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by Tina Susedik
with Norbert C. Ruff
Documation, LLC  2006
220 pages
Index, photos
documents, maps, index
ISBN: 0966752732
Cover Price: $20.00
Language: English

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Ruff Stuff
A WWII Pilot's Story Major Norbert C. Ruff

This book covers the wartime experiences of Norbert "Norb" C. Ruff. His story is similar to many other pilots and soldiers who served in World War II, yet like every individual account, this book is full of its own unique perspectives and experiences.

This book includes a photograph from Norb's collection on nearly every page. These span his training, service in Australia and New Guinea. Norb flew 125 combat missions in the South Pacific, 75 flying the Airacobra: P-39 and P-400. Also, 50 missions in the P-38 Lightning. Norb was credited with four aerial victories.

The book begins with his early life in a small farming community in Bloomer, Wisconsin. Life was difficult after his father passed away at a young age and Norb helped run the family's farm in addition to his schooling. Struggling to make ends meet during the depression, he enrolled in college in 1938 and was selected for a Civil Aeronautics program to learn to fly, a skill that would change his life. With some flying experience , he signed up as an aviation cadet at the end of December 1940.

Norb relates his experiences in training. Ironically, he graduated with class 41-I as a 2nd Lieutenant on December 6, 1941. The next day, Pearl Harbor was bombed and everything changed. Things moved rapidly for Norb and he was assigned to the 49th Pursuit Group, 7th Pursuit Squadron to fly P-40E Warhawks. None of the new pilots were able to fly, as their Warhawks were being disassembled and crated for shipment overseas, with pilots and ground crews aboard the USS Mariposa, a former cruise ship of the Matson Line, pressed into service for the military.

80th Fighter Squadron "The Headhunters"
In Australia, Norb continued training and ferrying planes. Before he saw any combat. On March 17, 1942 assigned to to the 80th Fighter Squadron (80th FS), 8th Fighter Group (8th). He flew the P-39 and P-400 Airacobra, and continued training. The 80th FS served as a replacement pool for the 8th FG squadrons deployed in New Guinea. Unlike popular perceptions, Norb enjoyed the P-39 for its easy of takeoff and operation, but acknowledge: "it needed a supercharger, but so did the P-40."

The author, Tina Susedik assembles other published sources related to Norb's service, including Protect & Avenge and other sources, quoting them in the text and a sometimes offering Norb's comments on a particular passage. This technique helps to contextual Norb's experiences in the context of larger history. Also of interest are Norb's wartime flight logs for the 125 combat missions he flew between December 1942 to September 1943. Although some entries are not detailed, they are outstanding records for researchers.

Norb acknowledges the quality of the Japanese pilots they faced: "Those first Jap pilots were fantastic - remember they had five years' experience, and we had none. They were experts, but after they were lost, the younger ones were not up to par." In addition to detailed descriptions of missions and aerial combat, Norb's recollections also cover life on the ground at Port Moresby: living conditions, food and the supply situations.

Next, the 80th FS was sent to Milne Bay in November 1942, where it met equally primitive conditions that eventually reduced the squadron's effectiveness to 50% due to malaria and equipment difficulties. He experienced an accurate Japanese bombing raid on January 17, 1943 that destroyed many parked planes and fuel dumps.

In early 1943, the 80th was withdrawn to Mareeba Airfield in Queensland for rest and to convert to the P-38 Lightning. Norb flew an additional 50 missions in the P-38G "Ruff Stuff" 43-2212 that he nicknamed. In September 1943, Norb's tour of duty was completed. He recalls other fellow pilots, including ace Jay T. Robbins and a tribute to the squadrons Missing In Action (MIA) pilots inclduing Danny Roberts and Charlie Bateson.

The final chapters of the book deal with Norb's stateside service, flying P-59, America's first jet, and later the F-80. He married Dorthy from his hometown, and moved back to his hometown. The last sections cover his retirement years and reunions with 80th Fighter Squadron pilots.
Review by Justin Taylan  

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Last Updated
November 25, 2022

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