To learn more about tactical air force pilots, squadrons, and history I’ve taken up reading pilot memoirs and autobiographies. As such, I’ve compiled a list of the books I’ve read, in alphabetical order by pilot. As I add to the collection I’ll update this post. I have a bunch on my list, so expect to see more books added.
Tail-End Charlie – by James E Brown. 524th Fighter Squadron, 27th Fighter Group. 2017 From the back:
On his nineteenth birthday, James E. Brown tries to fake to his flight instructor that he has flown before. On his twenty-first birthday, Brown is on his way home after logging eighty-five missions in a P-47 fighter over Italy, France, and Germany.
Brown’s stories surrounding his training and combat experiences in World War II reveal brushes with death, continuous peril, and ultimately, a coming of age for a young man whose freshman year in college becomes instead a heroic engagement with one of the fiercest enemies his country has ever encountered.
Ever dutiful to the mother who tells him to “write it down, Jamie,” Brown notes his experiences in the journal she provides and adds detail later to deliver a firsthand account of life as a pilot in the final months of combat within the European Theater.
Serving as Tail-End Charlie – for the last man out – in most of the missions he flew, Brown’s job was to record results for the interrogation officers afterward. But Brown offers much more insight in this memoir. Follow his triumphs and travails with colleagues who become lifelong compatriots during an indelible period in American history.
Fighter Bomber Pilot – by Bill Colgan. 525th Fighter Squadron, 86th Fighter Group. 1985 From the back:
Drawing on his own real-life experiences as a United States Army Air Force fighter-bomber pilot in the Mediterranean and European Theaters during WWII, Bill Colgan has written a fascinating and highly readable addition to the annals of WW II history!
With 208 combat missions to his credit Colgan eventually rose to the rank of Major and squadron commander. He also spent time as a Forward Air Controller assigned to work with ground combat troops to call in and coordinate air strikes. From these unique perspectives, he recounts the thrilling and sometimes terrifying life of the P-40 and P-47 fighter-bomber pilots…as well as the day-to-day life, living conditions, attitudes, moods, friendships, and fighting spirit of our air and ground combat troops during WW II.
You’ll get a pilot’s-eye view as you fly along on those air-to-ground missions in fighter planes fitted with bombs, napalm, and rockets as well as machine guns. You’ll join them as they escort bomber missions, fly air patrols over beachheads…as they attack close support of ground troops and as they seek to destroy enemy trains, railheads, trucks, shipping and troop columns…and as they fend off enemy fighters and ground-to-air fire.
Although the author has carefully verified his facts and figures with official records and other references, most of the material in this volume has never previously been published. Certainly, no first-rate account of the men and experiences of the 79th and 86th Fighter Groups has heretofore emerged. As a result, this is a fascinating new angle on World War II combat that no military or history enthusiast will want to miss!
A career officer with the U.S. Air Force, Bill Colgan’s last assignment before retiring as a Colonel was as Commander, 326th Air Division in Hawaii. As a young officer in the U.S. Army Air Force in World War II, he was among the most experienced and decorated pilots, mission leaders, and squadron commanders in fighter-bomber combat.
“Flyboy” Memoirs of a P-47 Pilot – by Kenneth Lane Glemby. 514th Fighter Squadron, 406th Fighter Group. From the back:
Kenneth Lane Glemby served in the United States Army Air Force from 1942-1946. He was a member of the 9th Air Force, 406th Fighter Group, 514th Squadron. Kenneth flew a Republic P-47 Thunderbolt fighter-bomber named “Paula” – after his wife of now over sixty years.
Kenneth and the 406th Fighter Group supplied air support to Allied ground forces during the now famous “Battle of the Bulge,” during which the 406th earned its second Presidential Citation.
In his interview with Norman Auslander, Kenneth recounts his personal experiences during World War II as a fighter pilot, from hearing of the attack at Pearl Harbor, to enlistment, basic training, flight training, deployment to the European Theater, to combat, and finally coming home after victory in Europe.
Understand and experience the history of World War II first-hand as recounted by one of “The Greatest Generation” who lived through it, and fought to keep the world free from fascism.
P-47 Pilots: The Fighter Bomber Boys – by Tom Glenn. From the back:
The P-47 Thunderbolt knocked out Tiger tanks and pulverized reinforced gun emplacements in a single pass. It dove at 500 miles per hour, driving bombs into concrete bridge abutments that exploded seconds later. Thunderbolts struck such fear in the hearts of German troops that they would surrender without ever having been fired upon by Allied ground forces.
