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Winged Brothers: Naval Aviation as Lived

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Winged Brothers: Naval Aviation as Lived by Ernest and Macon Snowden by Ernest Snowden. Naval Institute Press, 2018, 280 pp.   

Winged Brothers is the story of two brothers, 12 years apart in age from North Carolina. The oldest brother, Ernest, served in World War II and Korea; the younger brother, Macon, served in Korea and Vietnam. Both brothers were graduates of the US Naval Academy, and the story of their service makes an interesting read. Ernest Snowden laid the foundation of the story with an explanation of the history of naval aviation. The author covers the evolution of carrier aviation and the rivalry between the Army Air Corps and the Navy. The author is the son of the younger brother, and he gives insight into the family and a personal touch to the story. The book covers history and the ways that the Snowden brothers impacted the development of naval aviation. 

Snowden discusses the development of naval aviation in the years following World War I, when Adm William Moffett led the efforts to bring naval aviation to the forefront of the military services. He worked with government leaders and contractors to achieve his goals. The generation of naval aviators from the 1920s played an important role in the mentorship of the aviators in the later 1930s and World War II, among them Ernest Snowden. That generation, in turn, were mentors for the younger Snowden brother, Macon. 

The author discusses the development of the Japanese Navy in the years leading up to World War II. He goes into detail describing the terms of the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922 and the limits that it placed on the United States, United Kingdom, France, Italy, and Japan. The treaty limited Japan, the US, and the UK from constructing forts or naval bases in the Pacific region west of Hawaii. He compares and contrasts the aircraft carriers built by the Japanese and those built by the US and how that would come into play in World War II. There is a foreshadowing of the attack on Pearl Harbor in a naval exercise conducted by the US Navy that involved Ernie Snowden’s squadron from the USS Ranger. The author describes the results of the naval exercise and the lessons learned from it. 

Another topic that the author touches on throughout the book is leadership and the difference between military and civilian leadership. Leadership in the military community is not situation-dependent, but more proactive. The author describes it for the Snowden brothers as a mix of flying skills, mentoring the others in a squadron, and regard for the officers and enlisted men in the command. He writes about how Ernie’s leadership was recognized for his actions in the battle of the Philippine Sea. After he reported to Quonset Point, Rhode Island, Ernie and four of his peers were awarded the Navy Cross for their actions. The author uses the action reports that were written by Snowden to detail the actions of 6 October 1943. He also makes use of Snowden’s personal letters from his peers and letters to his brother, Macon, and other action reports to make it easier to understand the events and actions that were going on during this time frame. 

With the ending of World War II, naval aviation began to evolve, the author details the changes that took place and the role that his father, Macon Snowden, played in them. The author writes about his father developing a manual detailing the safe handling of nuclear weapons by the aviation ordinance men. Macon Snowden also helped develop squadron instruction for nuclear mission planning. He was also instrumental in helping to establish the instruction that would take place in the replacement air group, a way to train new aviators for the plane that they would be flying in the fleet. 

The book is a riveting read for someone interested in the history of naval aviation and the changes that took place over the years. The author describes the changes in the flight decks of the aircraft carriers to accommodate the new planes, the evolution from biplanes to monoplanes, and eventually jet aircraft. The book gives an in-depth look at naval aviation and the role the Snowden brothers played in helping it evolve into the force it is today. 

Steven Guiliani 

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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