Osprey, 272 pages
$25.95 (hardcover), $22.99 (e-book) There is so much more to WW II Marine Corps aviation than Pappy Boyington and the Black Sheep. Successful though they were, the storied Corsair pilots have overshadowed the other flying leathernecks for seven decades. Barrett Tillman’s superb treatise redresses that situation.
With encyclopedic thoroughness and the gripping narrative style that has characterized his work for more than 40 years, Tillman covers USMC fighters in every aspect: aircraft, organization, people, and operations. He details each of some 75 squadrons designated “VMF” from 1941 through 1945, with particular attention to the 50 that deployed outside the continental United States. Each of the latter entries includes a synopsis of wartime operations, bases, aircraft, and commanding officers.
The aircraft section includes some surprises for those new to the subject. Besides the iconic Marine fighters, such as the Grumman Wildcat and Vought Corsair, Tillman describes Lockheed PV Ventura and F6F Hellcat night fighters. And in a stroke of objectivity, he places the oft-maligned Brewster F2A Buffalo in context.
In all, 120 Marine pilots were credited with five or more victories to become aces. Tillman, who knew most of those who survived the war, does history a service with a separate analysis of the Corps’ true top gun. He concludes that while the Marines have clung for generations to the unsupportable notion that Boyington was their leading ace, it has, in fact, always been Joe Foss.
Osprey is well known for its emphasis on illustrations, and this book is no exception. Some 200 high-quality black-andwhite and color photos are included in four sections, including a cornucopia of rare squadron emblems. The only downside is that the captions are separate from the illustrations.
The back of the book is stuffed with an enormous variety of appendices that include aces, bases, chronological “snapshots” of Marine organization, and much more.
At a retail price of $25.95, this is an exceptional bargain and likely to remain the definitive treatment of the subject for years to come.— John Lloyd