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Aces of the 78th Fighter Group

Aces of the 78th Fighter Group Book Review

By Rachel E. Veres

Date of Review October 2013 Title Aces of the 78th Fighter Group
Author Thomas McKelvey Cleaver Publisher Osprey Publishing
Published 2013 ISBN 9781780967158
Format 96 pages, softbound MSRP (USD) $22.95


Osprey offers another stellar addition to its "Aircraft of the Aces" series with Aces of the 78th Fighter Group.

Dubbed the "Eagles of Duxford", the 78th FG exhibited a unique quality compared to others in the 8th AF – it was the only unit to operationally fly P-38 Lightnings, P-47 Thunderbolts and P-51 Mustangs.  From arriving in the European Theater of Operations (ETO) in November 1942 to VE Day 78th fighter pilots downed 316 enemy aircraft and further destroyed 320 in strafing attacks.

The title is somewhat misleading.  While Thomas McKelvey Cleaver indeed recounts the exploits of successful 78th pilots, his narrative also examines the unit's overall history.

The author begins by recapping "Little Blitz Week" – the 8th AF's first sustained air offensive against Germany proper.  Then he traces the 78th's origins as a P-38 unit up through the end of the war in Europe.

Interweaving personal accounts within historical text, Cleaver pulls readers right into the aerial action.  Here, for instance, is how he quotes 2Lt Grant Turley on Turley's encounter with enemy aircraft after 14 uneventful missions:

"Took off this morning for just an ordinary escort mission, but it turned out I got two Me-109s.  We were bounced at 26,000 ft by these jokers.  Yours truly and his wingman got on their tails and followed them down.  When the leader leveled off on the deck, I got in a burst and he blew up and went in from 300 ft.  Looked like one big splash of flame when he hit.  I then got on the tail of the second one and he crash-landed in flames."

Appendices listing 78th aces and the color plates neatly conclude the book.  Of interesting note, top ace, Col John D. Landers, CO of the 78th FG, scored 14.5 aerial and 20 strafing victories.  However, 12 aerial and 5 strafing scores occurred while assigned to other units.  Removing those, Maj Quince L. Brown's (ranked 3rd overall) 12.33 aerial achievements make him the most successful 78th ace.  Tragically, German SS troops murdered Brown after he was shot down over Germany.

78th FG schemes delight modelers.  And illustrator Chris Davey provides color profiles of 78th FG P-47s and P-51s – including two versions of Maj Brown's P-47 "Okie" and Col Lander's P-51 "Big Beautiful Doll".  Over 70 photographs – including one with Bob Hope in a P-47 cockpit – enhance the account.

I noticed one minor historical error.  Cleaver states Lt Gen. Ira Eaker was transferred from the 8th AF to the 15th in Italy.  Eaker, however, took command of four Allied air forces in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations (MTO) before being named as Deputy Commander of US Army Air Forces.


My sincere thanks to Osprey Publishing for this review sample!