Fighter Pilot: World War II in the South Pacific / the Cold Blue Sky: A B-17 Gunner in World War Two / ACE! Autobiograplhy of a Fighter Pilot in World War II
Gates, Jim, Air & Space Power Journal
Fighter Pilot World War II in the South Pacific by William M. Gaskill. Sunflower University Press, 1531 Yuma, P.O. Box 1009, Manhattan, Kansas 66502-4228, 1997, 186 pages, S22.95.
The Cold Blue Sky: A B-17 Gunner in World War Two by Jack Novey. Howell Press, 1147 River Road, Suite 2, Charlottesville, Virginia 22901, 1997, 183 pages, $24.95.
ACE! Autobiography of a Fighter Pilot in World War II by Melvyn Paisley. Branden Publishing Company, Inc., 17 Station Street, P.O. Box 843, Brookline Village, Boston, Massachusetts 02147, 1992, 316 pages, $22.95.
Begging Charles Dickens's indulgence, these books represent the best of memoirs and the worst of memoirs. This trio depicts a wide spectrum of aerial combat in World War II. The first book, written by a P-38 fighter pilot, covers a small portion of the air war over New Guinea in late 1944 and early 1945. The second covers one man's war as a B-17 waist gunner over occupied Europe in 1943. The final memoir, by a P-47 pilot, describes the battles in the skies over Europe in the final months of the war.
I attacked William Gaskill's memoir first. Let's not mince words: it is amazing that this book was ever printed. Published by Sunflower University Press, a small, mustang publishing house known for its independence and emphasis on airpower topics, I expected a degree of entertaining insight into the trials and tribulations faced by airmen in the Southwest Pacific area. I was sorely disappointed. The diary Gaskill kept while stationed in the Southwest Pacific failed to stimulate his memory enough to write a decent account of his war.
Instead of expanding on his wartime experiences-something he was eminently qualified to do-the author penned chapters on the Pacific war, including a war chronology-things he was not qualified to do. The rambling and disjointed narrative is too poorly written to be of value to any but the most ardent student of the war. More than once, the author included an anecdote (or chapter) with little or no connection to the story line. For instance, he includes a chapter on Japanese aggression in the Pacific that chronicles the first months of the war but fails to describe what impact this had on him as a young aviation cadet, or the changes he perceived in society at large, or how his training was preparing him for the upcoming challenge.
This is all the more distressing since Gaskill had the foundation of a first-rate story. Of historical note: he piloted one of the lesser-known fighters of World War II, the P-39 Airacobra, one of the first fighter aircraft with a tricycle landing gear and one built around its armaments 37 mm cannon. Armed with this weapon, Gaskill's squadron attacked Japanese shipping and myriad installations in the Pacific. Later, his squadron transitioned to P-38 Lightnings and provided bomber escort. What Gaskill needed was a good editor to tighten the argument. Unfortunately, this is something he did not receive from his press.
Unlike Fighter Pilot, the other two memoirs are a joy to read. Jack Novey's The Cold Blue Sky recounts the exploits of a B-17 waist gunner in the early days of the Combined Bomber Offensive. The Cold Blue Sky has two things going for it that Fighter Pilot lacks. First, aside from a great title, Novey created a highly entertaining and engaging account of his war Although he gives credit to his editor for markedly improving his manuscript, the author's talent is immediately obvious. He spins an entertaining tale that engages the reader. Second, Novey focuses on his point and sticks to it. Only rarely, and then towards the end of the book when he discusses his postwar experiences, does the narrator wander onto unstable ground.
But to the heart of the tale: Novey and his crew flew during the most dangerous time of the Combined Bomber Offensive, receiving fighter escort only rarely. Novey is a rarity in that he managed to complete a full tour of 25 missions-including both the August and October 1943 Regensburg-Schweinfurt missions. …