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Pacific World War II Book Review  
Order Book
by John Stanaway
& George Mellinger
Osprey  2001
Soft cover
300 pages
96 pages
Ace List
Color Plates of
aircraft & aces
ISBN: 1-85532-633-7

Language: English

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P-39 Airacobra Aces of World War 2
Osprey Aircraft of the Aces No 36

Loved by some, hated by others, the Bell P-39 Airacobra is a fascinating, but largely forgotten aircraft of WWII history that played a significant role in the early air combat in the Pacific. This book is another excellent work of research by author John Stanaway and full of interesting history, photographs and appendixes of pilots who scored kills in the Airacobra.

Legacy of the Airacobra
Pacific pilots often complained about problems of performance compared to the Zeros they flew against, and other issues, like the fact its armament was often unreliable, and sometimes faulty, with its cannon jamming after only few rounds or not working at all for many pilots. But, when by the end of 1942, the P-39 units of the 5th AF had claimed about 80 Japanese aircraft, with a similar number of P-39s lost. By any standard the Airacobra and its pilots held their ground against the Japanese who had dominated the skies in the first year of the war. And, pilots who would later become aces in other aircraft types scored their first 'kills' in the Airacobra initially, like Thomas Lynch and Jay T. Robbins.

Airacobras in Pacific
Interesting combats with the 5th AF are described, when the P-39 was the only fighter available in the early months of the war with groups like the 8th FG and the 41st FS of the 35th FG. Interesting dogfight accounts are included, like Lt. George Welch who was flying over Buna scored two kills against Vals, exactly one year after the Pearl Harbor attack, when he downed four planes as one of the few americans to get airborne.

P-400s with the 13th AF
In the Solomons, Airacobras were used to stem the tide of Japanese attacks on Guadalcanal, and daily air raids against the island. The P-400 was a variant with 20mm cannon instead of the 37mm in the spinner flew alongside Navy aircraft and was successful in attacks on ships and dog fighting in the air, but it did not score many aerial victories due to its limited range and poor high altitude performance.

Airacobra in other Theaters
Airacobras also had the little know distinction of serving in Iceland, Mediterranean, the Aleutians and Canal Zone. In Alaska, most flew base defense mission, from continental US bases, with a few scoring one or two victories in Alaska, some their first kills before being transferred to other more active aerial theaters.

Soviet Use of the Kobra
The second half of the book deals with the Airacobra's service with Russia, as an aircraft provided by American lend lease. There, the fighter was loved by pilots and ground crews alike, and actually preferred by many, even over other newer variants. Hundreds of Soviet pilots became ace in the Kobra against German planes like the Bf-109 and FW-190 on the Eastern front. As an active front line fighter, Kobras were even used in taran ramming attacks. This section is an added bonus for aficionados of the P-39, as Geoge Mellinger's research, photographs and work on the largely unknown Soviet history will all be new history for most readers.

Read interview with John Stanaway

Review by  Justin Taylan  

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Last Updated
October 23, 2019

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