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Pacific World War II Book Review  
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by Tom Blackburn
with Eric Hammel
Pacifica Press  1997
270 pages
Index, maps, photos, glossary
ISBN: 0-935553-19-3

Language: English

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The Jolly Rogers
The Story of Tom Blackburn and Navy Fighting Squadron VF-17

The Jolly Rogers is the history of U.S. Navy (USN) Fighter Squadron 17 (VF-17) "The Jolly Rogers" that served in the South Pacific (SoPac) during World War II. Tom Blackburn was their Commanding Officer (C.O.) and co-author. In his action-packed war memoir and unit history, Blackburn describes VF-17's intense, winning campaign against the Japanese over the northern Solomon Islands and Rabaul in late 1943 and early 1944. Beginning with his own experiences as a trainer of fighter pilots early in World War II and his leadership of a small carrier-based fighter squadron supporting the invasion of North Africa, Blackburn goes on to provide a rich, detailed account of how he shaped a crew of overeager hotshots into one of the highest scoring fighter squadrons of World War II.

In only seventy-six days of combat, Tom Blackburn's Jolly Rogers knocked down a record 154 enemy warplanes, and Blackburn himself emerged as one of VF-17's leading aces with eleven kills to his credit. Boisterous at times, and sober in others, Blackburn explains the methods he used and example he set to shape VF-17 before and during their tour of duty in the South Pacific. Not least of the challenges facing the squadron was taming their new fighter plane, the F4U Corsair.

Originally slated to serve aboard a fleet aircraft carrier, VF-17 was ultimately transferred to land-based duty when the Corsair proved too hot to handle during carrier-deck landings. Though the Corsair's teething problems were worked out by others-it eventually became a superb carrier-based fighter-bomber-it was Blackburn and his Jolly Rogers who proved the full potential of the Corsair as a killer of enemy airplanes. This book is both a war memoir and a caring tribute to the aggressive, hold-nothing-back young men he trained and led in combat.

"In short order, someone worked up sinister black flag emblazoned with a stark white skull and crossbones insignia. Whoever approved such items up the line approved this one, which was a good thing inasmuch as it had appeared on our engine cowlings by then. The standard practice of painting insignia on the fuselage below the cockpit was not for us; we wanted that space reserved exclusively for flags denoting kills."

Blackburn informed his men before combat: "We will not let them down. To paraphrase Henry the Fifth of Agincourt, we'll say to our grandchildren, 'I was there. I served with Fighting-Seventeen' "

Review by  Justin Taylan  

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Last Updated
September 21, 2023

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