Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Review Date: 22 Sep 2008
Full Title: Hell Hawks!: The Untold Story of the American Fliers Who Savaged Hitler's Wehrmacht
"Action-packed" is such a clichÃ© phrase, but anything less would do this unit history of the United States Army Air Force 365th Fighter Group little justice.
Nicknamed "Hell Hawks", the 365th Fighter Group was formed on 15 May 1943 and entered combat on 22 Feb 1944 while based in England. Equipped with the rugged P-47 Thunderbolt fighters, their primary duties were to conduct armed reconnaissance missions and to provide tactical air support for the advancing troops whenever necessary.
The book started off with intensity. "Heading east, low over the English Channel, four P-47D Thunderbolt fighter-bombers streaked toward the French coast", it began. It was that kind of action that made the book so hard to pass on. Nearly every page you turn to, you could find Hollywood-esque explosive sequences waiting for you. The account of Second Lieutenant Kenneth C. McHugh's crash landing after losing his propeller in combat was almost excitingly commonplace in the book.
Many books about the air war unjustifiably ignored those who did not fly. The ground crew shared as much a burden as the airmen. Their jobs were dangerous, even if they were not always on the front lines. Air fields were inviting targets for German strafing, while it was not exactly safe working in an environment where deafening noise numbed the senses and the spinning propellers presented dangers. Hell Hawks! definitely gave the crews their due credit. "The men with stripes on their arms didn't pilot Jugs, but they made warfare in the Jug possible." They touched upon the unique bonding between the ground crews, particularly the crew chiefs, and their pilots and aircraft.
Pilot or crew, the stunning stories found in Hell Hawks! were results of 183 interviews with veterans and their families. The authors were also well-qualified to tell the story of the Hell Hawks, as Robert Dorr is an United States Air Force veteran, retired senior diplomat, and author of many books, while Thomas Jones is also a USAF veteran, a retired astronaut, and a planetary scientist. Their eloquent but yet down-to-Earth language made the book exciting and rewarding to read.
Last, but not least, the authors did a great job including additional information to help the readers better understand the grand scheme of things in the war. Well-placed text about the broad Allied front lines on the Western Front, technical specifications of the P-47 Thunderbolt aircraft, and the somber experiences of the visits to the Buchenwald death camp all successfully weaved the experiences described in this book to the war as a whole. While the men of the 365th Fighter Group destroyed individual locomotives and shot down individual aircraft, all their individual actions all added up to move forth the progression of the European War.
Hell Hawks! ranks high on my list of recommended books on the air war in WW2.
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Joachim von Ribbentrop, German Foreign Minister, Aug 1939