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

Wings of War: Great Combat Tales of Allied and Axis Pilots during World War II by James P. Busha. Zenith Press, 2015, 256 pp.

Wings of War is a historical study brilliantly organized by the true experiences of many former Allied and Axis pilots during 1939-45 in World War II. Author James Busha chronologically explores the diverse events that occurred through the eyes of the pilots who were in the theater. He argues that despite their specialized training and the state-of-the-art aircraft manufactured for war fighting, the flyers on both sides were often forced to learn on the job, improvise during crucial moments, and master the demands of their profession. His snapshots are all excerpts from his many personal interviews albeit conducted many decades removed from the battle theater. This method not only gives the novel an authentic touch but also sheds light on perspectives from the war rarely mentioned in history books. Recommended for readers of World War II books and flying lovers of all generations, Busha's Wings of War is a collection of powerful narratives that gives greater agency to the earliest air fighters in history.

Historians often point to complex, global political shifts as one of the reasons that the period between the start and end of the war was so intriguing. Although the author occasionally alludes to certain political moments, the bulk of his writing focuses on the individual(s) at a specific place at a certain time. This technique is one of the book's greatest strengths, allowing him to illuminate and give equal attention to pilots on both sides.

Political historiography often hides the fact that the training and equipment of Axis flyers during the early years of the war, especially those from the Luftwaffe, were on par with those of their Allied counterparts. For the most part, Busha relates the experiences of American, German, and British pilots. However, he also includes pilots from other politically contested places such as occupied Poland, occupied Hungary, colonial New Zealand, and Canada, where an American decided to fight for the Royal Canadian Air Force. These diverse snapshots of the war from inside the cockpit further reinforce his claim that despite the linguistic, cultural, and technological differences, pilots during the war were essentially similar. The high level of danger and uncertainty in any mission was present for both the few British pilots defending their homeland and the innumerable Luftwaffe aviators storming Britain. The book also highlights a particular relationship: the one between these men and their aircraft. The author's interviews give the reader a different perspective of the early aircraft used in the war. From the annoying nuances to the advantages of each flying machine, the pilots take us through their own process of discovering the capabilities and limitations of the airplanes. Sometimes they figured it out during training or practice flights; at other times, they did so during a live mission or a fight with enemy units. One man had "no two-seat trainers and no pilot notes to study--just a seasoned Hurricane pilot standing on the wing, leaning into [his] cockpit and telling [him] to push this button, pull this lever" (p. 27). Busha tries to show that the tactics and strategies of today's air warfare stem from the experiences and mistakes these pilots noted during their own phases of trial and error.

Although Wings of War draws on sources from various backgrounds, it does not fully encompass the global air fight between the Allied and Axis powers. Readers hoping for equal representation between the pilots on both sides will be disappointed to discover that this account is a compilation of tales from Allied flyers. Busha includes a few interviews with personnel who flew for Nazi Germany or its allies but none from the many Japanese who also flew in the Pacific theater. Moreover, only rarely does the book refer to the many Russians who flew in Eastern Europe. The experiences of and lessons learned from pilots in those other countries are crucial to a full understanding the global aspect of air warfare. They allow the reader to grasp why battles began and what the varying odds were. Granted, a huge linguistic and age barrier prevents Busha from locating all of these sources; however, he does not seem to have made much of an effort to find the stories of non-English-speaking veterans. The author does admit that, had he started this project years earlier, he would have had more people to talk to and more time to overcome the language barrier. Furthermore, Busha includes very little analysis of or commentary on the interviews he did conduct, each of which is supplemented by a follow-up session.

Regardless of these few flaws, Wings of War is recommended for all lovers of air warfare and aircraft. Not just anyone could have interviewed countless pilots and produced a book like this one--only a person capable of persuading the veterans to open up about their wartime experiences. The study's vast insight into pilots on both sides of the war is a valuable piece of aviation history that cannot be ignored. Considering the age of the flyers, it was very important that he complete these interviews. Although Wings of War is not the best book to use for studying the complexity of the geopolitical sphere, it is a worthy supplement that will prove useful to anyone interested in the early air fighters who gave rise to modern airpower.

2nd Lt Jensen Cheong, USAF
Tyndall AFB, Florida


"The views expressed 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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