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Posted on Jan 27, 2012 in Books and Movies

War in Pacific Skies: Featuring the Aviation Art of Jack Fellows – Book Review

By Richard Story

War in Pacific Skies: Featuring the Aviation Art of Jack Fellows. Charlie and Ann Cooper. Foreword by Walter J. Boyne. Zenith Press, 2010. 192 pages. Sofcover, $27.99

The air war in the Pacific was some of the most intense in all of the Second World War. The long distances and the evolution of cutting-edge technology made it unique in the annals of air warfare. Never before or since has warfare ranged over a greater portion of the Earth than the combined China-Burma-India front with the Pacific theatre.

Initially, Japan dominated the air through both superior aircraft and highly trained pilots who had combat experience achieved in the skies over China. The Japanese routinely made long-range flights that had been thought impossible, such as Mitsubishi Zeros flying from Formosa (modern-day Taiwan) to Manila in the Philippines. Another feat was using Kawanishi H8K "Emily" flying boats to reconnoiter Pearl Harbor in the Hawaiian Islands undetected.

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But the Japanese were not the only eagles of the skies. Early in the war, the Allies managed to not only stem the Japanese onslaught but to reverse it, using inferior aircraft flown by highly skilled pilots. As the war progressed the Allies introduced new and better aircraft and drew on their technology base. The Japanese introduced new aircraft but lacked the manufacturing base to build them in quantity.

War in the Pacific Skies traces the air war from the first bomb at Pearl Harbor to the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the Japanese surrender. Charlie and Ann Cooper have taken some of the finest aviation art by Jack Fellows and combined it with a well-researched history of the fight in the skies over the Hawaiian Islands, the Philippines, and wherever the Allies and Japanese clashed. The book is broken down into a prelude, 10 chapters covering the various theaters and phases of the Pacific War, a postlude, appendix, notes, bibliography and index. Written in a clear and fluid manner; the Coopers’ text is easy to read and follow. Each chapter is logically constructed so that the art, photos and text all meld together mostly flawlessly. Selections from the artwork of Jack Fellows were chosen to reflect the time and places of each chapter. Sometimes the art depicts a famous event, but frequently it memorializes individual struggles that, regrettably, had been lost in files till found and brought to the artist’s attention. Even well-known events are put into a different light by the artwork. For example, the relatively well-known photo of a Kawanishi H8K Emily being shot down by a Consolidated PB4Y-1 is shown in Fellows’ painting as if from outside the PB4Y-1 Privateer. Included with the exquisite artwork are many photographs selected both for quality and the information they convey.

As I stated above the book is nearly flawless, but there were elements that bother me as a reader, such as using as a source museum placards without any other verification of the information presented. It bothers me when the authors quote something that I can’t trace to an original source. The use of placards is regrettable, as two quotes used in the prelude are very good.

The first, attributed to Baron Guichi Tanaka in 1927, says, "In the future, if we want to control China, we must first crush the United States … In order to conquer the world we must first conquer China." (page 8).

The second quote is attributed to General Billy Mitchell in 1926: " (page 10).

However, I recall reading that a United States Army colonel named Rufus S. Bratton made the same prediction. Was the placard wrong? We can never know without finding the quote from another source.

The other flaws deal more with how the book was formatted. All captions and footnotes are printed in a small, silvery-gray font. For people whose eyes are growing older, reading them requires reading glasses, a magnifying glass or a lot of squinting.

There is also an element that is regrettable but unavoidable. Some of the larger artworks have to be printed as two-page spreads. When the book is printed and bound, a bit of the art is lost in the fold. Sometimes what is lost is inconsequential, but sometimes the loss is especially regrettable. Ordeal of the USS Houston (CL-81 of the Cleveland class), for example, shows the Houston being attacked by Japanese Mitsubishi Ki-67 "Peggy" bombers, each carrying a torpedo. Because the fold cuts off a fair amount of the torpedo, at first I thought I was looking at a Yokosuka MXY-7 Ohka (Cherry Blossom) suicide missile, better known by the Allies as the Baka (Fool or Idiot) Bomb.

When I see aviation art one of the first things I do is look at a cockpit. Even as a historian more interested in the technical side of war, I still feel the need to acknowledge the men who flew, fought and, for some, died in those planes. In the case of Ordeal, the fold cuts right across the cockpit. It is understandable that the nature of printing art/photo books means this will sometimes happen, but it is regrettable and, I am sure, frustrating to the artist, authors and publishers as well as the readers.

Other than those few, mostly minor flaws, the book is free of grammatical, typographical or mechanical errors. The binding is superb and the book has a nice heft to it. It is well worth the list price of $29.99—more than reasonable for a book of this high quality and durability. War in the Pacific Skies: Featuring the Aviation Art of Jack Fellows would be of great value to those interested in aviation art, particularly concerning the air war over the Pacific–CBI theaters. Highly recommended.

Richard Story is a disabled and retired salesman. He is a graduate of Kennesaw State University with a BS (Honors) in Political Science and a Master’s in Public Administration. A life long student of modern military history and technology; he is the son of a career military man whose went from an Infantryman in Patton’s 3rd Army during World War II to a Master Sergeant in the United States Air Force after Vietnam. His mother, besides being a housewife and mother, was an extremely accomplished cook, seamstress and columnist for the local paper during WWII.

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