AEROSCALE MAGAZINE RATES THE BOOK 98% !

REVIEW by Editor Fred Boucher

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Conclusion

I found Eagles of the Southern Sky, The Tainan Air Group in WWII; Volume One: New Guinea to be an extraordinary critical history of the Tainan kōkūtai! Again, it was difficult for me to cull this tome into a concise overview. When I first opened the book I was overwhelmed with the text, illustrations, photography, maps, and stories.

The clarity and ease of reading this comprehensive book makes it highly enjoyable. I appreciate the depth of this story, whether familiar from previous books, new information, or even ‘setting the record straight.’ Whether you seek “There I was” dogfight stories, academic qualification, historical education, modeling and artistic inspiration, this book should satisfy you. The quality and scope of the photographs and artwork alone should sell this book.

Criticism is inconsequential: a couple of minor typos, and the questionable airframe shadows in a couple of color battle scenes.

I admit to be completely enthusiastic about this book and I heartily recommend it to any modeler, historian, educator, and enthusiast with an interest in the Tainan kōkūtai, the South West Pacific war, the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Force, USAAF, RAAF, Mitsubishi A6M Type 0 Carrier Fighter series, early Allied aircraft, Sakai Saburō, et al. A book as all-encompassing as Eagles of the Southern Sky is certain to be a favorite source for you.

Content

Authors Luca Ruffato and Michael J. Claringbould set the tone of this book with their forewords. They explain what inspired them, from their childhoods on, to pen this title. I believe most of you reading this will identify with them, as I certainly do. While Mr. Ruffato has yet to visit New Guinea, Mr. Claringbould has spent much of his personal and professional life in the area.

Whether you are interested in stick-and-rudder dogfights or more erudite pursuits, this book will be absorbing. The book has an extensive list of abbreviations, terms, and technical terms. These explain and translate Japanese words and concepts into to English and display the associated kanji alphabet: Aircraft Category Designations; Specific Aircraft Abbreviations; Administrative & Operational Terminology; tactical aerial formation terms.

It was challenge for me to cull this review into a concise presentation. This book is a full size format in which each page contains probably the equivalent of two pages of most formats familiar to modelers and military enthusiasts. When I first cracked the covers I was overwhelmed with the volume of text, illustrations, photography, maps, and stories. Many of the photographs are recently discovered or provided by private collections, as are many stories. I flipped from chapter to chapter and from page to page trying to take it all in. I am surprised to learn that A6M reisen were not the only aircraft assigned to Tainan kōkūtai. Through this book the records of aircraft types that clashed are expanded. Who knew B-26s faced fixed-gear A5M (“Claude”) fighters over Rabual; that RAAF P-40s and Hudson bombers had the first kills – and losses – against Tainan kōkūtai; what an Avro X Trimotor looked like; the role played by impressed Douglas DC-5s; that an intact Tainan reisen may still rest in a swamp north of Lae?

The book is organized as day to day accounts of Tainan activities, as well as those of their opponents. The level of detail is extraordinary. Not only did the authors glean this account from venerable sources such as Samurai!, they also use many personal and official sources previously unavailable over the years. One of these treasures is the kōdōchōsho, the Imperial Navy’s standard tabular report, of Tainan NAG. With such source material the authors and contributors have woven together this spectacular, comprehensive, critical recount of the events of Tainan’s deployment to the South West Pacific Area.

To those of you who have read and revere Samurai!, the memoirs of Sakai Saburō (Japanese names are stated surname first, then the person’s given name), be warned. The authors disclose an anomaly of Samurai!. Written by Martin Caidin from a manuscript assembled by Fred Saitō from post-war interviews with Sakai, it seems that either or both Saitō and Caidin made unknown editorial alterations. The Japanese edition of Samurai! contains information not found in English translations, and vice versa. While personally disturbing, the fact that vast amounts of information has surfaced since the end of the Cold War, with interested historians qualified to understand it, have made these revelations common.

This book reveals both combat missions and living conditions. As for the flying and fighting aspect of the book, events of each day are recounted to the extent known. Identifying not only the units involved, participants are named, pilots frequently matched to pilots, as are individual aircraft, with times and locales. This creates highly detailed stories of air combat and more, such as the story about the search for a downed reisen, including the unit identity of Australian troops sent to search for the crash. Yet another is war correspondent Pat Robinson’s memoir describing an arduous journey to the crash site of Flyer1c Kawanishi Haruo in reisen V-104, complete with grisly detail of what was found, and the burial with full military honors. Stories like those are intertwined with recounts of the aerial combat stories that precipitated the crash sites. An example of this meticulous content is from page 98;

Interesting patterns are mentioned. When Flt Lt Leslie Jackson lead RAAF No. 75 Sqn P-40s into the fray on 5 April 1942 over Port Moresby, his first (verified) kill was the first Tainan pilot loss in the SWPA, FPO2c Yoshi’e Takurō. Takurō was the first RAAF kill in the Pacific and the first fighter downed by No. 75 Sqn.

Poignant stories already told return in this book, some now in greater detail. The epic solo dogfight of bomber Pilot Officer Warren Cowan and crew against six Tainan reisen is revised, including the lobbying by Sakai in 1998 to have Australia award Cowan for bravery. Another incident examined in detail is the fraud of an award given to future President Lyndon Johnson, who was to fly a mission in B-26s, only to turn back due to mechanical trouble. The heroic last flight of Harl Pease sheds new information upon his fate. Equally poignant are the recent discoveries of downed aircrew. The authors bring many of these solved mysteries to light, bringing finality to their families. One story is the case of an Australian father who learned the facts of his son’s demise until some 40 years later on his deathbed . . .