A fighter group favorite of mine since I read the Aero Publishers book 40 years ago, I was very happy to see that Osprey was publishing their history. July 1942 saw the birth of the USAAF 325th FG. Combat-ready by mid-December 1942, the 325th launched their Army P-40s from an aircraft carrier on 19 January 1943 to set up combat operations in Morocco. First combat was April 1943 as part of the Twelfth Air Force over North Africa and enemy-held islands in the Mediterranean Sea.
By the end of the Sicilian campaign on 17 August the 325th FG had scored 128 aerial victories, been the first P-40 unit to deliver 1,000-lb bombs against enemy targets and had escorted 1,100 bombers without losing a single one of them to enemy action. - Osprey
The group emblazoned their mounts with black and yellow checkered tails. While fighting the Luftwaffe, the Regia Aeronautica
and other Axis air forces, the Checkertail Clan demonstrated that, properly handled, the maligned P-40 could outfight the vaunted Luftwaffe in an air superiority role. That trend continued after they reequipped with P-47 Thunderbolts. The last year of their war was in P-51 Mustangs and saw the Checkertails rampaging across middle Europe, staging out of Italy to escort bombers into Germany, Poland, the Balkans, and central Europe. Twenty-seven pilots made ace with the 325th pilots, with acedoms earned in all three types.
Author Tom Ivie relates this account of the Checkertail Clan through 96 pages of five chapters, a dedication, and appendices:
Activation, training and into combat
Thunderbolt and the Fifteenth Air Force
Where is the Luftwaffe?
Swansong of the Luftwaffe
Mr. Ivie and Illustrator Chris Davey bring this new story of the "Checkertails" to life in a well organized and easily read book full of special photographs and commissioned artwork. Not much ink is used to recount activation through deployment to North Africa. Happily, much ink is used for quotes by pilots!
Fortunately, the rest of the book if full of excellent content. One story is of the 325th pilot 'slow-timing' his new engine over his aerodrome when a single Focke-Wulf made a pass at him; he chased the Fw 190 back to its own field and shot it down in the pattern! Ace Lt Col Chick, veteran of Spitfire combat out of England, colorfully described why he preferred the P-47 over the P-51 as a combat mount!
Some 14 pages relate their "P-40 era" which saw the end of the Axis in North Africa, the reduction and destruction of Axis bases in the Mediterranean, including the aerial defeat of Pantelleria, and support of Operation Husky
, the Allied invasion of Sicily. I did not count the quotes and statements (too many!) yet the following impart the action engaged in by checkertailed P-40s;
'A Me 109 and I met in a head-on attack, but both of us missed, and I turned to meet him. We were both going fast as I approached his tail, but when he did a climbing slow roll he lost most of his speed. I whipped past him and we both dove. Coming out of the dive I blacked out, and when I came to I was in a climbing turn with the Me 109 on my tail. I was turning too tight for his guns to bear, however.
As I turned inside of him he went past me, only to be attacked by another P-40. He avoided this attack by another climbing slow roll, but I was watching him and got on his tail. He dove and I followed, firing at about 200 yards.'
Another pilot related;
'The squadron was flying a fighter sweep over northern Sardinia when we were attacked by about 30 Me 109s. In the ensuing fight...when I saw a Me 109 climbing on the tail of a P-40 about 500 ft above me. I turned into the Me 109, shooting from a deflection angle of about 45 degrees. My tracers appeared to hit the aeroplane. When he noticed that I was shooting at him he tightened his turn and nosed down. I turned inside of him and got on his tail, firing a good burst from dead astern. The aeroplane burst into flame... .'
Indeed, checkertailed P-40s were up to any scuffle with the Luftwaffe, as demonstrated on 28 August 1943. While on a fighter-bomber mission, the 325th was bounced by a Gruppe
of Bf 109s, yet downed seven for no losses.
