either high explosive or incendiary bombs is a running thread through this period of the air war over Great Britain. These fantastic machines flown by rugged aircrews to drop, what are by today’s standards, small bombs (10kg-100kg) without the use of any science to aerial bombardment—no concept of precision or accuracy like bomb drift, ballistic trajectory or aerodynamic drag—all to usually damage a garden or an apartment. Random navigation and random bombing—Castle does his best to describe Imperial Germany’s rationale—but it is an unfathomable rationale. But when does irrationality deter the efforts of a warring power?

Zeppelin Onslaught: the Forgotten Blitz 1914-1915  has an excellent compact index, flight paths charted of significant airship and seaplane missions, well reproduced glossy black and white images, as well as copious notes and a rich bibliography. Eerily, this blitz shows much commonality with the blitz to come during World War II with regard to the switch in raid timing as well as following the Moon’s phases and the strategic shift from military to civilian targets. The machines would change, the destructiveness would increase and civilians would be meant  to suffer—as Ian Castle states, this “forgotten blitz” opened a new dimension of warfare. Unfortunately, a warfare which would be employed by all major powers in the future—but these long range air assaults were part of that beginning. Historians as well as humanitarians will appreciate this book for its writing, depth of research and passion.

Readers will likely know these air raids failed, in the end, to achieve significant or even anything of lasting military value. This was the age when airships were approaching their zenith and aircraft were so nascent they were undergoing revolutionary redesigns nearly every six months. Engine reliability was also a challenge for both airships as well as airplanes. Yet, the blitz continued, but why? And what future changes were made by Germany as well as England? These details and inquiries will likely be addressed in the second book of Ian Castle’s remarkable trilogy, Zeppelin Inferno: the Forgotten Blitz 1916 which will be reviewed here shortly.

Interestingly, Ian Castle has a website devoted to this subject and it is quite complete with a talk schedule, his books, historical information and more—Zeppelins. Gothas & Giants

N-4 Down: the Hunt for the Arctic Airship Italia

12 August 2022

N-4 Down: the Hunt for the Arctic Airship Italia, Mark Piesing, 2021, ISBN 978-0-06-285152-9, 428 pp.

Another fantastic book about a lesser known—though enrapturing—chapter in lighter-than-air (LTA) aviation history has been deeply researched and well written by Mark Piesing—N-4 Down: the Hunt for the Airship Italia

Piesing writes descriptively and in detail about the demise of The Italia (Umverto Nobile’s N-4 design) as readers would expect from the title, of course, but it is also the backstory which is also captivating and intriguing. The rescue of the survivors, which was weeks in the making, as well.  Readers will sense the agony of Arctic crash survivors (Piesing also recounts previous Arctic expeditions of the 1920s and before). Survivors who endured desolate weeks and even months marooned on the pack ice. Pack ice which is constantly in motion, apparently at random speed as well as direction, but never still for long—much like “The Grand Staircase” of Hogwarts. An overnight’s drifting could find oneself more than ten miles from the night before. Travel on foot was a combination of hiking, sloshing and crawling that lent whole new meanings to the terms arduousness and hostile environment.

N-4 Down also brings to life the actual personalities of historical figures in this historical part of Arctic exploration. Names which are universally recognized, and many which are not, but all described in all their humanity. They were men and women—some were less than likable, most were ensnared by their country’s governmental power plays. Naturally, all had feet of clay (marking N-4 Down as an objective telling history) but all were driven to be the first to explore, or tell the tale of, the blank million square mile surrounding the geographical North Pole. Yes, people knew it was there but they did not know what was there. Exploration at its most challenging and demanding!

Umberto Nobile, designer and commander of The Italia, was much more than the man most typical histories record him—as well documented by Piesing. He was a brilliant designer of aircraft and highly personable. He saw value in the semi-rigid dirigible designs—a solid keel from which a control car and engines were positioned, control surfaces to the rear, and a fabric covered envelope that housed the bags of lifting gas—hydrogen in the case of The Italia, as in his earlier designs. 

