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Fire in the Sky
: The Air War in the South Pacific

Author: Eric M. Bergerud
Hardcover -
752 pages (November 1999)
Westview Pr (Trd);
ISBN: 081332985X ;
Dimensions (in inches): 2.17 x 9.59 x 6.39

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Table of Contents

List of Maps
Important Military Terms, Acronyms, and Place-names
Part One The Three-Dimensional Battlefield
Defining the Battlefield: Air-Base Networks
War in an Unlikely Place: Japanese Air-Base
Networks in the South Pacific
Sites for Victory: Allied Base Networks
The Land and Air
Modern War in a Primitive Place
A Malignant Land
A Dangerous Sky
Part Two Machines and Men in the South Pacific
Japanese Warplanes
Japanese Navy Aircraft
Japanese Army Aircraft
Allied Aircraft
Allied Fighters
Allied Bombers
Airmen in the South Pacific
Preparation for War
Part Three Fire in the Sky: Air Battle in the South Pacific
Deadly Geometry: Fighter Warfare in the South Pacific
Fighter Formations and Missions
Maneuver and Melee
Making History: Bombers in the South Pacific
A Confused Start
Allied Bombers Take Control
Helping the Ground-Pounders
The Destruction of Japanese Airpower
Chronology of Events
Author's Note on Technical Information
Including Table of Major Warplanes in the South Pacific Theater
Sources and Bibliography

Book Description
An exploration of the battles and tactics of the air war in the Pacific, including discussion of combatants, their morale, their planes, living conditions, and leadership

In the first two years of the Pacific War of World War II, air forces from Japan, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand engaged in a ruthless struggle for superiority in the skies over the Solomon Islands and New Guinea. Despite operating under primitive conditions in a largely unknown and malignant physical environment, both sides employed the most sophisticated technology available at the time in a strategically crucial war of aerial attrition. In one of the largest aerial campaigns in history, the skies of the South Pacific were dominated first by the dreaded Japanese Zeros, then by Allied bombers, which launched massed raids at altitudes under fifty feet, and finally by a ferocious Allied fighter onslaught led by a cadre of the greatest aces in American military history.

Utilizing primary sources and scores of interviews with surviving veterans of all ranks and duties, Eric Bergerud re-creates the fabric of the air war as it was fought in the South Pacific. He explores the technology and tactics, the three-dimensional battlefield, and the leadership, living conditions, medical challenges, and morale of the combatants. The reader will be rewarded with a thorough understanding of how air power functioned in World War II from the level of command to the point of fire in air-to-air combat.

About the Author
Eric Bergerud is a professor of military and American history at Lincoln University in San Francisco and the author of Touched with Fire: The Land War in the South Pacific, Red Thunder, Tropic Lightning: The World of a Combat Division in Vietnam, and The Dynamics of Defeat.

Fire in the Sky

Review from Militarybook Club

Once in a very long while a book comes along of such stature that it immediately claims its place among the very first rank of military history. Eric Bergerud's monumental and magnificent Fire in the Sky is just such a book. Bergerud is in total command of the detail, built up through hundreds of interviews of both Japanese and U.S. veterans and thousands of primary documents. Anyone fascinated by the machinery of air war-the planes of both sides, their armament and power plants; training, fighting tactics of fighters and bombers; and the living conditions-will find Fire in the Sky an encyclopedic treasure trove. Bergerud is adept at covering the important but neglected issues like antiaircraft, the biggest killer of bombers in the Pacific. He also divulges fascinating trivia that bring the actual conditions of combat to life: For example, how do you light a cigarette at 20,000 feet wearing an oxygen mask?

Bergerud does an equally masterful job of showing us the big strategic pattern of the war. Pre-war Japan, armed and trained by the U.S. and other Western powers, was fresh from an easy victory over China when she entered WW II like a tiger, slashing at anything that came her way. But what had made Japan strong-the emphasis on individual combat skills over logistical support-was to be her undoing, and after that first triumphant year, the whole fabric of the Japanese war machine began unraveling.

Japanese pilots may have been suicidally brave (there was no air-sea rescue service to speak of) but they would be no match for the rugged planes-the Wildcats, Corsairs, Lightnings, Hellcats and Thunderbolts-pouring out of America. The result was slaughter on a grotesque scale, with losses of up to 83% among many Japanese squadrons.

Fire in the Sky is a tremendous achievement and a totally absorbing read. . It is an important book that no one with any serious interest in military history can afford to miss. Very highly recommended.

ERIC BERGERUD is professor of military and American history at Lincoln University in San Francisco and is the author of Touched with Fire: The Land War in the South Pacific (Military Book Club' Main Selection). He is planning to complete the trilogy with a history of the naval war in the Pacific.

54 photos, 6 maps. 608 pages.


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