A history of some of the first American fliers to engage with the Japanese enemy following Pearl Harbor and Midway.
The Japanese attack on American bases in the Pacific was still fresh in memory, writes former naval aviator Gamble (Invasion Rabaul: The Epic Story of Lark Force, the Forgotten Garrison, January-July 1942, 2014, etc.), when a dozen B-17 bombers and their crews arrived in Australia. The small squadron was assigned to lay into distant Japanese targets, including a “1,600-mile raid on the Japanese stronghold at Rabaul.” Only some of the planes were able to fly, owing to accidents and mechanical problems; without adequate fighter support at first, they made easy targets for Japanese fighter planes, including newly outfitted float planes. The first bombers could carry only a few bombs each, given the weight of the fuel needed for such long hauls, but on occasion they made them count. The American air assault on New Guinea was only a minor part of the overall campaign, but it was enough to dissuade Japanese forces from attempting a threatened invasion of Australia. Gamble isn’t much of a stylist—“oblivious to the cigarettes constantly dangling from their lips, they orchestrated the myriad chores necessary to prepare a twenty-ton bomber for combat"—and the story is largely a footnote in the American air war in the Pacific, mainly carried out from aircraft carriers and island bases closer to the Philippines and then the Japanese homeland. Still, the author has a solid grasp of big-picture strategy and of the alternating tedium and terror of war, especially as bomber crews experienced it, never knowing when anti-aircraft fire would take them down or the fuel would run out before they could return to base. Gamble closes with the search for a downed bomber and its return, decades after crashing, to American soil.
For buffs of World War II–era aviation history and the Pacific campaigns.