Famed arctic explorer Roald Amundsen came to realize that reaching the North Pole would have to be done by means other than months of dog sledding which brought him to aviation with its promise of hours instead of months travel time. After a false start with aircraft he shifted to LTA and Umberto Nobile. They collaborated, with others too, and flew the LTA renamed The Norge to the North Pole and to the World’s acclaim. The flight was less than pleasant as stirringly told by Piesing given the roughness of Amundsen’s leadership style and lack of common language between Nobile and Amundse. The apparent disdain of the Norwegians to non-Scandinavian arctic explorers also did not help. Readers will feel the tension as well as the cluttered, messy confines of the unsealed control car as The Norge navigates the unknown.

After the flight of The Norge Nobile realized that more could be done with airships than ticking off record boxes. The airship era meant arctic exploration was no longer the realm of the Scandinavians, especially the Norwegians. Piesing describes intricately, and in an easily understandably way, Nobile’s effort to fund, build, then fly his N-4 design—The Italia. Italian built and crewed but all was not to be so altruistic as Nobile lived in a totalitarian state ruled by Benito Mussolini who allowed Italo Balbo, more devious and vicious than Il Duce, to be Nobile’s powerful nemesis. 

As readers soon learn The Italia had a demanding schedule of five flights slated during the Arctic exploration season of 1928. Five flights for science, for mapping, for dispelling of myths and unfounded beliefs in what lay in the Arctic. Returning from the fifth flight, Nobile’s second to the North Pole, ended tragically with a crash which separated the envelope and control car. The control car somewhat softly crashing onto the pack ice and the envelope (containing the bags of lifting gas) carrying away part of the crew but not before they heroically tossed out life saving supplies to those on the ground. Weeks of ingenuity and abandonment followed for the rest of the crew. Their well thought out struggle for survival is remarkably told in N-4 Down. Soon the world joined in the rescue the survivors of The Italia with the notable exceptions of three major countries—Great Britain which had flying boats and an airship which could be soon with range of the Arctic, the USA with its great LTA capability, and Italy which sponsored Nobile’s expedition for a huge propaganda ploy.

Italy? Yes! Amazingly…unbelievably…Italy. 

Italo Balbo had the fix in and delayed, denied and deliberated any rescue efforts. Shame on the captain of Nobile’s support ship. Bravo to one Italian army officer who defied orders and set out to find the crash site and survivors. Piesing tells their stories and more—describing perilous transcontinental flights, stormy tossed passages through mountain passes and flight through dense fog to break out over land with the problem of finding out where they actually were (given the absence of GPS and electronic navigation at the time).

N-4 Down: the Hunt for the Arctic Airship Italia is a wonderfully written and a well researched book on Umberto Nobile’s exploration of the Arctic using his airships The Norge and The Italia. It is also the story of the best of human nature with people uniting as a force to survive and a number of rescuers risking life and aircraft with many losing both.

Readers will enjoy the excitement of the times, the thrill of exploring the unexplored, flying LTA and vicariously meeting historic figures through Piesing’s expert authorship. Aviation history buffs and historians will want this book for its telling of perhaps the most significant historical chapter of semi-rigid LTA airships, the Arctic exploration achievements and personality of Umberto Nobile. They will also enjoy the context filling footnotes, index and detailed end notes.  

Airpower Over Gallipoli 1915-1916

5 August 2022

Airpower Over Gallipoli 1915-1916, Sterling Michael Pavelec, 2020, ISBN 9781682475454, 215 pp.

Gallipoli was an added front opened by the British and the French in World War I (WW I) with the idea to break the trench warfare stalemate against Imperial Germany in Western Europe. On paper it looked like a promising prospect to the Allies—the British Army had their colonial forces at its disposal—Australia and New Zealand—nearby; Britain’s Royal Navy had plenty of seapower to spare for the campaign (especially a number of battleships); the French had their navy and army; both France and Great Britain had nascent airpower. All were great advantages over the Ottoman Empire which had sided with Imperial Germany in WW I. The plan was simple: Great Britain to take the European side of the Dardanelles Strait—which joins the Aegean Sea to the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea—while the French took the Asian side. With a bit of luck, battleships would blast their way through the strait and soon be knocking on the front door of Istanbul. The surrender of the Ottoman Empire (later reformed into the country, Turkey) would greatly expose Germany’s southern flank—it would tear it open. The Ottomans were perceived to be at a great disadvantage not having significant industry, lacking a sea going navy, and possessing little to no aircraft. 

