Recon Scout Book Review

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By Fred H. Salter

Hardcover in dustjacket, 339 pages, photographs, and index

Published by Ballantine Books, 1994

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0-7394-2372-X

Dimensions: 5.7 x 1.4 x 8.5 inches

Corporal Fred H. Salter entered the U.S. Army at the age of 17, forging his father’s signature to enlist in the Horse Cavalry.  He was assigned to the 91st Cavalry Recon Squadron, which gave up its horses for Jeeps before the unit landed in North Africa.  There the unit was attached to larger formations, acting in their intended role as a reconnaissance unit or leaving their vehicles behind to fight as infantry.  Salter soon specialized in night patrols, scouting out enemy positions.  He often worked alone, believing the he was safer in no-man’s-land shielded by the darkness.

After North Africa the 91st landed in Sicily and fought its way up the Italian peninsula.  His was one of several units which endured the Italian winter in the mountainous countryside, and he witnessed the destruction of the Benedictine Monastery at Monte Cassino in a mis-guided attempt to break through the German defenses.

This is very much a soldier’s story with few words spent explaining any military strategy more grandiose than the next objective assigned to Salter or his unit.  He was a musician and a poet, some of his poems are included in this work.  At several times he expresses regret at the decisions he’s made and things he’s done during his time in combat, even if the events were beyond his direct control.

Salter was fortunate to have been one of the lucky ones who survived months of combat and rotated home before he was killed or wounded, most of the original men in his unit were not as lucky. The strain took a toll on him, in addition to malaria it is apparent that he suffered from what we would call PTSD today.  It would be remarkable if he didn’t.

The style of some of the dialog brought back memories of the Sgt. Rock comics of my youth.  A little campy but it does not detract from the story.  There is definitely a tension to the book, sneaking around alone at night through enemy lines is not something just anyone could do.  An interesting story of one man’s experiences during the war.

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Colorful Curtiss P-40 Warhawk Markings Part 2

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One of the larger and more flamboyant squadron nose art designs was carried by the “Parrot Hawks” of the 502nd Fighter Squadron / 337th Fighter Group.  This was a training squadron which was equipped with P-40N’s.  This aircraft appears to be missing some paint due to an over-zealous effort to remove exhaust stains from the fuselage.

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The Parrot Hawks were based at Napier Field, Alabama in late 1943.  This flight line shows the markings in all their glory, although the fifth aircraft has not had the artwork applied yet.

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The “Bushmasters” of the 78th Fighter Squadron / 15th Fighter Group operated their P-40K’s from the Hawaiian Islands and Midway in 1943.  They carried a large snake head on the noses of their aircraft.  An interesting if somewhat obscure marking.

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The “Burma Banshees” of the 89th Fighter Squadron / 80th Fighter Group featured large skulls on their P-40N’s.  Here Lt Philip Adair poses in front of his aircraft, named “Lulu Belle”.

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A line up of Banshee aircraft at Assam, India in 1944.  Each skull was unique, many featured fangs or dripping blood.  Note the variations in the application of the tail numbers.

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With the help of a small monkey, the first two victory flags are applied to the fuselage of the P-40K of Major “Big Ed” Nollmeyer.  Nollmeyer was the Commanding Officer of the 26th Fighter Squadron, part of the 51st Fighter Group.  Note the modified paint on the rudder.

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Another view of the same scene showing details of the fuselage side.  This is P-40K serial number 42-9766.  It has proved confusing to some profile artists as the markings evolved over time.  These pictures show the aircraft before many of the ultimate markings were added.

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At this point the aircraft carries two yellow fuselage bands with a third at the nose and red outlined national insignia, which were only officially authorized for a few months in the summer of 1943.

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A good profile view showing that several additional markings have been added to Major Nollmeyer’s aircraft.  The aircraft displays five victory markings, numbers four and five being claimed on 22 December 43.  The nose now displays a shark’s mouth with the squadron insignia inside and Big Ed’s personal Bugs Bunny emblem aft of the cockpit.  The vertical tail and carburetor air scoop have received fresh paint (likely Olive Drab) and the national insignia are now outlined in a blue border.

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The P-40K of Lt Robert “Jay” Overcash displays an interesting collection of markings.  Under the engine exhausts are the dot-dot-dot-dash representing the Morse letter V for Victory, below that is the Black Scorpion marking of the 64th Fighter Squadron / 57th Fighter Group.  Under the cockpit are Overcash’s five victory markings, other personal markings include the skull and the “Savoy” fez on the tail.  The red spinner and RAF fin flash were introduced by the RAF and adopted by the Americans as Desert Air Force theater markings.  Note that the aircraft’s original Olive Drab color has been painted over with a more appropriate Sand as evidenced by the background to the serial number on the tail and stenciling visible under the cockpit.  (LIFE Magazine photograph)

Colorful Curtiss P-40 Warhawk Markings Part 1

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The P-40 Warhawk is probably best known as the plane with the shark’s teeth, and the unit which started it all was the RAF’s 112 Squadron which first painted the famous marking on their Kittyhawk I’s in North Africa.  Here Lt A. R. Costello strikes a pose next to his aircraft at Sidi Heneish, Egypt.

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The sharkmouth fit the contours of the P-40 particularly well.  112 Squadron aircraft soon became favorites of photographers, and pictures were picked up by several magazines eager to provide coverage of the war.

