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Pacific World War II Book Review  
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by Steve Birdsall
Doubleday  1977
300 pages
Index, photos, ace list
ISBN: 0385032188

Language: English

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Flying Buccaneers
The Illustrated Story of Kenney's Fifth Air Force

The book begins with a forward by General George C. Kenney, the commander of the 5th Air Force (5th AF) on September 3, 1942 until the end of the Pacific War. For anyone interested in the air war of the South Pacific, this book is the quintessential primer and 'required reading'. Using photographs on nearly every page, the book is also a visual story of the men and aircraft of this Air Force.

"Flying Buccaneers" begins with the first meeting of General Douglas MacArthur and General George C. Kenney in Brisbane. Both men were under tremendous stress, MacArthur had just escaped the Philippines, and needed results. Kenney was inheriting a disorganized air force made up of survivors of the Philippines and Java.

Although Kenney's 5th Air Force was much smaller than other American Air Forces, it pioneered the use of new weapons and tactics. Skip bombing, parafrag bombs and B-25s converted to strafers, to name a few. Administratively, he choose "operators" to get the job done. Quickly, the 5th would become one of the most innovative and pioneering fighting air forces in the world.

Quickly, the 5th changed the war in New Guinea and the role of air combat forever. In one of its first achievements, Kenney convinced MacArthur to air lift troops aboard C-47 Dakotas, a first in American military history. This contributed to the first Army victory at Buna in January 1943. Soon afterwards, American aircraft halted a Japanese convoy bound for Lae during the Battle of the Bismarck Sea. These victories proved that Kenney's Air Force could not only support the Army, but also turn the tide of war.

The book traces all the campaigns and targets of the 5th: neutralization of Rabaul, capture of Nadzab, Lae, Hollandia and every stop on the 'island hopping' across New Guinea to the Philippines, ending at Okinawa and the surrender of Japan.

During 1942-1945 5th Air Force fighter pilots were in the right place at the right time to rack up tremendous score boards America's highest scoring aces: including Richard Bong and Thomas McGuire. Their exploits are recounted in the text and the long list of 5th aces are listed in an appendix.

For anyone interested in the Pacific War, Steve Birdsall's "Flying Buccaneers" is required reading. It was and still is the best single read on this most exciting Air Force.

Interview with author Steve Birdsall

Review by  Justin Taylan  

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Last Updated
September 21, 2023

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