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Eyes for the Phoenix: Allied Aerial Photo-Reconnaissance Operations, South-East Asia 1941-1945

Eyes for the Phoenix: Allied Aerial Photo-Reconnaissance Operations, South-East Asia, 1941-1945 by Geoffrey J. Thomas. Hikoki Publications, 1999, 272 pp. 

Military forces first used aircraft for reconnaissance. Aerial photography grew into a science during World War I, but at the same time other, more glamorous roles for aircraft emerged—pursuit and bombardment. These roles tended to garner more attention than observation and reconnaissance, and it can be debated that this continues to the present day. A book covering Allied photo-reconnaissance (PR) in the Southeast Asia theater in World War II, therefore, has a chance to make a positive impact on the historiography of that war. Geoffrey J. Thomas has produced such a book in Eyes for the Phoenix: Allied Aerial Photo-Reconnaissance Operations.

The author is a retired architect who served in the British Army in the Southeast Asia theater. While in the service, his interests led him to delve into the official records concerning aircraft colors and markings, and his zeal is very evident in this fine book. The author’s main sources were British and American archives and some of the men who were involved in these operations.

Thomas describes the myriad PR platforms used by the allies and weaves this into a narrative of the overall course of the war in the Southeast Asia theater. His narration of individual sorties and the personal heroism of the aircrews sheds light on a little known aspect of the war. Although US Army Air Forces aircraft and units are well represented, the book is heavily slanted toward British forces. However, this is understandable given the author’s background and his experience in the theater.

The book is chock full of photographs—more than 320 of them. Six full color plates that show aircraft colors, markings, and insignia will please modelers and enthusiasts. In addition, Thomas devotes about 100 pages of text to describing aircraft markings, paint schemes, and colors. There are many maps—three of them in color—that help the reader orient himself to the vast area covered in this book.

Thomas has included comparatively few examples of the photographs produced by these reconnaissance units, but these few are probably sufficient to give the reader an idea of their overall work. Likewise, there is no in-depth coverage of the work of the unsung support personnel who maintained the aircraft and equipment of the units. There is, however, a fine two-page reminiscence of a British army photo developer. The absence of a bibliography and footnotes makes it difficult to check the author. There is no index, so following any particular man or unit is impossible.

The book is so densely packed with good information that it’s difficult to do justice to it in the space constraints imposed by this review format. Suffice to say, it is difficult to imagine a book that would surpass this one for this topic. It is highly recommended for anyone interested in the Pacific air war.

 

Maj Peter L. Belmonte, USAF, Retired
O’Fallon, Illinois

The views expressed in the book review are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense.
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