VF-11/111 'Sundowners' 1942-95
Contributor: David Stubblebine
Review Date: 11 Jun 2014
VF-11/111 'Sundowners' is in the "Aviation Elite Units" line of Osprey Books. The book lives up to what we have come to expect from Osprey Books: compact yet complete and authoritative with plentiful photographs and color plates to help tell the story. Barrett Tillman is a reliable author with several titles to his credit that primarily cover US Naval aviation. Henk van der Lugt is the official historian for the VF-111 'Sundowners' squadron.
Just as the title suggests, this book chronicles the US Navy Fighting Squadron 11 from creation in 1942, through the Navy reorganization that changed the squadron's designation to Fighter Squadron 111, to their final dissolution in 1995. In these 53 years of existence, the squadron served in three wars, made 17 different carrier deployments, and transitioned through 9 different primary aircraft. The squadron took its nickname 'Sundowners' directly from their initial mission to bring down Japan's Rising Sun while also making reference to an old Navy term meaning a hard worker. They lived up to both meanings.
The squadron's first combat deployment came before there were enough aircraft carriers and Navy air squadrons were regularly flying from airstrips ashore. In VF-11's case, that was Henderson Field on Guadalcanal as part of the "Cactus Air Force." They later deployed aboard USS Hornet (Essex-class) during the Philippine offensive of 1944-45. By the Korean Conflict, VF-11 had become VF-111 and they were flying jet fighters from USS Philippine Sea. It was during this time that VF-111 scored the first ever jet-on-jet aerial victory. The Sundowners completed 6 carrier deployments during the Vietnam era before their final assignment as a Cold War carrier-based squadron.
Tillman and van der Lugt pack a lot of detail into this compact book and each passage almost reads like a paraphrased After Action Report. This makes terrific reading for squadron members or families of squadron members but at over the 120 pages, it becomes a little more detail than what some readers might want to wade through. Being completely chronological with logical chapter breaks, it is easy to skip to a particular period or event that is of special interest. Overall I would rate this as an average book for the average history buff but an exceptional book for a fairly limited audience.
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