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Wings of War: Great Combat Tales of Allied and Axis Pilots During World War II

27 October 2015

Wings of War: Great Combat Tales of Allied and Axis Pilots During World War II, James P. Busha, 2015, ISBN 9780760348529, 256 pp., 32 color and 123 b/w photos

blog Book Wings of War

James P. Busha has literalized important World War II history which has too often been unaddressed in past historical accounts. These individual accounts by service people (both Allied and Axis) recall the context of the times and are not the stuff of grand overview where the ugly details are often dismissed to, coincidentally we are sure, to place things in the best of light.

We learn so much in Wings of War that it is a challenge to write a succinct review, but here are a few stories which may enlighten even the most well-read of us:

  • An OS2U Kingfisher pilot backing his aircraft onto a beach to rescue two pilots from the shores of Japan, and under fire no less
  • Many aircraft were knowingly sacrificed, crews would have to ditch their aircraft and await ocean rescue after their attacks due to fuel starvation, in order to sink the last of Japan’s aircraft carriers
  • How the Battle of Britain was a close run thing
  • What is was like to be in a fighter formation which was thirty abreast attacking dozens of heavy bombers
  • What is was like to be in a heavy bomber as thirty fighters flying in abreast formation came in for the attack
  • How little combat flight training new pilots often received—in all services
  • Some pilots loved the often maligned Brewster Buffalo
  • What it was like to fly and fight in a Curtiss Helldiver as well as a Douglas Dauntless
  • Living as a fighter pilot during a losing effort and against ever increasing odds
  • What is was like to be in victorious bombing and attack missions—in all services
  • What is was like to be in a disastrous bombing mission—in all services

Busha pulls no punches and does not smooth over rough spots. These are the recollections of warriors who were at the pointy end of the stick where truth is unvarnished, raw and a cold calculation amid racing minds and adrenaline boosted hearts. The context of the war is felt moment by moment—not in comfortable retrospect aware of the end of the story. Engines often performed poorly, surprise enemy appearances were common, flak was either effective or extremely effective, bailing out over enemy ground often had pilots stay with fatally wounded aircraft (often to save wounded crew aboard)—all these and more were some of the everyday experiences by Allied, as well as Axis, airmen so well described by their own words.

Wings of War is important to read and occasionally review while reading about the strategies and overviews of World War II, or any war. Important because the humanity, suffering and selflessness which mark war are generally lost in most historical accounts as they address courses, speeds, tonnage, tactics and results—but not in Wings of War.

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As is the publishing custom, Zenith Press provided a copy of Wings of War: Great Combat Tales of Allied and Axis Pilots During World War II for an objective review.

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