One of the more interesting and popular aspects of our American Military heritage has been the involvement of American nationals in what at the time would have to be considered foreign wars. Young Americans, for whatever reasons, have gone overseas to join the military of countries involved in wars that either the United States had not yet become directly involved in, or would not become involved in at all. A few examples are the American flyers that joined the French Aviation Service and flew with the Lafayette Escadrille, and the British Equivalent, the Lafayette Flying Corps in the First World War. Others went to Spain and formed the American Brigade during the Spanish Civil War.
Perhaps the two most well known to us aviation history/modeling types are the Eagle Squadrons that later formed the now very well known 4th Fighter Wing of the Eighth Air Force in England during the early stages of the Second World War, and the Subject of this review, the American Volunteer Group in China.
The Flying Tigers have always been a very popular subject, both from the history and the modeling perspective. But at least in my opinion, much of what we have had in the way of information has been sketchy and not very well documented. There have been several “I was there” books and attempts to piece together at least some of their history. But for an outfit that lasted just about exactly one year, there really has not been much in the way of decent, well researched and documented history.
That ends with this book! I was very impressed with the solid research and attempts to substantiate everything. Many authors have a tendency to just let their story flow and don’t interrupt with the evidence that lead them to their statements. Terry has done a great job of balancing his facts with supporting evidence. When you finish this book you will have the feeling that you were almost there in China. It (the book) is that good. (China apparently was not).
If you are familiar with the Osprey Aircraft of the Aces series, you know what the layout will be-an equal balance of text, photos, and artwork relating to the subject. The ninety-six pages are crammed with good stuff. We get a brief but detailed explanation of why the AVG was formed and even how it was financed. For those of you who think sneaky financial dealings might be unique to the current politicians, this will take care of that idea rather smartly.
Most of the significant individuals we have come to associate with the Flying Tigers are covered with brief, but complete biographies. These are scattered throughout the book in individual boxes that have a picture with the text. Their relevant post AVG information is also noted.
I really like the fact that this goes well beyond the “Aircraft of the Aces” of the title. There is an extensive discussion about who was involved with the training, building up the Tomahawks after shipment, how the group was organized and a million other first person observations and quotes.
And just in case you think this is a study in adulation, I should point out that the warts are well covered to. But like everything else, they are well documented and balanced. I especially like his coverage of Greg Boyington now a bit of a “Hollywood legend”. The fact is that while a good pilot, he was a terribly difficult individual to deal with.. Terry points this out via the recollections of several that were there, then actually quotes Boyington’s own book, which supports the statements about his misdeeds while with the AVG. The balance is commendable.
When the aircraft markings are discussed, every detail is confirmed with recollections from someone that was there, and nothing is missed. If a photo or two help with the detail, they are there as well. Nothing seems to have been guessed at. When you finish digesting this book, I think you will be confident enough to build that accurate AVG P-40 model you have always wanted.
The subject is somewhat obscure as far as history is concerned. The AVG only lasted a bit more than one year, but we all now have a “real” story that puts a lot of the myth to bed for good.
Amazing what can be done in only ninety-six pages!