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Pacific World War II Book Review  
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by Michael Claringbould
Aerothenic  2007 (2nd Ed)
116 pages
Photos, Index, Appendix
ISBN: 1885240-02-3
Cover Price: $32.00
Language: English

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The Forgotten Fifth
A Photographic Chronology of the U.S. Fifth Air Force in WW2

Now with a full color cover the second edition of The Forgotten Fifth is a chronological tribute to the men of the Fifth Air Force. The title of this book reflects the phrase by which the men of the U.S. 5th Air Force (5th AF) during World War II in WW2 came to call themselves. The author, Michael Claringbould, has long contested that the aerial trench warfare which characterized the European theatre seems devoid of human interest compared to the battle between the Fifth Air Force and its Japanese adversaries. This was a unique and isolated theatre, for there was no glimpse of humility from either side, as both sides slogged into their respective campaigns.

Claringbould’s writing is compelling, and well-crafted. Contained in this fine work is a chronological fraction of the his lifetime collection on the Fifth Air Force. Whilst the majority of photos represent the New Guinea theatre, the author makes no apologies for this, underlining that it was there that the Fifth spent most of its time, and expended most of its losses.

The photos are unique, most published for the first time, and each accompanied by a summary of circumstances pertaining to the photo. Some of the accounts are truly esoteric, all drawn from first-hand sources including letters, official records, and diary extracts. The author blends the accounts together using his intimate knowledge of the Fifth, and its circumstances at that juncture in history. Even those familiar with the SWPA will find new material here, and come to better understand the uniqueness of this Air Force, which built its achievements on a cadre of men who above all, had character and talent.

Anyone who thinks that air combat in New Guinea was less exciting than other theaters should read this book. Operational conditions were brutal: steaming jungle heat, shark infested waters, snow capped and cloud shrouded mountains, all faced crews who strayed off course or ran into problems. Not to mention, Japanese forces who would likely behead airmen, or at best put them to work where they would be beaten and starve. In one case, a B-24 that crash landed in the highlands was even eaten by cannibals!

The book is full of unique (and most never before told) anecdotes about life in the 5th AF. Some of the stories are humorous, others ghastly. This is a stunningly researched chronology of the 5th Air Force in New Guinea. Like his other books, its research is draw from both records, personal accounts and even present day wreck information.

Much attention is given to the post war fate of the pilots who survived the war, and the remains of their planes, many of which are still in New Guinea. It is interesting to read how many MIA planes were discovered by chance when a road was being built in the 1970's or discovered upon by chance in the 1980's or 1990's in a remote mountain's foothills.

As with any good history book, it if filled with interesting facts, like the fact that (future US President) Lyndon B. Johnson and Charles Lindbergh flew in New Guinea. Or, that the US's highest scoring ace, Richard Bong was a P-38 pilot with the 5th AF.

Just for the book's unique collection of photographs it is worth purchasing. Most photos are previously unpublished. In addition, the book's index and appendix includes the name, airplane type, serial number, squadron and group of all 5th AF aircraft. Anyone with a relation to the 5th, should have this book just for these reference tools.

<Interview with Michael Claringbould
Review by  Justin Taylan  

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Last Updated
November 25, 2022

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