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by Bruce Gamble
Presidio Press 2000
Index, photos, appendixes
Order now at amazon.com
|The Black Sheep
The Definitive Account of Marine Fighting Squadron 214 in World War II
VMF-214, nicknamed the "Black Sheep" is one of the best know squadrons of the Pacific theater. Despite this fame, there is plenty about this Marine fighter squadron not covered in the "Ba BA Black Sheep" television show. For those that read Bruce Gamble's account, they are treated to an exhaustive summary of the unit, day by day and pilot by pilot.
For fans of air combat, the book covers some of the most vicious aerial warfare over the Solomon Islands with rich testimonials regarding every dog fight and interception, from both official records and interviews with the pilots themselves. This book succeeds in capturing the excitement and ferocity of what it was like to fly and fight in the South Pacific, while exploring volumes of information regarding the group's little known first and third tour of duty, and the well known service in the Central Solomons with VMF-214's famous C.O. Gregory "Pappy" Boyington commanded..
After the battle of Midway, VMF-214 was commissioned and humbly began its wartime service with only two officers and twenty enlisted men, and several obsolete F2A fighters. Rapidly, the new unit took shape with the leadership of its first C.O. George F. Britt at Ewa airbase on Ohau. Soon, new pilots joined the group and flying practice missions began with newly acquired F-4F Wildcats to supplement their initial F2A's. The book follows the fates of each pilot in the squadron, and also their rigorous but monotonous training routine. By February, 1943, the group was shipping out for the South Pacific, overseas to New Hebrides and then to Guadalcanal, but not without operational losses. In the vast Pacific, survival was difficult and those rescued were very lucky.
First Tour: "Swashbucklers" on Guadalcanal
Flying the F4U as "Black Sheep"
Second Tour: The Solomons & Rabaul
"The Black Sheep" details many little known facts, like Boyington's verbal duels with a Japanese controller on the ground, or the truths about his brawling and drinking the earned him the distinction of being one of the few aviators who was able to fly better drunk! These exploits, both fact and fiction made Boyington into a larger than life fighter pilot to the men around him and the press in the states. One thing that was not exaggerated was his leadership and daring that ultimately earned him the Congressional Medal of honor.
Air Combat: Research From Both Sides The book is particularly interesting as the losses and claims of VMF-214 are compared side by side with those of the Japanese Kokutai that opposed them over Bougainville and Rabaul. This reveals both sides often inflated claims, but also helps to collaborate events. For this research alone, this book is worth acquiring as it provides a far more accurate look at the outcomes of each mission than simply the official unit records or recollections of the veterans themselves.The group's incredible successes in the air came at their price: many pilots were wounded, missing or killed as well as Boyington, who bailed out over Rabaul and became a POW of the Japanese until the end of the war.
February 1944 - Starting Over
The new aviators of VMF-214 would have to qualify for carrier operations - a difficult task in the F4U due to limited visibility over the nose when approaching head on. Aside from this deference in operations, the unit was training with new weapons for the F4U-1D models they would be using during this third tour - HVAR (High Velocity Aircraft Rockets), large "Tiny Tim" rockets and napalm based aboard aircraft carrier USS Franklin CV-13 their new, mobile home. After only one combat mission against Izumi airbase, Japan a single enemy dive bomber hit the Franklin while planes were refueling and hatches open. The JUDY bomber's two 250kg bombs knocked the carrier out of action, and took the lives of 32 of the squadron's men. For the "Black Sheep" the war was over - as the ship returned to Brooklyn Navy yard and the group did not participate in the last three months of combat.
The fates of the other pilots are equally interesting, including aces like John Bolt, and aces in both WWII and Korea. Or Chris Magee who served as a fighter-pilot-for-hire in Israel. As the years went by, the press lost interest in the "Black Sheep, but even to this day the contemporary VMF-214 still memorializes its most famous C.O.
Appendixes & Special Features The last forty pages of the book are dedicated to an exhaustive series of appendixes and indexes that interested readers will truly enjoy. The first is a complete rooster of VMF-214 pilots and essential ground officers. For each name, notes on their tours, and fate are detailed. A second appendix is the list of all operational and combat losses, followed by the combat sorties of Major Greg Boyington, and multi-kill pilots and aces of the group. Also of interest is a list of typical flight gear and survival equipment carried, followed by the verbatim text of the unit's presidential unit citation, the first for a USMC fighter squadron. Lastly are the book's notes and index section for further cross-reference. Also available in hardcover The Black Sheep (Hardcover)
Interview with author Bruce Gamble
Review by Justin Taylan
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