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Posted May 3, 2011
Excellent Strategic and Combat History
Just when it appears we're nearing the end of World War II history, somebody turns up an original subject. So it is with Barrett Tillman's Whirlwind, the first one-volume account of all allied air operations over Japan. The subtitle can be misleading: The Air War Against Japan 1942-1945. It would more accurately specify the air was over Japan, but the distinction is relatively minor. While dozens of books have addressed the Boeing B-29 Superfortress and those who flew them, and others touch upon naval aviation operations over Japan, none has combined them into the near-seamless narrative of Whirlwind. Tillman expertly covers operations by the Army Air Forces from China, the Marianas, and elsewhere, plus U.S. Navy and Marine Corps land- and carrier-based aircraft, plus the British Pacific Fleet. He also gives overdue tribute to engineers who created massive airfields out of practically nothing. Therein lies the strength of Whirlwind. A few reviewers fail to grasp that it is not a B-29 book but rather an expert, literate study of an entire campaign, including the Japanese perspective. Tillman's revelations about Tokyo's criminally negligent preparations for massive attacks are eye-openers: soaring arrogance, severe interservice rivalry, and indifference to civilian suffering on an industrial scale. The A-bombs still resonate sixty-fve years later, but Tillman's vivid descriptions of B-29 fire raids are searing and quite memorable. The American side also receives criticism. Tillman faults President Roosevelt for failing to appoint a Pacific "supremo," as he had in Europe, resulting in Army-Navy clashes and duplication of effort. In the current era of military "jointness," the 1945 air campaign used tremendous assets from all services but often failed to assign suitable targets, especially to the Navy. Carrier aircraft gained air superiority over Japan, and inflicted some damage on industrial targets, but the flying admirals were obsessed with the rusting, idle remnants of the Imperial Navy when they should have focused on enemy coastal shipping traffic. Destruction of Hokkaido's crucial coal ferries was a superb example that Tillman properly notes. Among Tillman's previous books was the first posthumous biography of General Curtis LeMay. The author clearly admires the dour bomber strategist, who arguably saved not only General Hap Arnold's reputation amid the premature commitment of the B-29 to China, but perhaps the post-war independent Air Force. Whatever his faults, LeMay became the indispensable personality in defeating Japan short of the potentially most horrific invasion in history. As Tillman observes, air power has never cracked enemy morale, but it did convince the one man who needed convincing: Emperor Hirohito. Whirlwind is the second Pacific campaign history that Tillman has penned recently. Clash of the Carriers (Caliber, 2005) may remain the definitive treatment of "The Marianas Turkey Shoot," especially since veterans are dying in their thousands every week. Historian Henry Sakaida lauded Clash for "balance and fairness, something lacking in past histories." If anything, Whirlwind has been even better received. The Wall Street Journal and Leatherneck Magazine acclaimed Tillman as "superb" and "a master story teller." We eagerly await his next book, a history of USS Enterprise (CV-6). For more military history book reviews, visit the Pacifica Military History Blog.
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Posted May 8, 2010
Visiting the Past
My father was a Navigator on B-29's in the Pacific and I wanted to get a perspective of that air war. The book was very enlightening and an easy read. Its amazing what the cost of the war was and I wonder what the current media would have to say about "acceptable" losses.
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Posted April 8, 2010
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