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Black Sheep: The Definitive Account of Marine Fighting Squadron 214 in World War II Hardcover – June 9, 1998

4.4 out of 5 stars 80 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Only one U.S. air squadron has ever been featured in a network TV show: Marine Fighter Squadron 214, which, along with its commander, Major Gregory "Pappy" Boyington, became familiar through the 1970s series Baa, Baa, Black Sheep. The squadron completed two tours in the Solomon Islands and compiled a distinguished combat record before Boyington re-formed it in August 1943 in response to a temporary shortage of fighter squadrons in the Solomons. The new pilots, Gamble shows, were neither youngsters nor misfits as portrayed in Boyington's memoirs and the TV scripts. Gamble, a retired naval officer, describes the equipment, doctrine, operational conditions and personal relationships that shaped the squadron from its creation in 1942 through its Solomons experiences, to its recommissioning and assignment to the carrier Franklin. The war ended for the squadron when Franklin was crippled by a Japanese bomber in March 1945. According to Gamble, Boyington's achievements as squadron leader were substantial, if not as prodigious as he claimed. Boyington emerges here as an alcoholic egomaniac but also as a first-class pilot who earned the respect, though not always the admiration, of his men until he was shot down and captured in January 1944. A sensitive revision of a controversial legend, this book stands out as one of the best extant squadron histories and as a significant contribution to the literature on air power. 43 b&w photos and five maps.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Marine Fighting Squadron 214 has gone down in history as the Black Sheep, thanks to the colorful memoirs of its best-known commander, the ace Gregory "Pappy" Boyington. Exuberantly unreliable, those memoirs covered only one of the squadron's three incarnations. In the first, the squadron, cobbled together in the war's desperate early days, was known as the Swashbucklers and saw combat at Guadalcanal. In the second phase, the group of respectable replacements was assigned the squadron number and made a mighty name as the Black Sheep under Boyington, despite his drinking and brawling. Version three was a late-war collection of marine pilots that was knocked out of action on its first day in combat by the damage to its carrier, the USS Franklin. A model, warts-and-all unit history, Gamble's retires all previous books on squadron 214, showing that Boyington was not the only oddball in it and that the early Corsair fighter was nearly as dangerous to its pilots as to the Japanese. World War II, marine, and aviation collections--acquire! Roland Green
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Presidio Press (June 9, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0891416447
  • ISBN-13: 978-0891416449
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (80 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,350,143 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Bruce Gamble's account on the History of the famed VMF-214 provides a detailed look into the lives of Marine fighter pilots during the Pacific War in WWII. From the formation of the squadron thru to it's most recent history, you really get a sense of what it must have been like. This book is a perfect companion to Boyington's, Baa Baa Black Sheep or Frank Walton' s, Once They Were Eagles. Gamble's extensive research includes numerous interviews with surviving members of 214. Having read Boyington's and Walton's books, I expected that Gamble would address the 'story telling' that Boyington was know for, and he does. The Black Sheep were not the bunch of untried misfits that they have been made out to be and Gamble goes the distance in clearing that up. My only problem with his work is that, at times, he seems to take pleasure in proving out Boyington to be a liar. I think most of us would accept that Boyington was telling his story, as he saw it. Certainly he added details to 'enhance' his exploits in the war, but so what? Gamble is right to point out differences when he sees them but the final judgement should be with the reader. Greg Boyington has been credited with 28 air victories during the war. Gamble, and others, have shown that three of his Flying Tiger kills did not likely take place, fair enough. Gamble goes further to say that Boyington's final two victorys should also not count since they were not witnessed, or supported by Japanese records. If that requirement was applied to other aces of the war then there scores would suffer as well. It is enough to say that Boyington most likely had 25 kills, but has claimed and been credited for 28. Let the man rest in peace. Once you get past that, Bruce Gamble's book is a must read for WWII aviation fans.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This study of Marine Fighting Squadron 214 really hits home to a fellow follower of the televison series. I too stayed up late to watch the series and waited with great anticipation to see "Pappy" and the gang take on everyone and everything and win the battle.
I never read Boyington's book and would like to pick up a copy to check his facts against those listed in this book. As a student of the Civil War I've come to realize, that the older men get, the more fierce the battles they fought.
Within these pages Mr. Gambles eye for detail sheds new light on the air war over the Solomons. My only concern is the finite level of detail used to put forth this work. One can tell the level of research was exhausting, however, it should not be as exhausting to go through the book. Also, the repetitive nature of Boyington's faults needs not to appear quite so often. 20/20 hindsight is not only usefull for statistical research but damaging as well, so let's not forget the men of the 214 that went to battle and lost their lives for the very liberties we now enjoy!
Take Boyinton's accounts with a grain of salt and allow the man his glory. He gave America hope during a time in which we needed a hero.
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Format: Hardcover
I remember my parents allowing me to stay up late on school nights to watch Baa Baa Black Sheep on TV. Being an 8 year-old boy, the planes were the biggest draw for me; but the portrayal of Pappy and the Black Sheep left a mark in my memory. In high school I read Boyingtons book but could find no others on the squadron worth reading so my view of the VMF-214 was admittedly a skewed one. Until now.
Mr. Gamble does a fine job putting the Black Sheep into perspective. His level of detail shows the depth of research he undertook yet his writing style flows smoothly and does not bog down the story. I learned much and enjoyed every chapter. My only complaints would be that he seemed a bit vindictive at times towards Boyington and more pics showing the differences in aircraft that he describes throughout the text would have been appreciated.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
The Black Sheep is a great book. I enjoyed reading it and encourage all others to read it. It covers the entire WW2 history of VMF-214 from Wildcats and Swashbucklers to Corsairs and Black Sheep to the USS Franklin - all 5 tours. Lots of air combat in those pages. There's also lots of interesting information on the Corsair's (and the Pratt & Whitney R-2800's) introduction to combat, and the difficult process of working out the flaws to produce one of the finest fighter aircraft of the war. It's clear that Bruce Gamble did a lot of serious research - combining official US records, Japanese records, other first-person accounts, and personal interviews with surviving pilots. He cross-checked and synthesized all that information to give the most faithful account possible. Furthermore, he includes a lot of personal stories of the participants that give you a feel for the personalities involved, rather than just the facts and figures. To me, that is the mark of a great book - the kind I enjoy reading.

Reading through other reviews, the thing that determines whether a reader likes or does not like the book is Gamble's assessment of Pappy Boyington. The fans of Boyington seem to view anything negative about him as character assassination. The detractors of Boyington seem to enjoy seeing him knocked down a peg.

Here's my take on Boyington. He is the most famous American fighter pilot, and surely always will be. The following events made him compelling. The fact that he scored a victory to tie for first in the ace race but was then shot down and declared missing on that very same mission put him in the national spotlight. Officially listed as missing, but assumed dead by most, he was awarded the Medal of Honor.
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