/ Published October 22, 2019
Thunderbolts Triumphant: The 362nd Fighter Group vs Germany’s Wehrmacht by Chris Bucholtz. Casemate Publishers, 2018, 230 pp.
In Thunderbolts Triumphant, Chris Bucholtz, an author, historian and scale modeler, seeks to chronicle the heroic and costly efforts of the Ninth Air Force, particularly its 362nd Fighter Group (FG), during the end of World War II. In his introduction, Bucholtz argues that the Eighth Air Force with its bombers and P-51 Mustang escorts typically get the public’s acclaim. However, the Ninth Air Force is not to be forgotten, particularly the 362nd FG. With their P-47 Thunderbolts, Bucholtz believes the 362nd FG “strangled the German Army in the field and spared the lives of countless U.S. troops” (p. ix). Thunderbolts Triumphant is a detailed narrative history of this fighter group’s exploits in 1944–1945.
Beginning with the 362nd FG’s activation in March 1943, Bucholtz provides a sketch of the group’s training and eventual deployment to Britain in late 1943. From there, Bucholtz details the day-to-day operations of the 362nd FG all the way to the end of the war. While the reader does become more familiar with the group’s pilots and some of their personalities, Bucholtz’s focus remains on intricately recounting the 362nd FG’s numerous combat missions with their myriad successes and tragedies. Through force of detail, Bucholtz demonstrates convincingly that the 362nd FG paid a heavy price to provide devastatingly effective air support to advancing Allied ground forces.
Aviation and World War II enthusiasts alike will particularly appreciate Bucholtz’ liberal use of pictures and stories which bring the 362nd FG’s exemplary exploits to life. The first-person accounts of dogfights and escape stories of downed pilots were notable highlights. Thunderbolts Triumphant also includes 24 colored P-47 plane profiles with brief notes about the planes and some of the brave pilots who flew them.
Although there is much to admire in the book, Thunderbolts Triumphant is not without its faults. Most notably, while Bucholtz’s writing style is undeniably thorough, it is not entirely engaging. Sometimes the flow of the chapters felt more like the dutiful recounting of facts than the artful telling of a story. Also, because Bucholtz assumes the reader has prior knowledge of World War II, the book doesn’t expend a lot of effort unpacking how the 362nd FG’s efforts fit into the grand scheme of the war. For instance, occasionally, it would have been helpful to know what was happening in the ground war to frame the nature and importance of the 362nd FG’s missions.
Nevertheless, Thunderbolts Triumphant does a commendable job of accurately recounting the neglected history of this valiant fighter group. Readers who enjoy studying World War II aviation or would like to learn more about the European air war after D-Day would do well to pick this book up.
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