What could go wrong? Would the flimsy aircraft of the day make a difference? Could leaders combine land, sea and air forces to their greatest effect?

Pavelec answers these important questions and more—much more—in Airpower Over Gallipoli 1915-1916. He answers them with telling detail bringing readers into the day-to-day-air warfare planning and missions during the nine month long Gallipoli Campaign. Ironically, the Gallipoli Campaign quickly mired into the same stalemated trench warfare it was intended to break in Western Europe. Tens of thousands of men on each side but never more than a handful of aircraft for either side—yet leaders on both sides began thinking of air warfare differently from their counterparts in Western Europe, by thinking strategically. Pavelec describes the challenges in easily understandable and empathetic writing as well as how they were inventively met. His research is superb and necessarily limited primarily, but not exclusively, to UK sources—which he openly discusses—as the French, German and Turkish sources are few, if any. 

The context of the ground war is, of course, paramount to understanding the decision making of the air warfare leaders. Airpower Over Gallipoli 1915-1916 outlines and specifies this quite well for the reader. This understanding aids in comprehending why the Ottoman forces could not dislodge the western forces or why the western forces could not get off the landing beaches for an almost-to-incredible-to-believe three fourths of a year.

WW I aviation changed rapidly, significant advances every six months or so, and air warfare tactics were nascent—so the strategic aviation thinking was dynamic to say the least. Naturally, scouting and artillery spotting became the first missions. Then, unlike the Western Front, the Allied forces on the southern portion of the peninsula attempted to cut off (interdict) Ottoman supply lines at the northern end. Eventually, air to air combat ensued with the arrival of more modern aircraft such as the Fokker Eindecker and Nieuport 10. Pavelec describes the effects of each aircraft type had on the war effort as each arrived—and there were many aircraft types which found their way to Gallipoli. The Allies had a long logistic train and, perhaps unexpectedly, so did the Ottomans who obtained their aircraft as well as pilots, from Germany. How these two countries addressed their aviation logistics involved the effects of politics, stale paradigms and innovative leadership. Principal individual players on each side are so well written of that readers will feel as if they would recognize them on the street and begin conversing with them quite easily.

Airpower Over Gallipoli 1915-1916 is another book in the Naval Institute Press series on airpower and is an excellent addition. Pavelec rightly acknowledges that this period of aviation history has not been given the attention it deserves. This is where strategic air power was conceived with the use of interdiction, deep reconnaissance to support land as well as sea operations, and gaining air supremacy. 

Airpower Over Gallipoli 1915-1916 is an expert and flowing written history that is remarkably  backed up with an excellent series of appendices. These appendices make quick work for the reader to understand the context of this fascinating chapter of early airpower, and are an unexpected gift:

  • Appendix I: Gallipoli Personalities (individual descriptions and their suggested biographies)
  • Appendix II: The Aircraft of Gallipoli (the numerous types and their details)
  • Appendix III: The Literature of the Gallipoli Campaign (including the land and sea war)

Pavelec has also provided a thorough index as well as comprehensive notes and citations throughout. Aside from its obvious value to those interested in aviation and airpower history it is also an exciting take of aviators, passionate in their professions, combating not only opposing forces but their own command hierarchies.

Aichi M6A1 Seiran: Japan’s Submarine-Launched Panama Canal Bomber

4 August 2022

Aichi M6A1 Seiran: Japan’s Submarine-Launched Panama Canal Bomber, Robert C. Mikesh, 1975, ISBN 0-914144-13-8, 32 pp.

Aichi created Seirans to be based from the world’s only class of submarine aircraft carriers—the Imperial Japanese Navy I-400 Class. This makes the Seiran the only purpose-built submarine based attack aircraft, to date, and it is an aircraft with beautiful lines. Each I-400 Class submarine could support three aircraft and could be armed with torpedoes or bombs.

