by: Russ Amott [ ]
Originally published on:
Osprey Aircraft of the Aces 115
Aces of the 78th fighter Group by Thomas McKelvey Cleaver
Osprey Publishing has expanded their "Aircraft of the Aces" series with a look at the 78th Fighter Group and the pilots who served with the group.
Dubbed "The Eagles of Duxford" for their home field, they were the only fighter unit in the Eighth Airforce to operate the P-38, P-47 and P-51 fighters. 51 pilots serving with the 78th made ace.
The 96 page book is broken down neatly into 6 chapters and two appendices:
30 July 1943
Against the Odds
Battle of Germany
Coming of the Mustang
Color plates commentary
The first chapter opens with the close of "Little Blitz Week", the first sustained offensive against Germany. A vivid description of aerial combat is promptly given, naming several of the pilots who will feature in the history of the 78th.
Beginnings describes just exactly that-the organization of the 78th and a history of their use of the P-38 fighter. The hardships of hurried training in new aircraft are highlighted, with reported losses of one new pilot a month in a crash. The group deployed to England but just prior to entering combat half their pilots and all their P-38s were transferred to support operation Torch. The 78th would have to start all over again, working with the new P-47. Of particular note are the efforts of Col. Arman Peterson, whose work on improving boresighting patterns and gun sights would benefit all fighter groups, and who was tireless in training his own pilots. Also provided is a nice, though brief history of Duxford. The early combat use of the P-47 is described in firsthand account as well.
Against the Odds begins with the introduction of the long range ferry tanks being fitted to the P-47. The fighter, and the fighter group would mature together as they fought in the skies of Europe. Successes of the individual pilots are shared, as well as mission descriptions, both good and bad. Of note here is a comparison between the landing fields. The 78th was based 50 miles west of both the 4th and 56th groups. That meant reduced range and time over target for the pilots of the 78th, putting them at a disadvantage to the other two groups.
The Battle of Germany begins on January 1, 1944. While the 4th and 56th fighter groups would welcome Gen. Doolittle's announcement that fighters were to sweep ahead of the bombers, clearing the skies and taking an aggressive role, the 78th would stick to close bomber escort. This would reduce the victories the 78th would claim, comparative to the other groups. Again, first hand accounts and specific personal stories of the pilots are provided. It is clear that at this point in the war Germany was struggling against the allies in the air war. It was in April of 1944 that the 78th adopted the checkerboard markings on the cowling. They were hand applied and no two were identical.
Liberating Europe begins on June 6, 1944. In this chapter the hazards of ground strafing begin to tell. June would end with 13 pilots killed, two captured and two evaded-the heaviest monthly losses of the war to that point. Later that year, Quince Brown, leading ace of the 78th, would be shot down, captured by the SS and murdered. Of benefit to the 78th was the transfer of one of their officers, Lt. Col Eby, to 8th Air Force Headquarters. He was able to insert the 78th into more mission planning.
The coming of the Mustang starts with the switch, unwillingly, from the P-47 to the P-51. The pilots liked the range of the P-51, but the P-47 was roomier, sturdier and had earned the trust of the men who flew it. Losses would increase because of the vulnerability of the liquid cooled engine to ground fire and the continuation of strafing missions. Again, the action is well described with many more first hand accounts. The story continues to the end of the war and the eventual disbandment of the 78th.
The color plates cover 10 pages, with three profiles per page. 17 P-47s, from early C models to a late Ds, in both OD and natural metal finish, and 13 P-51s are shown.
In addition, the book is filled with period photographs not just of pilots but aircraft and gun camera stills as well.
The book is brief, as most Osprey titles are, providing a good introduction to the history of the 78th Fighter Group.