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Swashbucklers and Black Sheep — history making fighter squadron and “Pappy” Boyington

2 November 2012

Swashbucklers and Black Sheep — history making fighter squadron and “Pappy” Boyington

Swashbucklers and Black Sheep: a pictorial history of Marine Fighting Squadron 214 in World War II, Bruce Gamble, 2012, ISBN 13-978-0-7603-4250-3, 216 pp.


As is the publishing business custom, Zenith Press provided a copy of this book to review so that an objective review would be written. No compensation has been offered, expected or requested — nor is compensation accepted.


(illustration courtesy of Zenith Press)

This book is rich in detail, photos and art. Gamble has documented — in a clear, unadorned and revealing style — the history of the famed Black Sheep fighter squadron of the U.S. Marine Corps. Beginning as Swashbucklers, the squadron changed names to Black Sheep early in its history. Born in WW II they earned their berth in history flying Corsairs during the campaigns for the New Hebrides Islands and the Solomon Islands — what initially began as the fight for Guadalcanal and evolved into the meat grinding operation which reduced Rabaul, as well as the Imperial Japanese Naval Air Force, to only defensive operations.

Gamble tells this story, and many more, well. Photos are plentiful and originate from public as well as private sources — but what sets the book apart in this aspect is the use of no less than four accomplished aviation artists (Craig Kodera, Jim Laurier, R.L. Rasmussen and John Shaw) and their illustrations. It is Gamble, though,  who is the driving force throughout the book as a former historian with the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation and expert regarding the battles in the Southwest Pacific during WW II.

Over 80% of the pages in Swashbucklers and Black Sheep are devoted to the years of WW II which is fitting since these were the times when the squadron developed its reputation as well as traditions. Gamble begins on Ewa, Hawaii with the inception of VMF 214 and Brewster F2A Buffaloes in July 1942. We learn from him that this was hardly auspicious given the forming of this new fighting outfit out of the ashes of the Battle of Midway when the USMC aviation was badly mauled but Grumman F4F Wildcats soon replaced the Buffaloes, then Vought F4U Corsairs. The squadron’s service during the Korean War and the Vietnam War as well as current service is also described — flying McDonnell F2H Banshees, North American F2H Furies, Douglas A-4 Skyhawks to the current Boeing (formerly McDonnell Douglas) AV-8 Harriers as VMA 214. Yes, the book goes beyond the years inferred in the subtitle — a welcome bonus!

Gamble vividly describes the WW II activities of the Black Sheep as well as those of Gregory “Pappy” Boyington, the man who led them to so many aerial victories and fighter sweeps over the Japanese bastion of Rabaul. The vast number of casualties suffered in WW II during training will, perhaps, amaze most of us as how quickly replacements filled the empty billets. The description of the single Imperial Japanese Navy strike aircraft against the Essex class fleet carrier USS Franklin is also eye opening, as is the tragic casualties on that good ship while positioned about 50 miles (80km) off the east coast of the Japanese home island of  Kyushu — the Black Sheep included. Gamble’s experienced eye notes cannon barrels of a AA mount which have dramatically drooped due to the heat of the ensuing inferno, typical of the care taken to write Swashbucklers and Black Sheep.

Swashbucklers and Black Sheep is one of the several new releases from Zenith Press. The book is large format, which best shows the art work and photos, with most of the pages printed with backgrounds — all aspects are presented in excellent fashion — and is typical of  the Zenith Press production values.

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