Aichi’s Seiran (晴嵐 Clear Storm Sky), more directly meaning an unexpected storm coming out of the clear blue sky, was a World War II (WW II) special mission-built aircraft with unique capabilities which was designed and built for the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN). It was also unknown to the Allies during the war and may have totally surprised (living up to its name, Seiran) the Allies in any of the IJN’s envisioned mission scenarios. Serious mission planning and preparation to destroy the Panama Canal’s Gatun Lock (to deny easy access to the Pacific Ocean from the USA’s shipyards on its eastern, Atlantic, coast) was overtaken by events, changing the mission to instead attack aircraft carriers at anchor within the Ulithi Atoll (in readiness for the invasion of the Japanese Home Islands).

Little is known of the aircraft as it never was used in combat due to WW II’s sudden ending with the atomic bombing of Nagasaki which curtailed the only I-400 class/Seiran mission. Japan’s military aimed to destroy all plans and remaining aircraft (some production aircraft were lost in training and transport) at war’s end but one aircraft remained as did scattered bits of information.

Enter Robert C. Mikesh! His expertise in Japanese military aviation history as well as researching skills soon focused on the Seiran after WW II’s ending. His passion and abilities would eventually aid in his obtaining the curatorship of the National Air & Space Museum. There could hardly be a better person to write a treatise on this aircraft.

Mikesh does not disappoint. Various descriptions of the aircraft design aspects are both poetic as well as vividly clear. Photographs are many, non-repetitive and reinforce the concise text. Black and white line drawings fill in what the images cannot and the center two pages are a lovely art illustration of a float mounted Seiran done by Thomas Hitchcock. Mikesh does not stop there, though what has been mentioned is already exceptional, he also includes a dozen nostalgic color images from when the sole surviving Seiran was on outdoor display at NAS Alameda. Aichi M6A1 Seiran ends with eight tables of technical and performance data—seven for the Seiran with the last one for the I-400 Class submarine.

Printed in 1975 it was a bargain at the listed price but sells on the used market for 10x the original retail and still worth every penny. Mikesh was an exceptional author as well as aviation historian who was a perfect fit for writing this monograph about this unique aircraft—the world’s only purpose built submarine based attack aircraft. 

Ghost Soldiers: the Forgotten Epic Story of World War II’s Most Dramatic Mission

1 August 2022

Ghost Soldiers: the Forgotten Epic Story of World War II’s Most Dramatic Mission, Hampton Sides, 2001, ISBN 0-385-49564-1342 pp.

Active rescues can be hard. In fact, usually hard since they involve wind, water and terrain as well as the treatment of the injured parties. Then there are prisoner of war (POW) rescues—which is rescuing on an otherworldly dimension. 

Otherworldly since POWs are most often deeply within enemy territory, most often near an enemy base of operations, where it is hard to get in and a long way to get out. Then there are the POWs who will be weak from starvation, malnourished as well as dehydrated. And, for that extra touch, there are the numbers of POWs which might be rescued for a given raid where those individuals can range from a dozen to hundreds. Is it any wonder that so few POW rescue raids are attempted much less successful? But a POW rescue raid is a higher calling and there are those who will answer—those who are willing to brave all the odds, the unknown factors, to use their professional skills right to the edge of their capabilities.

Such a raid by such people occurred during World War II (WW II) to liberate hundreds of Bataan Death March survivors held in a prison camp near Cabanatuan on the island of Luzon in the Philippines. The 6th Ranger Battalion of the U.S. Army was tasked to infiltrate 30 miles of Japanese held territory, scout, rescue over 500 U.S. and British POWs—then get them safely across Allied lines. Oh yes, and in a hurry before the Japanese Army executed the POWs as they were forced to retreat during the Allied invasion of the Philippines.

