Fire In The Sky: The Air War In The South Pacific
Eric M Bergerud | 2001-04-13 00:00:00 | Basic Books | 752 | Aviation
In the first two years of the Pacific War of World War II, air forces from Japan, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand engaged in a ruthless struggle for superiority in the skies over the Solomon Islands and New Guinea. Despite operating under primitive conditions in a largely unknown and malignant physical environment, both sides employed the most sophisticated technology available at the time in a strategically crucial war of aerial attrition. In one of the largest aerial campaigns in history, the skies of the South Pacific were dominated first by the dreaded Japanese Zeros, then by Allied bombers, which launched massed raids at altitudes under fifty feet, and finally by a ferocious Allied fighter onslaught led by a cadre of the greatest aces in American military history.Utilizing primary sources and scores of interviews with surviving veterans of all ranks and duties, Eric Bergerud recreates the fabric of the air war as it was fought in the South Pacific. He explores the technology and tactics, the three-dimensional battlefield, and the leadership, living conditions, medical challenges, and morale of the combatants. The reader will be rewarded with a thorough understanding of how air power functioned in World War II from the level of command to the point of fire in air-to-air combat.
As an Australian I have read the Australian Defence Forces and US Army perspectives of the WW2 Struggle for the South West and South Pacific theatres of war. Mr Bergerud dovetails the overall picture here of the air war during that period.This type of material must benefit all. A better understanding of the controversial egocentric leaders is also provided. FIRE in the SKY is one of these books that is very readable and above all educational.
"Fire in the Sky" is a great book, indeed a real treasure, for the right reader. It is laden with detail about the conditions of war in the southwest Pacific after Guadalcanal. How they lived, what difficulties they faced getting into the air in a functioning machine, how the air campaign is fought are just a few of the issues the author explores in detail. And why is the book not for everyone? It is again the detail. If you've read and enjoyed John Lundstrom's books and other histories of early combat in the pacific - you are ready for 'Fire in the Sky". If you've not read, or not enjoyed those books I'd suggest you start with the 'First Team' duo, or 'Shattered Sword'. The detail is less overwhelming, and the narrative rather more coherent than 'Fire'.
I can't say much that hasn't already been said. This book is awesome in its detail, yet it never bogs down. I enjoyed learning the background on the war and weapons rather than just a narrative of what happened when. I have read literally hundreds of military history books and this is now one of my favorites. I'll be getting his book on the land war in the pacific as well.
Bergerud has justifiably gotten strong reviews for this book. It is a masterful blend of first hand accounts from (mostly Allied) participants combined with strong analysis of the "how and why" of the air campaign. The only shortcoming in the book is a lack of maps - there are some at the beginning of the book, but with numerous references to places throughout the narrative, a more generous sprinkling of maps would have helped place the reader where the action occured. But that has to be a minor critism of an otherwise outstanding work. Other reviewers have provided outlines, so I will just compare Bergerud's work with another favorite of mine, Richard Overy's "The Air War 1939-1945." So if you are ready for something beyond unit history's or personal accounts of aerial combat in this remote theater, this is the book to turn to.
The South Pacific, as Eric Bergerud points out at the start of this book, was an unlikely place to develop into a battlefield during the Second World War. Lacking natural resources or any geographic significance in its own right, its proximity to the more important locations of Southeast Asia made it the centerpoint in the war between the Japanese on the one hand and the United States and her allies on the other. And a key aspect of that war was the struggle taking place in the skies between the respective air forces, a struggle that is the subject of Bergerud's weighty book.
In examining the air war, Bergerud eschews a traditional narrative account in favor of a thorough analysis of the various factors involved, an approach that allows him to glean insights that are often missing from most histories of the conflict. He divides this analysis into three parts, focusing on the geographic conditions, the men and equipment, and the tactics and nature of combat in the region. Each chapter is full of Bergerud's well-informed and opinionated explanations of the factors determining the nature of the air war and the advantages and deficiencies possessed by the two sides as they confronted each other. Readers may disagree with some of his conclusions, but there are valuable insights about the air war on nearly every page, ones applicable not just to the battles over the South Pacific but to the war as a whole as well.
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