First designed as a high-altitude escort fighter, the P-47 was transformed into a fighter-bomber aircraft for service in the European theater during World War II. Part of the Ninth Air Force, these planes out-fought the best Luftwaffe aircraft and shot down more German planes than any other aircraft in the U.S. Army Air Corps.
History has labeled the select few who flew the P-47 the Fighter-Bomber Boys – an elite group who lived and fought as if there were no tomorrow. The typical fighter-bomber pilot had to be supremely egotistical and fanatically aggressive to do his job. He abhorred such ground force tactics as holding your ground, withdrawing to a defensive position, or waiting for reinforcements. He knew one thing only, attack-attack-attack. There were no foxholes in the sky.
P-47 Pilots: The Fighter-Bomber Boys tells the story of these daring mend and the plane they came to love like no other. Whether you are a warbird enthusiast or not, you are sure to be riveted by author and former Fighter-Bomber boy Tom Glenn’s thrilling tale. Come along for the ride as Fighter-Bomber Boys terrorize the crack German round troops and battle-wise Panzer divisions. Live with a squadron of these glory-hungry air warriors who fight the enemy at tree-top level with machine guns and bombs. Attend classified briefings, go on hair-raising missions, and celebrate with them at the end of the day as P-47 Pilots: The Fighter-Bomber Boys dives into the best and worst times of squadron life.
Thunderbolt! The Extraordinary Story of a World War II Ace – by Robert S. Johnson with Martin Caidin. 61st Fighter Squadron, 56th Fighter Group. 1958. From the back:
Thunderbolt! first published in 1958, is the memoir of Robert S. Johnson, one of the leading fighter pilot aces of the U.S. Army Air Force in World War II. Flying the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt, Johnson is credited with 28 enemy kills, and was the first pilot in the European theater to surpass Eddie Rickenbacker’s World War I tally of 26 enemy planes destroyed. The book puts the reader squarely in the cockpit of the Thunderbolt as Johnson describes his many missions, encounters with German pilots, and close-calls, and remains a classic account of wartime aviation.
When Duty Calls: A WWII Fighter Pilot’s Experience – by Robert Page. 315th Fighter Squadron, 324th Fighter Group. 2008. From the back:
The war knocked on the door, the question remained “would I answer, or would I pretend I wasn’t there.” The call was too strong and I entered into one of the most rigorous military programs known to man. This book will put you in the cockpit alongside a 21-year old World War II fighter pilot. You will read what it feels like to be shot down while strafing a German airfield located in Stuttgart, Germany, which happed to be the 99th mission of this flight commander leading twelve P-47 airplanes.
The 99th mission of this fighter pilot was to destroy a German railroad yard northeast of Stuttgart. While on this mission, another pilot communicated that he observed dust coming from the Stuttgart airfield. Get involved in what happens next by reading this thrilling biography from one of the last great fighter pilots of World War II. Come along for the ride!
P-47 Pilot: Scared, Bored, & Deadly – by Jack Pitts. 404th Fighter Squadron, 371st Fighter Group. 1995. From the back:
Jack Pitts was a World War II fighter pilot, flying 90 combat missions over Europe in his beloved P-47 Thunderbolt, which he describes as “a lovely, deadly machine of destruction.” Read his descriptive summaries of these missions, written immediately after completion, and copied here exactly as written in 1944 and 1945. He considers his exploits, his fears, his boredom and his esprit de corps to have been typical of the young men flying against Hitler’s armies at that important time in history.
Share his vivid memories of many of the events that occurred during those combat missions, including fascination with the gun flashes the first time an enemy plan was firing at him. Read how, within an estimated two-second time frame, that fascination turned to fear, then anger, and then to resolve, with the thought: “This is what I was trained for. I’m better than they are. Let’s get it on.” Put yourself in the cockpit while strafing an airdrome at 500 mph, with your propeller only two feet off the ground, while flak and machine gun fire is all around you. Pray with him when he has problems. Go with him in a dive-bombing run against heavily defended targets, described such that you will feel like you are actually flying the plane.
He describes his mistakes, his “dumb stunts,” and the misfortunes that almost got him killed, as well as the fortuitous events that accent the “almost.” Also included are interesting accounts of youthful escapades, both during training and in the combat area.
My Three Years in the Army Air Forces in World War II – by William Thomas Wright. 397th Fighter Squadron, 368th Fighter Group. From the back:
This is the story of an 18-year-old who was always fascinated with airplanes and wanted to learn to fly. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1942 and became a fighter pilot in Europe in 1944 and 1945. He flew 65 missions with the 368th Fighter Group primarily in support of the ground forces as they moved from Normandy through France and into Germany. It describes the challenges of learning to fly a military airplane both in training and in combat. It also reveals some details of the life in training and in combat that help mature young men for their future family life and careers.