Hampton Sides tells the story of these POWs and the Rangers in Ghost Soldiers vividly and with compassionate understanding. Readers will be enthralled by the story as it unfolds with all of its uncertainty from one moment to the next. The POWs were not without help in their captivity since local heroes take part in this real life thriller—heroes who were not people who have that “hero” look, just ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. Readers will ask themselves, “Could I have been that person?”  Sides also exhibits cultural awareness of both sides by describing how the POWs originally were abandoned by their commanders as well as the military mind of the Japanese who treated those POWs so inhumanly though Japan was a signatory to the Geneva Convention. 

The Rangers had to overcome the tropical climate as well as having to do what the Army always does—adapt and overcome. The Rangers soon learned the original situation had changed when the town near the camp had become a transit point for the retreating Japanese Army so as many as 8000 enemy soldiers would now be within reaction distance to the raid. A few hundred Rangers against 8000 professional soldiers—quite the problem, and then add the onus of 500+ weak prisoners most of which would not be ambulatory and all would be slow.

How? How was rescue thought to be possible? 

As always, “Rangers Lead the Way!” Ghost Soldiers is faithful to this history, this almost rare history and for some inexplicable reason not a well celebrated history. Hampton Sides is accurate in his research and exciting in his presentation making Ghost Soldiers a superb book to read for its uplifting nature as well as a model of planning and execution performed by the 6th Ranger Battalion. 

Broken Wings of the Samurai: the Destruction of the Japanese Airforce

31 July 2022

Broken Wings of the Samurai: the Destruction of the Japanese Airforce, Robert C. Mikesh, 1993, ISBN 1-55750-083-5, 199 pp.

Robert Mikesh was expert (after a rich life he passed away February 2022, aged 94) in Japan’s aviation history—along with being curator for the National Air & Space Museum (NASM) and superb custom model builder. Broken Wings of the Samurai is his epic summation of the military aircraft and aircraft wrecks which were in Japan shortly after the end of World War II (WW II). Except for remarkable aircraft types, almost all of Japan’s army and naval aircraft were sent to the salvager with little to no regard for history or museum display potential. 

Readers are fortunate, though, that Mikesh produced this book since it records the aircraft types used by the Imperial Japanese Forces most of which have few to no surviving examples. Readers of Broken Wings may marvel at the more than a handful of aircraft types little known outside of Japan, or those with expertise in the field, much less remembered (with descriptions and images) by Mikesh’s skillful researching. Some of these aircraft are:

  • Nakajima E8N2 “Dave”
  • Mitsubishi Ki-46 “Dinah”
  • Kawasaki Ki-45 Toryu 屠龍 “Nick”
  • Tachikawa Ki-9 “Spruce”
  • Nakajima J1N1 Gekko 月光 “Irving”
  • Shōwa L2D3 “Tabby”
  • Tachikawa SS-1 (no codename as it unknown to the Allies)
  • Nakajima G8N Renzan 連山 “Rita” (Japan’s are land based four engine long range bomber)
  • Nakajima Kikka 中島 橘花 (Japan’s take on the Messerschmitt Me 262 jet powered fighter)
  • Mitsubishi J8M Shūsui 修生 (Japan’s take on the Messerschmitt Me 163 Comet rocket powered fighter)
  • Aichi M6A1 Seiran 晴嵐 (the world’s sole purpose-built submarine based attack aircraft, no codename as it was unknown to the Allies)

…believe it or not there are many more!

Broken Wings also presents readers with images and information of the less rare as well as exceptional aircraft, such as:

  • a captured P-40 at a training school 
  • Kawanishi H8K “Emily” (WW II’s best flying boat design)
  • Nakajima A6M2-N “Rufe”
  • Mitsubishi F1M “Pete”
  • Aichi E16A Zuiun 瑞雲 “Paul”
  • Mitsubishi A6M “Zeke” or “Zero”
  • Nakajima Ki-43 Hayabusa 隼 “Oscar”
  • Yokosuka D4Y 彗星 “Judy” (WW II’s highest performing dive bombing aircraft)
  • Nakajima B6N2 Tenzan 天山 “Jill”
  • Kawanishi N1K Kyōfū 強風 “George

…and many, many more!

