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McCampbell's Heroes by Edwin Palmer Hoyt

McCampbell's Heroes

by Edwin Palmer Hoyt

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This is the history of Air Group Fifteen, a group of carrier-based fighters and bombers led by Captain David McCampbell, mostly aboard the carrier U.S.S. Essex fighting against Japan in the latter stages of World War Two. I have always enjoyed reading one or two military histories each year, and I had high hopes for this one. Mostly, though, I found the book unsatisfactory and a bit tedious. While the author's explanations of the strategies and maneuverings of the American and Japanese admirals during the war's final year are interesting in themselves, the descriptions of the activities of the book's actual subjects, the pilots of Air Group Fifteen, leave much to be desired.

In this regard, Hoyt seems to have been working almost entirely from the air group's combat logs. Flight mission after flight mission is described in detail, but more than that, dogfight after dogfight. Sometimes two or three pages are taken up with descriptions of individual plane on plane combat. And, although as a reader one is aware that almost every such description will end in at least one man's death, still the paragraphs as they march by become tedious. The point is made early in the book that the Japanese were very lax in their training of replacement pilots, whereas the American took great pains to train their new pilots thoroughly. The result was that by the stage of the war being described here, the Americans were up against a mostly inferior enemy, flying skill-wise. So the combat descriptions are essentially a litany of, "The Zero turned to the left and Ensign Smith fired at shot him down." Over and over again.

In the meantime, there is essentially zero attempt to describe the lives and experiences of the pilots. The book was written in the 1980s, so presumably there were some still living veterans of the air group, but it doesn't seem that Hoyt sent in search of interviews. In fact, while McCampbell himself wrote the book's introduction, Hoyt evidently never considered interviewing him. Also, the book is entirely devoid of maps. By the end of the book, when the Essex and Air Group Fifteen rotate out of action only months before the dropping of the atom bomb, I felt that I had learned quite a bit about the final sea battles of the War in the Pacific, but I was more than ready to be finished with the book itself. ( )
1 vote rocketjk | Nov 4, 2016 |
Lots of Pacific War action delivered in a very coherent and interesting book. Late days in WW2 when the US carrier fleet dominated the air battles among the many islands in the Western war zone. Lots of action and drama as we follow Air Group Fifteen aboard the Essex and its fellow carriers. ( )
  jamespurcell | Jan 6, 2016 |
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