Air Battle for Burma - Allied Pilots’ Fight for Supremacy (Book) Review

by Bob Treloar, Air Vice-Marshal Ret’d
Air Battle for Burma - Allied Pilots’ Fight for Supremacy

Released: 21st November 2016
RRP: £25.00
Publisher: Pen & Sword Aviation
Author: Bryn Evans
Type: Hardback
ISBN: 9781473858923
Pages: 251

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The Air Battle for Burma is an excellent account of the history of the Allied efforts to defend Burma from a seemingly invincible foe.

While the air battles that raged over Burma are the main focus of the book, the author has blended the strategic context of the battle for Burma with the frantic and desperate early dogfights between Hurricane fighters and the overwhelming and better equipped Zeros of the Japanese Army Air Force in the skies over Burma to the introduction of the Spitfire into the air campaign and the resultant reversal of fortune in the fight for air superiority.

The reader is lead to the Burma campaign through the defeats suffered by the British forces in Malaya and the United States at Pearl Harbour, recognising the vital need to support the Chiang Kai-shek’s forces battling the Japanese across China. Update of the strategic context continues throughout the book.

Bryn Evans brings alive the epic aerial battles through the inclusion of numerous personal accounts of fighter pilots engaged in desperate dogfights that took an enormous toll of pilots and aircraft. The result is an excitement seldom found in historical accounts that is gripping, and provided in a way that enables an understanding by those experienced in military air operations as well as those who are much less familiar with the intricacies, fear, exultation and sacrifice experienced in aerial combat.

It is a wonderful blend of first hand accounts of the air battle from the men in the cockpit who desperately fought and died and the challenges faced by the Armies below who fought daily, grinding battles in the jungles across Burma. The Air Battle for Burma reinforces an axiom oft forgotten regarding the vital essentiality of the attainment of air superiority over the battlefield to enable land forces to survive and to fight. Acknowledged by General Slim, Commander of the 14th Army, “… there could have been no victory without the constant support of the Allied Air Forces …”.

But the book is much more that a battle history, as exciting as it is, the reader is able to relate to the men who flew the Spitfires, Hurricanes, and Thunderbolts in the dogfights; the transport force of Dakotas and the Curtiss Commandos tasked with the enormously challenging requirement of the air supply of large armies over remote and featureless jungles; fighter-bombers, Hudsons and B-17s bombers who blunted the Japanese land forces; and Catalina reconnaissance aircraft who enhanced the early safety of outnumbered naval forces at sea.

The main air forces engaged in the air battle for Burma were Britain’s Royal Air Force (RAF), the American Volunteer Group, and the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF), and of the latter in particular the United States Air Transport Command.
Within the RAF was a mix of Australian, Canadian and New Zealand aircrew who fought alongside their RAF counterparts. Born in Moama, NSW, Wing Commander Noel Constantine, a RAAF pilot, an unsung and largely unrecognised Australian, who flew Hurricanes in the early desperate dogfights and survived to lead the most successful Spitfire squadron in Burma. His exploits and insights, along with those of many other pilots are blended into the history of the battle as it unfolds.

It is a well-written and researched history of the air war over Burma. An engaging and informative read - it is also an unexpectedly exciting account of the air battle and of the men who fought it .

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