Readers will enjoy more aircraft than those itemized in the incomplete lists given above. Broken Wings is not only a requiem of Imperial Japan’s military aviation designs it also encapsulates WW II Japan’s naval as well as army aviation achievements whether it was leading edge or yeoman in nature. Mikesh’s knowledge abounds as does his passion for aviation history in this well produced and regarded book. Broken Wings is the book to have on WW II Japan’s aircraft—bar none—since it is dense with information, full of context, clear table and excellent images—some images are remarkable and some are heartbreaking (destroyed to prevent capture or purposely wrecked prizes).

The Turtle and the Dreamboat

25 July 2022

The Turtle and the Dreamboat: the Cold War Flights that Forever Changed the Course of Global Aviation, Jim Leeke, 2022, ISBN 978-1-64012-413-4, 248 pp.

Jim Leeke’s The Turtle and the Dreamboat slips readers into the world just after World War II (WW II) ended, in 1946, with the race inspired by competition for not losing identity in a newly formed united military—the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The race was between the U.S. Navy (USN) and the U.S. Army Air Forces (AAF). The aircraft could hardly have been more different—the Navy’s brand new Lockheed P2V Neptune and the AAF’s mature Boeing B-29 Superfortress. Navy versus Army. Lockheed versus Boeing. One flight primarily challenged by a long flight over the expanse of the Pacific Ocean and the other crossing over the magnetically deranged North Pole. A lot was on the table and Leeke tells the story of brilliantly as well as evocatively. 

The race is about the Navy’s Truculent Turtle and the AAF’s Pacusan Dreamboat and what a race it was! Unheard of great circle routes across hemispheres with changing weather being only one of the challenges faced by these innovative flights crews. New navigation challenges, fuel burn awareness and deeply intimate knowledge of the each aircraft, sleep deprivation, long periods with no possibility of radio contact much less radio navigation. These flight crews were working at the absolute thinnest edge of the day’s technology performance envelope.

The aircraft chosen could hardly have been more different from one another. The Neptune was a brand new design powered by two radial engines. The B-29 was a venerable design with four radial engines having over come early trouble with disturbing engine fires (the B-29 was rushed into WW II with that trait).  

The P2V Neptune’s (later redesigned P-2 from PV2) creation was spurred by the birth of the Cold War and the AAF’s (soon to be Air Force) currently being the only service which could deliver nuclear weapons. The Navy had the role of defending on the high seas and rightly feared losing defense budget monies to the Air Force. Back in the day nuclear weapons were large and weighty so the Navy issued a proposal for a long range, twin engine, land based patrol/bomber aircraft to get into the nuclear delivery business. Voilá—the Neptune. It’s arrival on-scene could not have been more opportune since the AAF was setting distance and load-to-altitude records nearly as fast as the newspapers could be printed to report them. Like it or not, a public relations race was on and the Navy knew it was slow off the mark—so decisive and immediate action had to be taken. The Turtle was the first production Neptune off the line—the race with the AAF was now on!

The AAF had been flying the Dreamboat to record after record as fast as the attempts could be thought of and the B-29 was the aircraft to use. Boeing’s Superfortress had seen years of military service by war’s end so there were few, if any, nuances for flight crews yet to uncover. Yet the B-29 was such a revolutionary aircraft that the AAF felt there was still much more potential regarding range and capability which could be realized. Longer ranges with heavier loads that which were now imperative as the Cold War onset. The AAF was the only service anywhere in the world that could deliver a nuclear weapon making the AAF the “Big Stick” against those daring to attempt to intimidate the United Sates—as well as with Congressional appropriations at the expense of the Navy.  

Why was there a race for ultra-long distance, anyway? Technologically the opportunity for ultra-long fights was dawning so great circle routes were now considered as airways to connect hemispheres. The AAF was well accustomed to 3000 mile missions and the Navy equally so with 2000+ mile missions a matter of routine. Commercially, airlines were drooling for what could be learned from these flights. Was the Pacific Ocean able to be routinely crossed without island hopping (each stop depleting revenue while adding travel time)? Could routes between Europe and North America be shortened by thousands of miles using polar great circle routes? These were significant and nerve wracking questions of potential which airlines did not have the money to research themselves.

