Classic Colours, USAAF Colours 1:
American Eagles, American Volunteers in The RAF 1937-1943
by Tony Holmes
reviewed by Paul Mahoney
Anyone who is familiar with this publisher's series on Jagdwaffe Colours will recognize this format immediately. This is the first of a multi-volume set covering what I believe is exclusively the activities, pilots and aircraft of 8th AF fighter squadrons of the USAAF in Europe during WWII (including the 8th's predecessors in England). I believe these will all be under the sub-heading of 'American Eagles' within the USAAF Colours series. If this is true, then perhaps future issues will cover topics other than the 8th AF. As a note, Section 2 of this series covers P-38s used by the 8th and 9th AFs, but this seems to be the exception.
Section I (this book) deals with American pilots flying for the RAF. It begins by briefly touching on the few American pilots that were in British service prior to the outbreak of hostilities, and culminates with the transfer of the 'Eagle' squadrons from RAF to USAAF command (well after the US entry into the war).
I found the narrative to be a good read. It is a fairly comprehensive discussion of the activities of the volunteer American pilots flying for England in various forms. I happened to be reading 'Wild Blue' by Stephen Ambrose as well, and find the contrast between training regimens quite interesting. Prior to the war, the relatively small number of RAF pilots (including Americans) enjoyed an almost 'clubby' environment. The few Americans among them were adventurers of one kind or another, and according to the book 'were the sort of men who had not quite been expelled from their schools, whom mothers warned their daughters against - in vain - and who stayed up far too late at parties ..' Quite a contrast to the highly-selective weeding out process of the USAAF described in Ambrose's book. Of course, this is the pre-war RAF, and that was mid-war USAAF, but the contrast is still of note.
Once war did break out, the RAF realized how understaffed it really was. Now the 'clubby' atmosphere turned to one of desperate need for more pilots. The book does a good job of explaining the various methods by which Americans circumvented neutrality laws to make their way to England via Canada in order to fly for the RAF. Most of these new American pilots were a mixture of adventurers and those who wanted to more than just ideologically oppose the Nazis. America had a great number of citizen pilots, and England needed them desperately.
The narrative continues chronologically, covering the activities of individual Americans involved in air combat during the initial months of the war, through the RAF's deployment to France (and subsequent return), the Battle of Britain, and the formation of the all-American Eagle Squadrons. The final chapter deals with Americans that chose to stay within the standard RAF squadrons even after the Eagle Squadrons were formed.
Throughout the text there are many quotes from official histories and individual pilots. There are many, many photographs throughout the 128 pages, and at least 30 color profiles. All the artwork is very well done, and often the subject of the profile is the same as photographs on the very same page. There is also a 2-page bibliography at the end of the book that I found useful.
While I enjoyed the read very much, I do have one problem with this series (and have the exact same problem with the Jagdwaffe volumes). This is more of a narrative history of the various units and people which is highly illustrated, rather than a comprehensive look at the 'colours' used as the title implies. While what is present is very good, the title had led me to believe there would be more of a discussion about various coloring and markings. The captions of photos often point out markings issues that other texts do not, but this is not always the case. Seeing several photos of a specific aircraft accompanied by a color profile of the same item is an interesting and useful approach, but it is frustrating to see that more analysis of the markings did not take place. I wouldn't be as bothered by this issue if it weren't for the title. These are being promoted as great resources for the modeler, and the production quality is extremely high, but I am afraid as a markings resource they leave a lot to be desired.
Bottom line: Positives: a good historical narrative, lots of interesting photos, extremely well-done artwork. Negatives: no detailed explanation of markings or coloring, in spite of being titled 'Colours.' For the price, worth picking up as long as you don't plan on using this as a main resource for coloring your models. A definite 'additional' reference to have on the shelf.
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