The 79th Fighter Group: Over Tunisia, Sicily, and Italy in World War II
By Dan Woerpel
Hardcover in dustjacket, 264 pages, illustrated, appendixes, indexed, twelve color profiles
Published by Schiffer Publishing July 2001
Dimensions: 8.8 x 1.0 x 11.1 inches
The 79th Fighter Group first saw combat over North Africa in early 1943 equipped with Curtis P-40 Warhawks. After the Axis armies were defeated in North Africa the Group moved on to Sicily, and then the Italian mainland where it was re-equipped with Republic P-47 Thunderbolts, which it flew until the end of the war. The Group was mainly engaged in ground attack and interdiction missions as the Luftwaffe presence was reduced while the Italian Campaign progressed. 138 Axis aircraft were claimed destroyed in the air; the list of ground targets destroyed is also impressive and includes damaging the Italian aircraft carrier Aquilla.
The Group was comprised of three squadrons; the 85th Fighter Squadron “Flying Skulls”; 86th FS “Comanches”; and 87th FS “Skeeters”. For a time the 99th FS was also attached while the Group was in Sicily.
Being a unit history, the book follows the 79th Fighter Group from its formation to the end of occupation duty in Germany. The account is quite detailed and covers each mission the squadrons flew with an accounting of claims and losses from each. While this can get somewhat repetitive, there are enough personal accounts from the pilots to keep things interesting. The author has done an outstanding job of describing the overall strategic progress of the war which provides vital context for the Group’s movements and assignments. There is also an entire chapter devoted to the experiences of pilots shot down behind enemy lines and their successful evasion or ultimate captivity.
Many Schiffer publications consist almost entirely of photographs with a small portion of the book devoted to text. This is not one of those books. Although there are a number of photographs the focus of this work is on the history. While I would always prefer more pictures there are enough here to help tell the story. These are augmented by twelve nicely done color illustrations by artist S. W. Ferguson which are rendered in perspective.
The 79th Fighter Group was unique in the number and variety of Axis aircraft which its personnel rebuilt and returned to flightworthy condition. While other units would also occasionally refurbish a few captured aircraft, it was almost an obsession with the 79th. There is mention of some of these aircraft but I would have liked to have seen much more material included on this as it was a defining peculiarity of the unit.
This is a large book, definitely not just an evening’s read. I did find it interesting and informative. It is well-written and I enjoyed the author’s style. If you’re interested in the Italian Campaign or the daily operations of a Fighter Group then I would not hesitate to recommend this book.