It was a long time ago I was rambling through our local Woolworth. For the younger crowd, that was Walmart, but on a smaller, homier scale. I always loved walking in there. It smelled friendly. And they had a lunch counter that served the best ice cream in town.
Today, they were a little friendlier than I’d expected. I’ve always loved building models, and they had put most of their plastic model kits on sale. I remember seeing B-17s and B-24s. Boxes of P-51s and F6F Hellcats filled the bin.
But what caught my eye was a P-40. I was used to seeing the P-40 with the familiar “Flying Tigers” paint (the snarling shark mouth, but this was painted differently. This one had an elaborate paint job on its nose, and the called it “The Aleutian Tiger.” The box by
itself was worth it. It showed the aircraft in profile. It had just engaged and shot down a Japanese floatplane. In the background was a snow-capped mountain.
Of course, I had to buy it and build it.
A few years later, I picked up the book, Pacific Hawk by John Vader.
The cover had the P-40 Warhawk in its Flying Tiger livery. But it was less about the Flying Tigers (which volumes have been written about) and more about the P-40 elsewhere. The book covers engagements from Alaska to Australia to the Middle East.
The P-40 Warhawk was tossed against almost every Axis fighter out there. It dueled with ME-109s, and of course, the Zero. The majority of the time, it was outclassed by the opposition.
The pilots who flew them were frequently inexperienced. Vader talked about several instances where the new pilots had problems just trying to land. Many didn’t and crashed instead.
So what we had was an outclassed airplane with beginning pilots up against the best in the world. Oftentimes the aircraft operated out of airstrips that were that in name only. Instead of paved strips, they were scrapped out of the jungle or desert. The legendary toughness of the plane made it a good fit for these primitive conditions.
One thing he focused on was that fighter warfare is a Darwinian process. You got good, or you died. One thing painted very well was the simple fact was the United Stated could turn out P-40s by the hundreds. This made replacements easy. The Allies had a large manpower pool to draw from, and could also turn out pilots by the dozens.
As the war dragged on, the Japanese had a harder time replacing their aircraft. The pilots they were losing were harder to replace. Before too long, they were sending out only a handful of aircraft against overwhelming odds.
What each man learned was never to try to fight the enemy on their terms. This is what the Flying Tigers did. They’d dive on a Japanese formation, hit hard, and keep right on going. Trying to dogfight a Zero was suicide. Thus the hit and run tactic (the Zero couldn’t dive as fast as the P-40).
One thing I liked was that it talked about the P-40 as used by our Allies, especially the Aussies. With the battles he spoke of, it soon becomes evident that the Aussies had a huge part in stopping and reversing the Japanese expansion.
He spoke about it flying in the deserts of North Africa, and the desperate fight to stop Rommel and his Africa Corp. Many of the Aussies who fought there, would return to Australia with combat experience. They ended up forming the core of the squadrons and instructors that trained men to survive and win against the Japanese.
Overall, an excellent book filled with photographs and personal accounts. It showed that World War II wasn’t just the big battles, but frequently one small insignificant island at a time. It shows the day to day fights that made up that war.
Oh, and it’s large print and easy to read.