Hell Hawks! Book Review

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Hell Hawks!: The Untold Story of the American Fliers Who Savaged Hitler’s Wehrmacht

By Robert F. Dorr and Thomas D. Jones

Hardcover in dustjacket, illustrated, 336 pages

Published by Zenith Press, June 2008

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0760329184

ISBN-13: 978-0760329184

Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches

While the USAAF Eighth Air Force gained fame conducting the strategic campaign against the industrial heartland of Nazi Germany, the Ninth Air Force waged a tactical campaign against the German Wehrmacht in support of the advancing Allied armies in the field.  Largely overshadowed by the “heavies” and their escorts, the role of the groups flying close air support in support of the ground troops was every bit as vital.

Hell Hawks! tells the story of 365th Fighter Group in P-47D Thunderbolts and their missions from D-Day to the end of the war in Europe.  Numerous interviews with surviving pilots and ground crewmen provide a good understanding of the heavy operational tempo and primitive conditions endured as the Group fought its way across Europe, leapfrogging from one forward airfield to another.  A majority of the missions were close air support of ground troops, but interdiction missions against rail traffic and airfields were also a staple.  Tangles with the Luftwaffe were not uncommon, with the Thunderbolts performing well even against the much faster Me 262 jets.

While there is no doubt as to the effectiveness of the 365th’s efforts, there was also a cost – sixty nine pilots and ground crew lost their lives.  Numerous aircraft were lost to enemy action and operational reasons, flak and the notorious European winter took their tolls.  One is struck by the ruggedness of the construction of Republic’s Thunderbolt, there are numerous examples of major parts of the engine or airframe being shot away and the aircraft still returning to base.  Likewise, the turbocharger ducting running under the cockpit made a belly landing in the P-47 much more survivable than would be possible in other types.  One of the more interesting aspects of the book are the many stories of evasion after crash landing or bailing out behind German lines, and the efforts of downed pilots to link up with Allied forces and return to their unit.

An engaging and very readable book, one which I can recommend without hesitation.  Given the fine record and durability of the P-47 in the ground support role in the Second World War, I am continually perplexed by the USAF preference for the F-51 during the Korean War.  This book only reinforces the thought that using the Mustang there was not the best idea.

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