Tuesday, April 2, 2013

eBook Review: Spitfires, Thunderbolts, and Warm Beer

Philip D Caine, Spitfires, Thunderbolts, and Warm Beer: An American Fighter Pilot Over Europe

Product Details

  • File Size: 4211 KB 
  • Print Length: 231 pages 
  • Publisher: Potomac Books Inc.; 1st edition (February 28, 1995) 
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc. 
  • Language: English 
  • ASIN: B004NNUV72 
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled 
  • X-Ray: Not Enabled 
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars (28 customer reviews) 
  • Price: $9.16
1. Short review:  (Amazon rating: 4 out of 5 stars -- I like it.)

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked:  Well written. Caine crafted an excellent book from Gover's letters, war diary, and interviews.
Roller-coaster or walk-in-the-park? Roller coaster.

2.2. What I did not like: I wanted a table of Gover's missions and kills, but maybe that is asking too much.

2.3. Who I think is the audience: Air combat buffs. History buffs.

2.4. Is the book appropriate for children to read?  Yes. No worries.

2.5. On the basis of reading this book, will I buy the author's next book? Yes.

2.6. The plot in a nutshell:
     There is no plot, but it feels like there is. The tension rises steadily until LeRoy Gover returns home on leave in 1944.
     LG learned to fly during the Great Depression. When he signed up for the Selective Service, he realized that without two years of college he would be shunted to the infantry when drafted. He searched for and found a way to become a fighter pilot: join the RAF.
     The RAF concocted an oath sort of like the one the French Foreign Legion used so that American volunteers would not lose their citizenship. Before he swore the oath, LG took 'refresher training' on AT6s in Bakersfield. Not every student in his class passed. He did.
     Most American volunteers were used as instructors in Canada. LG was slated to become a fighter pilot.
     LG sailed to England by way of Canada. He joined his Operational Training Unit in Wales. After he finished his training, he cycled back to instruct the next class. Then he joined 66 Squadron in early 1942. When he joined, 66 Squadron flew the Spitfire Mk V. 
     The only American in the squadron, LG flew the full range of fighter missions: bomber escort, convoy patrol, and fighter sweeps -- the British term for ground attack. The day of the Dieppe Raid, 19 August 1942, 66 Squadron flew top cover for the ill-fated Canadians. (Why did the British high command always throw away commonwealth forces in ill-conceived adventures like Gallipoli and Dieppe?) LG flew three missions over Dieppe that day. On the first mission, the whole squadron flew. On the second mission, there were only five planes in the squadron that could fly. On the third mission, the squadron consisted of three aircraft; only LG returned from that mission, his Spitfire riddled with bullet holes.
     LG received orders posting him to 133 Squadron the next day. 133 was an Eagle Squadron; that is, its pilots were all American. LG spent a month with them before the US Army Air Force absorbed the Eagle Squadrons.
     LG went from a Flying Officer in the RAF to Second Lieutenant in the USAAF. He still flew Spits but with a star instead of a roundel.
LeRoy Gover flew a Spitfire with these markings from late September 1942 to January 1943.
     The USAAF primary fighter mission -- bomber escort -- differed from that of the RAF, and the Spitfire was ill-suited to the mission. In January 1943 LG traded his Spit for a Jug, a razorback P47. (In the book's cover photo he is seen about to enter his P47.) LG was promoted captain about the same time and became a flight leader. USAAF regs said a pilot had to have 50 hours in a type before flying combat, so LG did not fly another mission through enemy skies until 10 March 1943.
     The day before Christmas 1943, LG's squadron commander told him he was being sent home on leave. Due to SNAFUs with his leave orders, LG did not leave England until March 1944. He spent the rest of the war commanding a fighter lead-in squadron in Florida.
 2.7. Other:
     Along with stories of Spits and Jugs, LG gives much print to the free time he spent in London drinking. Thus, the warm beer in the title.
     LG transferred to the USAAF for the insurance ($10,000 in the USAAF; 0 in the RAF) and the pay. His pay increased from $58 a month in the RAF to $300 a month in the USAAF. As a second louie.
     The book contains 31 photos. One that impressed me was the photo of LG's OTU class. 30 members of the class were marked with Xs and 7 with Os. X denoted someone who was killed in the war. O denoted someone who had crashed and was unfit to fly. Six in the class survived the war still flying. You got that? 30 dead out of 43 and another seven too broken up to fly again. And grunts complain us flyboys have it easy. Hmmph.
     LG retired from the Air Force a full bird colonel in 1962. Flew charters to Mexico and Canada after that.
     There is much more in this book, but I won't spoil it for you. Read it for yourself. It is excellent.
     One last thing: I was surprised to find the tension rose in this memoir as if it were a novel. I felt relief when LG was ordered home on leave.
     Okay, one more last thing: LG got 4 kills with the RAF and 2 with the USAAF. The USAAF did not count his RAF kills and the RAF did not track his USAAF kills, so by the official records he is not an ace.
     Okay, okay, one last last thing: Members of the Eagle Squadrons -- USAAF pilots who had flown with the RAF -- in addition to their USAAF wings got to wear their RAF wings over their right breast pocket. How cool is that?
     LG died two and half years after this book was first published. His obituary (third from the top) differs from the book on details. I think the book is right and the obit is wrong.
     The author, BGen Philip D. Caine, USAF (Ret.), did an excellent job with this book. It is the best third-person account I have read. He was no slouch either. Look him up.

2.8. Links: 
LeRoy Gover with the 4th Fighter Group (Note: Despite the roundel on the Spitfire, the information on this page covers only LG's time in the USAAF.)
Philip D. Caine 

2.9. Buy the book:  Spitfires, Thunderbolts, and Warm Beer 

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