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Wings of Gold: The U.S. Naval Air Campaign in World War II Hardcover – June 1, 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
This chaotic history gives anything but a birds eye view of the Second World War. Military historian Astor, author of Terrible Terry Allen, focuses on the exploits of aircraft-carrier pilots in the Pacific from Pearl Harbor to the final attacks on the Japanese home islands, with occasional glances at operations guarding convoys and covering landings in the Atlantic and Mediterranean theaters. The broad outlines tell a story of burgeoning American military might as the colossal U.S. war economy gears up. Initially battling superior Japanese numbers, equipment and skill, by 1943 Navy fliers were shooting down ten Japanese planes for every American lost, the "superabundance" of American planes and pilots was causing air traffic-control problems and fighter pilots were competing for the right to attack ever-rarer enemy planes. Unfortunately, the broad outlines are pretty hard to discern in Astors rendition. He tells the story mainly as oral history, through pilots first-hand reminiscences of training, dogfighting, strafing, bombing, ditching and being rescued, and wrangling with hidebound Navy brass. The best of the reminiscences vividly convey the procedure, panic and elation of aerial combat; however, important points are frequently buried in off-hand comments, and the brief stabs at exposition, analysis and perspective are quickly broken up by the next round of cockpit anecdotes. Indeed, their sheer number and repetitiousness at times makes it seem as if Astor wants to reenact the entire war through shot-by-shot micro-narratives of the tiniest duels. Hardcore military buffs will delight in the nonstop action, tactical lore, and clipped flyboy lingo, but many readers will feel shell-shocked. Photos.
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“No one does oral history better than Gerald Astor.”
“Relying on oral histories and pure literary skill, he tells the naval aviation story in a compelling fashion that makes this book special…[He] nearly mak[es] it read like a dramatic novel–a difficult task indeed.”
-PROCEEDINGS, publication of the U.S. Naval Institute
"Astor is . . . an historian worth reading."
Top customer reviews
His use of first hand accounts of aerial combat are unsurpassed, detailed and very readable. It puts you right in the thick of the action, almost as you were there yourself. I highly recommend Wings Of Gold to anyone who has an interest in Navy carrier ops and the men who heroically flew combat in WW2.
There are tons of errors in this text, the most glaring being the author's reference to the SBD Dauntless as an "SPD" (this egregiously repeated typo was corrected, I believe, in the paperback version). The editing is poor at best with some paragraphs completely misplaced to the point that you wonder where they were really supposed to be. The wording and phrases used are also not very good and, though applicable perhaps to a grunt executing a flanking maneuver, have no place describing a dogfight. Also someone should slap Astor for using "Tin Fish" to describe a torpedo in every instance in which the subject is discussed. "Tin Fish" may be cute or humorous the first few times but after the 122nd appearance it becomes grating. Can we buy the man a thesaurus?!
The book is extremely frustrating at times for other reasons. Many significant events are ignored, casually mentioned, or unexplained. Wade McClusky is said to have been wounded at the Battle of Midway yet nowhere is it explained how, where, when, or to what extent. And what of our gallant Marines? Medal of Honor recipient Captain Henry Elrod, USMC, of Wake Island fame was a Naval Aviator. Night Fighter Ace Bruce Porter was also a Marine and the role he and his fellow Devil Dogs played was significant yet ignored here. The bloody and determined campaign in the Solomon Islands that chewed up the elite aviator corps of the Imperial Japanese Navy doesn't get nearly enough attention and the Marine contribution is all but unmentioned.
One could argue that the Marine omissions are forgiveable in that Astor's focus was on pure Navy fliers, but even the latter get short shrift. Navy PB4Y pilots like Lt. Wayne Rorman and Commander Norman Miller (among others) were awarded Navy Crosses for daring attacks. Captain Paul Stevens, USN (Ret.) was even court martialed for a raid on the Japanese fleet at Mindoro in 1944 before being awarded a Navy Cross for his actions. Sadly, these tales go completely unmentioned in this book.
It cannot be emphasized enough that this work's only salvation comes in the form of numerous interviews with Alex Vraciu (provided via North Texas University's Oral History Program). The man is an absolutely unbelievable character. Sadly, Astor wastes even this valuable resource as the details of Vraciu's incredible exploits are not covered deeply enough.