|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
Review by Justin Taylan
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October 23, 2019