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by Eric Bergerud
Westview Press  2001 reprint
Soft cover
723 pages
Index, photos
ISBN 0813338697
Cover Price:
Language: English

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Fire in the Sky
The Air War in the South Pacific

At over 700 pages the book is a substantial one and thus one feels that it will provide a very detailed overview of what has been a previously much neglected topic. This is certainly true, but there is also a great deal of background information in the book on the history and science of aircraft development. It is in fact the best reference I have read giving a succinct overview of why aircraft do what they do and how aircraft development has evolved. But to me that would be best put in another book.

As part of his overview, Bergerud's analysis of the Japanese aircraft industry and its strategic direction before and during the war is indeed masterful and could again be the subject of a separate book. Bergerud's
analysis of how the Japanese warrior mentality left them with much higher pilot losses and a complete lack of experienced pilots in training establishments is also an excellent one. It would ultimately destroy the Japanese air arm from within. "Fire in the Sky" should certainly be compulsory reading at the Japanese military academy.

The parts of the book dealing directly with the air war in the South Pacific are scattered throughout the book and are mainly concentrated in the final chapters. Thus one is almost on information overload before one gets to analyse the points one has read the book for. As in his earlier book Touched With Fire, which deals with the ground war in the South Pacific, Bergerud has lined up an excellent selection of veterans who were at the forefront of the air war. They provide interesting insights though personally I was looking for more of this and more detail on some of those insights such as climate and supply issues.

At a number of points in the book Bergerud talks of how the Japanese supply and maintenance problems crippled their flying strength yet fails to follow up with a detailed analysis. Having said that, he has gathered some excellent data and sources on the air war from the Japanese side, and this is invariably lacking in most accounts written on this topic, Henry Saikada's works notwithstanding. Bergerud's book will become a key reference point for scholars dealing with this issue.

There are some fascinating stories in the book. The accounts of the bombing and strafing runs on Japanese warships are riveting. And for something different read about the crucial beer chilling missions that P-38 pilots undertook. Bergerud also deals with the RAAF and RNZAF units in much more detail than the passing comments common with most books of the genre. They made a major contribution to the fight for air supremacy in the theatre.

Overall I recommend the book highly, but don't be afraid to pick and choose what you wish to read from it, depending on your interests. It is not until Page 407, by Bergerud's own admission, that "Fire in the Sky" begins.

Interview with Eric Bergerud

Review by Phil Bradley  

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Last Updated
September 21, 2023

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