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The Douglas B-18 and B-23

The Douglas B-18 and B-23 Book Review

By David L. Veres

Date of Review December 2015 Title The Douglas B-18 and B-23
Author Dan Hagedorn, Sr and Dan Hagedorn, Jr Publisher Crecy
Published 2015 ISBN 9780859791786
Format 288 pages, hardbound MSRP (USD) $39.95


Interested in USAAF bomber history? Grab this vital volume.

Available in North America from Specialty Press, The Douglas B-18 and B-23 spans 288 pithy pages and 18 chapters. It mangles myths. It intensely illumines. And it ultimately vindicates these much-maligned machines.

Subtitled America’s “Forsaken Warriors”, the admirably annotated, indexed effort details design, development, deployment and disposition of Douglas’ bombers in US, Canadian, Brazilian and civil service. Even Caribbean Legion (Costa Rican) use enjoys exposure!

You name it, it’s here. Prewar. Wartime. Postwar. Armament. Production. Training. Personalities. Camouflage & markings. Even nicknames. And a 36-page “B-18 and Digby operational chronology” – Chapter 9 – nicely knits things together.

The lavishly illustrated effort sports hundred of crisp, clear photos – several in color. Images also include factory drawings, interior details, defensive armament and bomb loads. Maps chart deployments. And profiles succinctly sample the swath of B-18 warpaint.

The father-son team of Dan Hagedorn, Sr and Dan Hagedorn, Jr track design iterations, as well. Pioneering, radar-equipped B-18Bs and Cs remain relatively familiar production permutations. But how about that B-18E – and that B-18X with 75mm howitzer? Can anyone say North American B-25H?

Messrs Hagedorn duly explore controversy, too – notably the enduring B-18 vs B-17 procurement debate. The “medium” vs “heavy” bomber dispute still taints tales of Douglas’ design.

Surprises abound. In camouflage tests, two B-18s actually wore Barclay’s gaudy experimental scheme. B-18s were slated to play key roles in the aborted 1943 invasion and occupation of Vichy French Caribbean territories. B-18Bs carried a “dizzying array of offensive submarine-killing weapons and systems” – including the “ingenious” Mark 20 (Mousetrap) bomb. And Lt Col James H. Doolittle surprisingly considered carrier-launched B-23s for his April 1942 retaliatory strike against Japan’s home islands.

On the eve of America’s entry into World War II, B-18s comprised 45% of “the most numerous [USAAF] bombardment aircraft”. And combat service notes proved equally fascinating. Hagedorn Sr’s splendid Alae Supra Canalem previously tutored me on B-18 primacy in the USAAF 6th Air Force and Antilles Air Command. So I heartily hailed Crécy’s coverage of Digbys in Canadian use and Bolos in early Pacific actions.

Intriguing, too, were details of surplus B-18s and B-23s. A substantial percentage of B-23 production survived WWII. Can you imagine a similar proportion of B-24s outlasting the conflict?

Quibbles? Some. The “foreign competition” and “World Heavy Bombardment Aircraft” tables sport some debatable entries – the LeO-45, He 111 and BR.20, for instance, in the latter listing. Was Norway really responsible for Iceland’s defense during WWII? And it’s “Far East Air Force” – not “Far Eastern Air Force”.

Some photos and maps also reproduce so small that vital details disappear. The general arrangement drawings lack scales. Many camouflage colors on Rich Dann’s profiles appear washed-out – and thus of moot modeling value. And I would have preferred more on “primary RCAF Digby-operating unit, 10(BR) Squadron, and its very intensive anti-submarine campaign”.

None of these nitpicks, however, detracts from this splendid study’s overall excellence. The Douglas B-18 and B-23: America’s Forsaken Warriors easily supplants all previous B-18 and B-23 coverage. I savored every page.

A personal note: before deploying to England during WWII, my Dad served as a base photographer at Jacksonville AAB – Imeson Field, Jacksonville FL – in 1942. And as a kid, I recall perusing pages of B-18As and O-47s in his personal album. Those long-lost shots proved an indelible introduction to both aircraft – and forged my fascination with Douglas’ “Forsaken Warriors”.

Rabidly recommended!

With thanks to Specialty Press for the review copy.