The 16 page P-47 era was equally busy and equally well supported with pilot accounts;
'Elliot's flight, being ahead of us, opened fire, and the FW 190s started split-essing... My FW did a split-s and then a half roll, and I was able to follow him through both maneuvers despite the fact that my fighter was still carrying its wing tanks.'
325th pilots participated in the big sweep against Axis fight fields in the Udine area . "Checkertails" claimed 37 shot down in the massacre for two losses. The tough P-47 demonstrated its mettle when "Checkertail" pilot Lt John Booth attacked a schwarm
and quickly shot down two Bf 109s, then destroyed the other two by ramming!
The P-51 era is also well documented through the words of the pilots;
I was flying at 9000 ft and observed a Me 109 at "one o-clock", 8000 ft below me. I executed a diving turn and closed on the Me 109. I closed throttle, dropped flaps and fired a series of short bursts from 1500 ft to 800 ft from "six o-clock high". Direct hits were seen... ."
An exciting account from October 1944;
In total contrast to what 'Clan' pilots had been experiencing in recent weeks, 48 enemy aircraft were encountered between Brux and Dresden. A single flight of four Mustangs intercepted the attacking fighters. Leading the USAAF machines was Lt Sheldon K Anderson, who had yet to engage the Luftwaffe in aerial combat despite this being his 31st mission.
Number four - "I went in and got on one's tail. I chased him around a couple of turns, firing all the time. He began to smoke and started going down". The second of two enemies who sought to ambush Anderson was now on his tail, "So I cut the throttle and slowed down".
Number five - Anderson suddenly twisted his Mustang to the left and then he was on the enemy's tail. "Only one gun was working. It sounded like a B-B. All of a sudden the Jerry went limp, lake a rag, as if it didn't have a pilot. It went into a stall and headed down."
Anderson was officially credited with three confirmed and two probables.
The author sets the scene and explains the overall war situation with just as little information as needed to be relevant. I appreciate that as I want to read about the pilots and combat. And there are plenty of those subjects between the covers! New commanders and transfers are included yet if you want an administrative account of the 325th, look elsewhere. This title stands out as an aerial combat book!
Photographs, illustrations, graphics
Another aspect that makes this book stand out is that it is populated with scores of useful photographs. Virtually all are from the collection of the late Dwayne Tabatt, 325th FG Association photo archivist, as well as from "Checkertail" aces Lt Col Chick and Col Sluder. Most pages have at least one photograph supporting the text. While they are all of pilots, aircraft, and personnel with an aircraft. Curiously, there is not a single in-flight image. Modelers and artists working on a 325th subject will find a wealth of reference material within. The images are almost all high quality, almost studio quality, and display excellent detail.
Artist Chris Davey contributes 36 color profiles of checkertailed (and a bare tail) fighters: three P-40s; 11 P-47s; 21 P-51s; Hoimann
, the black and red Bf 109G flown by 325th FG CO Lt Col Bob Baseler. Each profile includes a brief identity and is keyed to a more in-depth narrative in the appendices. The back cover of the book mentions Aircraft of the Aces series books feature scale plans although this book has none.
One page in the appendices lists all "Checkertail" aces.
What is there not to like about this book? It is a concise authoritative text built from records, interviews, and access to personal letters and diaries. It is full of first-hand accounts of battle. Easy to read, it is a pleasure to learn about the "Checkertail Clan".
The text is supported with excellent photographs. Color artwork of airplanes for which Osprey is so popular enhances the book, too.
I found no typos and have no real complaints. No scale art is included despite the boast on the back cover; so what, who would buy this book for line art? My only gripe is that there are no maps to assist the reader in envisioning the arena of operations.
As a fan of the 325th FG I was very happy when this title was announced. I think Mr. Ivie did a great job presenting this history of the pilots. It is not a book for the day to day administrative history, nor is it meant to be. While there are other books about the "Checkertail Clan" out there, the photographic selection within this book perhaps makes it unique. I wholeheartedly recommend this book!
We thank Osprey for providing this sample for review. Please tell retailers and vendors that you saw this here - on Aeroscale.