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B-57 Canberra Units of the Vietnam War

B-57 Canberra Units of the Vietnam War Book Review

By Michael Benolkin

Date of Review January 2011 Title B-57 Canberra Units of the Vietnam War
Author T E Bell Publisher Osprey Publishing
Published 2010 ISBN 978-1-84603-971-3
Format 96 pages, softcover MSRP (USD) $22.95


When the Korean War broke out in the early 1950s, the US Air Force only had the World War II veteran A-26 (redesignated B-26) Invader left in service as a light tactical bomber/air interdiction platform. Most of that service's focus had been on strategic bombing and modernizing its fighter force with the new generation of jet-powered fighters. With war underway, the Air Force didn't have time for the usual development program and sought an existing design that it could quickly press into service. The design selected was the English Electric Canberra.

The 'Cranberry' was imported directly into service as the B-57A while Martin Aircraft Corporation had the contract to license-build the Canberra for the US Air Force (English Electric was working at full capacity to fulfill existing RAF and Commonwealth orders). With enough B-57As in service to train crews and evaluate the design, the USAF quickly enhanced the Canberra's design to meet that service's requirements including moving the navigator/bombardier from the nose to a tandem seat behind the pilot, re-engining the aircraft with the J65, adopting the rotary bomb bay system from the XB-51, wing-tip tanks, and more.

The B-57 was operational too late for Korean combat, but it was definitely on-hand for the early days of the Vietnam air war. While its service was overlooked compared to other Vietnam veterans like the F-4, F-105, F-100, B-52, etc., the Canberra had the distinction of serving throughout the war and even evolving during its operational experience.

The author picks up the story from the first Canberras that arrived in theater and describes the experiences these first units had in the early days of the conflict. The story carries through different units that deployed with the Canberra as well as enhancements in technologies and weapons that turned the Canberra into a deadly night intruder. Coverage of this title includes:

  • Hot War, Cold Beginning
  • At Long Last, Flying in Anger
  • Da Nang
  • The Doom Pussy
  • Phan Rang
  • RAAF Canberras Join the Fight
  • Enter the Dragon

That last chapter covers the 1970 entry of the B-57G in-theater and how it was a game-changer with its advanced capabilities that would be incorporated into future combat aircraft. The entire title is very nicely illustrated with period black & white and color photography, much of which has never been published before. There are 30 nice color profiles included that depict the aircraft in different units at different periods throughout the Vietnam air war.

Of course this title is also full of interesting war stories including a dual engine flame-out on approach to its airbase in which the pilot performed a hard right break and split-S to rather quickly get aligned with the runway and land while not knowing if he was going to have enough momentum to make it all the way to the end of the runway to reach the arming pit without a tow.

This title is a good read!

My sincere thanks to Osprey Publishing for this review sample!