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The magazine coverage made it all the way to China, where pilots of the American Volunteer Group “Flying Tigers” decided shark’s teeth would look nice on their aircraft as well.  Their aircraft and exploits soon became legend and are still one of the most recognizable schemes to this day.  Each set of shark’s teeth was painted by hand and differed in details.  (Robert Smith photograph)

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The 343rd Fighter Group was activated on 03SEP42 at Elmendorf Field, Alaska.  It consisted of the 11th and 18th Fighter Squadrons on Curtiss P-40Es and the 54th Fighter Squadron on Lockheed P-38s.  A fourth squadron with P-40Es, the 344th, was added in October.  In command was Lt Col John Chennault, whose father of Flying Tigers fame inspired the Tiger nose art applied to the Group’s P-40s.  (LIFE Magazine photograph)

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A lesser known application is this yellow nosed P-40E.  Supposedly there were two aircraft painted in these nose markings at Malaybalay, Mindanao while flying in defense of the Philippines, but documentation is lacking.

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At least one of these aircraft was captured by the Japanese in airworthy condition.  It was given Japanese Hinomaru over the U.S. insignia, although the “U.S. ARMY” lettering is still just visible under the wings in this photograph.

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Another view as the Japanese examine their prize.  Several U.S. types were captured and restored to airworthy condition on Java and the Philippines, including many P-40s and three B-17s.

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A view of the starboard side of the nose from a Japanese magazine.  Most artist’s renderings depict the head as either being yellow, or yellow with red mottling.  The “bullet-riddled” description in the English caption is wishful thinking, there were several P-40s captured intact by the Japanese that were quite flyable.

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The shark’s mouth marking remained popular with P-40 units, particularly those flying in the Chinese Theater.  Here is a P-40N of the 74th Fighter Squadron being fitted with rocket tubes at Kweilen, China in 1943-44.

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Yet another variation seen in India, this P-40K of the 25th Fighter Squadron 51st Fighter Group is pictured at Assam Valley India in 1944.  A smaller mouth but larger fangs.

The 79th Fighter Group Book Review

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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

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0764313223

ISBN-13: 978-0764313226

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.

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Special Hobby Curtiss P-40K-1 Warhawk of 1LT Robert Overcash in 1/72 Scale

Here is the Curtiss P-40K-1 serial number 42-46040 of 1LT Robert “Jay” Overcash of the 64th Fighter Squadron, 57th Fighter Group operating from Hani Main airfield in Tunisia, May 1943.  Overcast was an ace with five victories over the North African desert.  There are a lot of markings on this aircraft, the decals all came from the sheet supplied in the Special Hobby kit which were printed by Cartograph.

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Fine Molds Messerschmitt Bf 109 F-4 Trop of Hans-Jochim Marseille in 1/72 Scale

Messerschmitt Bf 109 F-4 Trop of 3. / JG 27, Ain El Gazala Libya, June 1942, pilot Hans-Jochim Marseille, Fine Molds kit.

Berliner Hans-Jochim Marseille was widely known as one of the best marksmen in the Luftwaffe, and one who had perfected the art of deflection shooting.  His preferred tactic was to engage enemy aircraft while flying at a reduced speed to maximize maneuverability and concentrate his fire on the forward fuselage, where both the engine and pilot were located.  He was shot down himself on several occasions (including twice by Sous-Lieutenant James Denis, a Free French pilot with No. 73 Squadron RAF) and lost additional aircraft due to mechanical difficulties.  Marseille was a playboy and a major disciplinary problem for his commanders, but was highly effective in aerial combat.  He was officially credited with 158 victories.  On 30SEP42 Marseille was killed while bailing out after the Bf 109 G-2 he was flying developed engine trouble.

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Luftwaffe in Africa Book Review

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Luftwaffe in Africa, 1941-1943

By Jean-Louis Roba

Paperback, 128 pages, heavily illustrated, index

Published by Casemate, November 2019

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1612007457

ISBN-13: 978-1-61200-7458

Product Dimensions: 7.0 x 0.5 x 10.0 inches

Germany was drawn into the war in North Africa by Mussolini’s ambitions.  Italy had little to gain by conquering the region; Germany even less so.  For the German Army and particularly the Luftwaffe North Africa did little more than provide an ever-increasing drain on assets which could have been better used in the Soviet Union.  Once the influx of American men and material began to be felt the Axis cause was beyond redemption.

This volume provides a good overview of the progression of the campaign in North Africa from the Luftwaffe perspective.  There were quite a large number of units committed over time but Germany was never able to achieve the concentration of force necessary to achieve her goals, attempts to supply the Africa Korps by air transport proving particularly costly.  Roba does a good job of tracking the constant redeployments, and describes the results of the major air actions as the campaign progressed.  Also included is the commitment of the Luftwaffe’s Fallschrimjäger.  The LRDG attacks of Luftwaffe airfields are mentioned as well but only briefly.  In the last third of the book there are several first-hand accounts from pilots which are interesting, although one from Arman Köhler’s diary appears to have been inadvertently omitted.

There are quite a number of photographs reproduced in this book, many of which were new to me.  They include some original color examples which are presented well and are generally well captioned.  There are also fifteen very nicely done color profiles, but these have only the briefest of descriptions.

Overall a nice presentation and a quick read.  A few first-hand accounts in the beginning of the book would have been welcome, but this book provides a good overview of the campaign.

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