Flight planning and preparation of these military aircraft for their flights make being head coach of an NFL team seem like prepping for a game of Dodge Ball. Leeke has readers easily understand the complex planning accomplished by both crews. The author relates the facets which bring the reality of each challenge starkly out to the front. Special preparations which were developed are well described such as the smallest of details during final fueling plans so as to not over stress tires and struts and extra fuel tanks as well as extra cargo (for the public relations folks). Leeke amusingly explains how each aircraft went from a single word name to a two word name. No fact seems to have gone unmentioned and all are woven together into an unfolding and evolving story by Leeke.

Running throughout the marvelously written history are the stories of each flight crew member. Leeke brings the story of each flight to include the human dimension by relating the level of professionalism each crew member had attained before their flight attempt as well as who their families were and what they were doing, as well. These flights did not take place in a vacuum… each crew member had family, nearly all were combat veterans and all decided they could place their faith in each other as well as their aircraft for days of flying at a time. The risks were great—especially the ones which could not be easily calculated—an engine failure during the long periods of communication blackouts, mountains and heavy weather, icing (neither aircraft was equipped with deicing equipment) and Saint Elmo’s fire were a few.

In the end two fantastic flights were accomplished (one a new record) within days of one another and with no casualties. For a few their flight was the apex of an honorable service career and for others a magnificent milestone. Thankfully, one aircraft ended up in a museum—restored and placed on display after years of gate guard duty exposed to the elements. Myopically, the other, even after many long distance and record setting flights, was scrapped—leaving only photos and memories behind for us.

Readers can now fly between North America and Europe or the Southern Hemisphere due in major part to the historical flights and flight crews of The Turtle and the Dreamboat. Aside from aviation history book shelves this book also belongs to those who read about explorers and feel simpatico with that special urge to do what has not been done. It is also a quite pleasant read.

Restoration of Museum Aircraft

20 July 2022

Restoring Museum Aircraft, Robert Mikesh, 1997, ISBN 1 85310 875 8, 218 pp.

Restoring Museum Aircraft by Robert Mikesh

Many of us have seen aircraft displayed in museums. A handful of aircraft. Dozens of aircraft. Hundreds of  aircraft. Aircraft of vastly different types, ages, uses and countries of origin. Except for flying, they appear to have little in common with each other. Just think about it. How would you compare a Fokker Triplane to a Supermarine Spitfire to one of the Space Shuttles? Wings and engines yes—but different wings, structures, manufacturing and powerplant designs.

There is one thing these marvelous, historical or inspirational machines have in common. They have been restored. Restored as if better-than-new to simply maintained but they all have gotten care in a museum. Restorers should get credit but they rarely do, those people who lovingly labor in the museum backrooms or museum service buildings. 

And who better than Robert Mikesh to write about what they do and how they do it in his Restoring Museum Aircraft? For 21 years Mikesh curated for the National Air & Space Museum (NASM). Yes, for over two decades he oversaw acquisition and restoration of almost more aircraft than can be counted. Not only that, but before he curated at the NASM he flew aircraft while serving in the U.S. Air Force and became expert in the aviation history of Japan, as well.

Restoring Museum Aircraft has what you would expect to see addressed, of course, but you would be right in expecting more. And there is more! Roles of curators and restorers to collection and restoration decisions. Mikesh continues to documenting the teardown, materials, propulsion—even tires and more. Much more.

Mikesh’s Restoring Museum Aircraft is a fascinating and insightful book which is chock full of color images showing specific aircraft examples to illustrate points in the book. The photos are in detailed color and are fantastically intimate as readers see aircraft as few ever see them—disassembled, without paint and missing parts (away for fabrication or restoration). Restoring Museum Aircraft has a section of appendices to drool over—all eight of them—each its own treasure trove of vital information.

This book is a natural for the curator as well as the restoration expert of nearly any speciality. It is also a book for those who appreciate looking behind the curtain, those with curiosity for insight, those who like to know not only why an aircraft is there but how it got there.