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Torpedo Squadron Four - A Cockpit View of World War II - Revised, Updated Edition, 2011

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Torpedo
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Air Group 4 - Casablanca to Tokyo

Dedicated to those who
served in VT-4, VB-4, VF-4,
VMF-124 and VMF-213

In Their Own Words
True Stories of American Fighter Aces -
The Final Chapter
by James A. Oleson

Book Review by Gerald W. Thomas, VT-4

With this second of his two-volume series, In Their Own Words: True Stories of American Fighter Aces. The Final ChapterJames A. Oleson completes his remarkable project to obtain personal accounts from as many American fighter aces of World War II, Viet Nam, and Korea as his 20 years of extraordinary efforts have made possible. As he writes at the end of the book, "in most instances I [Oleson] conducted 'in-person' or phone interviews" with the aviator. Because most flyers choose to describe their combat experiences, these accounts read with the excitement and tension of fiction.

Want insight into their combat tactics? It's laid out here in account after account.

As a WWII Navy pilot, I was pleased to see how many aces were Navy and Marine, because the public often thinks of aces as Air Force pilots. In thinking about air combat, it good to remember that many pilots who saw combat shot down enemy planes without achieving the level of recognition of an ace. As a Torpedo Bomber pilot in Air Group 4 on the USS ESSEX, I was always comforted seeing the Navy and Marine fighters escorting us on strikes. The best day our fighters had was February 17, 1945, when they shot down 15 enemy planes.  Here are the credits taken from the combat reports for that day:

VF-4 flying F6F Hellcats (Navy)

  • D. S. "Diz" Laird -- 1 Tony and 1 Tojo
  • Hal H. Avants -- 2 Oscars
  • G. A. Peabody - -2 Tonys
  • K. Peters -- 1 Oscar
  • R. S. Kelley -- 1 Jill

VMF 124/213 flying F4U Corsairs (Marine)

  • Robert D. Green -- 1 Judy
  • C. G. Hendricks -- 1 Tony
  • J. H. Burnett -- 1 Tony
  • W. E. Reynolds -- 1 Oscar
  • F. J. Goetz, Jr. -- 1 Oscar
  • Wilbur J. Thomas -- 2 Oscars

Since the war, I've heard many fighter pilots discuss what was the "best" fighter of WWII. Oleson provides statistics to support what I heard most often, that the Hellcat was. His numbers show that the F6F Hellcat produced 311 aces, the P-51 Mustang 293, the P-38 Lightning 179, the P-47 Thunderbold 149, P-40 Warhawk 117, and the F4U Corsair 106.

The final section of the book gives accounts of test pilots who were involved in testing various fighters, including an interesting summary by Col Steve Pisanos of his experience flying a captured Japanese Mitsubishi A6M Zero. Several Zeros that could be restored to flying condition were captured fairly early in the war, including the first, which was captured after being shot down during the battle of the Aleutians in June, 1942. The plane was not discovered for about a month. The Japanese pilot, Tadayoshi Koga was found dead in the plane. Col Pisanos says of the Zero that he flew, that it had "a good rate of climb and close-combat turning ability." He also said that "it did not compare to the German or American aircraft designs."

Japanese Zero fighter - Mitsubishi A6M

Japanese Zero fighter - Mitsubishi A6M

The Japanese Zero fighter (Mitsubishi A6M) captured in the Aleutians being test flown. Plane weight is approximately 5,200 pounds, without belly tank. Pilot unidentified.
San Diego, California, Oct 12, 1942.

As a veteran of WWII, I want to thank Oleson for recording this history, stories which can no longer be obtained, because as he says in the Introduction, only 10% of the American fighter aces remain alive. About 40% were living when Oleson began his project.

You can obtain more information about the book, from James Olesonīs web site.

A review of In Their Own Words: True Stories and Adventures of the American Fighter Ace, the first volume in the series, is here.

Note: If you have a book review to contribute to AirGroup4.com, or a book to suggest that we review, please contact us here.


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