Review of Double Ace, by Robert Coram

51k8pmjd5bl-_sx328_bo1204203200_In Double Ace, Robert Coram does an incredible job spinning a fascinating tale about Brigadier General Robert L. Scott, Jr., one of America’s more controversial heroes of World War II. To his credit, Coram paints the picture of a complicated man whose tall tales stretched (or sometimes completely ignored) the truth. The warmth of Scott’s personality in “bugling” his way through stories contrasts with his selfishness in ignoring his wife and child and his multiple extramarital affairs. Coram went to great lengths to plumb the depths of Scott’s own multiple narratives of his life to find some strand of truth. He even dug to find the original accident reports or other documentary evidence to find an objective touchstone for many of Scott’s stories. I found myself surprised, however, that in a book that seeks to put tall tales to rest, the author perpetuated some some tall tales and stereotypes of his own. For example, he passes on the story of Wendell Willkie and Madame Chiang having an affair – a rumor now known to have little validity. He also ignores much of the complexity of World War II China and is instead satisfied to paint a simplistic caricature of Chennault, Stilwell, and particularly Chiang. To simply paint the Nationalist regime as one held together by the force of Song Meiling’s personality and to paint Chiang as a corrupt petty-tyrant, is to make the same mistakes that led to American disaster in China in the first place. The problem seems to stem from Coram’s overreliance on anecdotal histories of the theater – other biographies and autobiographies make up most of his source material for characterizing the war in China. That being said, Double Ace is the best CBI-related biography to hit the shelves in some time. In both quality of research and writing, it is clearly superior to the recent When Tigers Ruled the Sky.

Book Review: Eyes of the Tiger by Arthur Clark

Eyes of the Tiger

Arthur Clark has written a unique and fascinating memoir of his time in India and China during World War II. His journal entries and memories reveal a keen eye not just for the war, but for the people, societies, and geography he found himself around. In addition to detailing the operations of his reconnaissance squadron (35PRS), Clark develops for the reader a compelling account of what it was like to be an American stationed in the Far East at this extraordinary time in history. Accompanying the text are many stunning photographs and several useful maps. Eyes of the Tiger is an important addition to the sparse literature on World War II in China.

 

This Day in 1944 – Chiang Kai-shek Demands General Stilwell’s Recall

Chiang Kai-shek, Madame Chiang, and General Joseph Stilwell pose for the newsmen in 1942. (National Archives)

Chiang Kai-shek, Madame Chiang, and General Joseph Stilwell pose for the newsmen in 1942. (National Archives)

On September 25, 1944, Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, the leader of Nationalist China, formally requested that the President of the United States recall General Joseph W. Stilwell. Chiang had lost confidence in the general. He knew Stilwell disparaged him behind his back. He felt like he didn’t listen to his orders or respect him. When the Japanese Ichi-go offensive was plowing through central China, Stilwell remained unengaged, staying on the front lines in the jungles of Burma. The last straw was when Stilwell refused to advance to Bhamo, insisting that his troops rest even while the Japanese drove toward the key city of Guilin in central China. It was an act that showed how divided and broken the Allied war effort had become in the China-Burma-India Theater.

This Day in 1944 – Japanese Fighters Attack the Huitong Bridge

On August 18, 1944, Major Toyoki Eto, commander of the 64th Sentai, led twelve Ki-43 “Oscars” in two attacks on the Huitong Bridge. The Allies had only recently rebuilt the bridge where the Burma Road crossed the Salween River. Major William Moore, the chief engineer, was actually hammering the last planks in place when the Japanese fighters arrived overhead. The first raid began at 0830 hours. The Oscars made a dive-bombing attack in the steep Salween gorge. Anti-aircraft fire brought down Warrant Officer Kazua Shake on his run. None of the bombs hit. Three P-40s from the 25th Fighter Squadron intercepted the raiders on their way back to Burma. After a sharp fight, one of the American fighters made an emergency landing at Baoshan. The Japanese were back that afternoon. Again, they failed to hit the bridge, but Sergeant Toshimi Ikezawa shot down a transport returning from an airdrop mission over the front, killing all seven aboard.

Fighter pilots of the 64th Sentai selected to carry out the attack on the Huitong Bridge. In the front row, from left to right, are Captain Nakamura, Major Toyoki Eto, the sentai commander, and Colonel Kuwazuka. In the back are Sergeant Okada, Corporal Yamazaki, Sergeant Yamamoto, and Sergeant Ikezawa. Courtesy of Hiroshi Ichimura.

Fighter pilots of the 64th Sentai selected to carry out the attack on the Huitong Bridge. In the front row, from left to right, are Captain Nakamura, Major Toyoki Eto, the sentai commander, and Colonel Kuwazuka. In the back are Sergeant Okada, Corporal Yamazaki, Sergeant Yamamoto, and Sergeant Ikezawa. Courtesy of Hiroshi Ichimura.

This Day in 1944 – Japanese Aircraft over the Salween Front

On June 28, 1944, Japanese aircraft arrived over the Salween Front for the first time in the campaign to resupply their besieged troops as Songshan. The Japanese Army Air Force had been preoccupied by the Allied offensive in Burma and the Ichi-go Campaign in central China. By late June, however, the supply situation of the garrison at Songshan was becoming increasingly desperate. Six Ki-43 Oscars escorted four Ki-36 Idas which dropped bamboo containers filled with bullets and grenades. Unlike the Americans, the Japanese did not have a lot of experience with air drops. They made hasty drops to avoid anti-aircraft artillery and the threat of interception. Most of the supplies fell into Allied hands.

A Japanese Army Air Force Ki-43 Type 1 Fighter, "Oscar" (wwiivehicles.com)

A Japanese Army Air Force Ki-43 Type 1 Fighter, “Oscar” (wwiivehicles.com)

This Day in 1944 – The Japanese Abandon the Shweli Valley

The Salween River raged through a narrow canyon at 2,100-feet above sea level. Once across this dangerous, rapid river, however, the Chinese Expeditionary Force had to cross the Gaoligong Mountains. Rising up to twelve thousand feet above sea level, this monolithic range was the highest battleground of World War II. Captain Kenneth Scott, an American surgeon with the Chinese troops commented that on the Salween Font, he had “more walking to do than ever before in my life, and over tougher country … Going over some of those mountains would make Pikes Peak look like a child’s playground.” The defending Japanese troops had built bunkers and arranged fields of fire to take advantage of the forbidding terrain. The Chinese took grievous losses, but they pushed through. With the 14th Air Force supporting them and supplying them from the air, they made it into the Shweli River Valley on the other side of the range. By June 22, 1944, the Japanese abandoned the Shweli Valley. In forty-two days of brutal fighting, the CEF conquered the Gaoligong, captured the Shweli Valley, and liberated over four thousand square miles of territory. They were well on their way to the legendary city of Tengchong.

A 14th Air Force L-5 flies along the imposing Gaoligong Range over the Salween River - National Archives

A 14th Air Force L-5 flies along the imposing Gaoligong Range over the Salween River – National Archives