Saturday, March 7, 2015

Book Review: Reconnaissance and Bomber Aces of World War 1

Reconnaissance and Bomber Aces of World War 1, Osprey Aircraft of the Aces -123.
Written by John Guttman, and Illustrated by Harry Dempsey.

Scope – Narrow, focuses on a very specific subject.
Completeness – Amazingly so.
Appeal –limited to a specific audience. 
Accuracy –Although I’m not able to judge, considering that it’s the author’s 18th book on world war one aviation related subjects, it’s probably incredibly accurate.

Years ago, in high school, a friend of mine and I used to mock the Osprey books we saw in the hobby stores because of the obscurity and limitedness of some of their titles. Although we were snot-nosed teenagers unwittingly displaying our ignorance, this is exactly the sort of book we would target.  This 96 page book focuses, as the title says, on aces, people who shot down five or more enemy planes, while serving in the larger planes of the era, the ones with two man or larger crews. These larger planes were not intended to be used as fighters but instead, as the title indicates, were assigned to reconnaissance or bombing duties. Nevertheless, these planes and their crews often saw direct combat with enemy aircraft and a surprising number of their crewmembers became aces. This book tells the little known story of the world war one fighter aces who served in these large planes.
If this subject interests you, ignore any mocking teenagers who see no value in it. If this subject interests you, then this book should make you very, VERY happy indeed. 

Divided by nation, this book covers aces from the military air units of France, the United Kingdom, the U.S.A., Germany and Austro-Hungary. (Apparently these were the only nations who had people who became aces while flying multiperson crewed planes.)  

For each nation it discusses the planes that were used and their weaponry. (No surprise to Osprey fans.) This was interesting. For instance, I was very surprised to learn at how often, particularly when a machine gun would jam, a crewman would pull out a carbine and start firing at enemy planes and crew.

But, perhaps more interestingly, this book attempts to provide a brief biography of almost every Reconnaissance and bomber ace of the First World War. These are generally fascinating. We learn where people were born, how they came to be part of the crew of one of these planes, and, if they survived the war, where they went to next and what they did with the rest of their lives.  We learn of French aces who spent their senior years trying to sort out the division of their country into Vichy and Free French forces, Austro-Hungarians being involved in Czech independence, Americans chasing wild flying feats to earn prizes offered by pineapple tycoons, and more.  As would be expected many of these men had fascinating lives both before and after the war. –they were world war one flying aces after all, and one can’t get more exotic and exciting than that.  

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