Pacific Air: How Fearless Flyboys, Peerless Aircraft, And Fast Flattops Conquered The Skies In The War With Japan, by David Sears
As far as World War II books go, this is a gripping one that seems tailor-made for a film or miniseries adaptation of some kind. The book itself connects a variety of figures together who were involved on both sides of the Pacific War and its emphasis on carrier aircraft and tells the story with a high degree of drama, pointing out issues of logistics as well as tactics for Americans as well as Japanese involved in the complex aerial war of World War II. This is a subject that is of great interest to a wide variety of readers and it is one that should have a large and appreciative reading audience that is able to take this book and to ponder how it is that the United States won a war in which it began unprepared and which it faced a skill foe who nonetheless seemed to underestimate (as many nations do) the importance of logistics and preserving one’s skilled and well-trained pilots in the sort of war that World War II became as a result of a mutual determination on the part of the United States and Japan to win, which had some tragic outcomes on the well-being of those who all too easily were whipped up into war fever on the side of the Japanese.
This book is almost 350 pages long and it is divided into five parts and twenty chapters that give a cinematic scale to the air war in the Pacific in World War II and its context. The first part of the book looks at the state of war (I) and where it found American airplane manufacturers (1) as well as pilots facing the surprise attack of Pearl Harbor (2). After that the author talks about the hard-pressed nature of America’s initial efforts (II), with a discussion of prototype pilots (3), the quest to find and survive terminal velocity (4), the samurai culture of Japanese pilots (5), and the tactical development of the Thach beam defense (6). The meatgrinder nature of carrier warfare is then discussed (III), with chapters on the division of early naval pilots (7), how America sought to deal with its initial inferiority in carriers (8), the competition between American and Japanese pilots (9), the attritional nature of warfare in the Pacific (10), the learning process of flying (11), and efforts at increasing achievement in the face of conflict (12, 13). After that there is a discussion the air war of Guadalcanal (III), which takes up four chapters, and then a much shorter look at the increasing American superiority in the skies after that, which influenced America’s ultimate victory (V), told in the last four chapters of the book, after which there are notes, a glossary, appendix, bibliography, acknowledgements, and index.
Unsurprisingly, given the wide disparity in sources concerning the aerial technology of World War II, this book has a lot more to say about the Americans involved in it than it does about the Japanese. But what it does have to say about both is that there were different cultures in mind about how important it was to preserve life and how much materials each side had to work with. Even though the United States had a lot more war material to work with, there is still some commentary here about the clashing cultures that existed between companies like Grumman Air and GM, who helped create near-brand equivalents in mass for the war effort, as well as the resourcefulness that was sometimes requires to get a factory off the ground. And, of course, the book also deals with the sort of rivalries that existed between branches of the military and the sort of culture that existed among pilots and the tactical creativity that allowed the Americans to hang with the Zero until American capacity overtook the Japanese and the US was able to meet the Zero in speed and surpass it in safety considerations. All of this suggests a certain importance in learning and growing and improvement as an aspect of the American way of war that is worthy of consideration and reflection.