Review of The Forgotten Squadron in Air Power History

I was very happy to see Air Power History publish a review of The Forgotten Squadron in their Winter 2011 issue. The review is written by Lt Col (ret) Golda Eldridge and is presented in full here:

This book is noteworthy not only for its subject and narrative quality, but also for other aspects including photo quality and depth of scholarship. Most surprising is that Lieutenant Jackson conceived and finished this research project while still a college student. The excited response of veterans and families to his requests for information and the lack of official documentation on the 449th’s activities convinced him this was a story that needed to be shared. The result is first class and would do any historian proud.

I didn’t know P-38s served in the China-Burma-India Theater. The 449th was the virtual unknown of Chennault’s not-well-known Fourteenth Air Force whose contributions have faded like the mists of the mountainous land they defended. It was the only P-38 unit stationed in China and dealt with the same maintenance, support, and supply problems that plagued every other unit there. Jackson does an excellent job discussing the unit’s struggle from all perspectives and helps the reader appreciate fighting in such unforgiving circumstances.

The account of the squadron from inception to deactivation is excellent. Jackson provides enough background of world and theater events to frame the squadron’s activities and help the reader understand the unit’s efforts and contributions. He interviewed or corresponded with twenty-nine unit veterans, one Chinese civilian, and a Japanese researcher in developing his narrative. Numerous memoir and reminisces, published and unpublished, helped him recreate a robust picture of events. He even traveled to China to see some of the locations he writes about. His success is evident in the frequent first-hand accounts of events as varied as the accidental shooting of a pilot by an armaments officer demonstrating rifle maintenance; the shootdown and rescue by Chinese partisans of Rex Barber, one of the men who shot down Admiral Yamamoto; and the story of the only enlisted man killed in theater, stabbed by a Japanese agent in a Chinese market. Throughout, the book stays focused on the subject and includes the memories and perspectives of many enlisted members, a feature frequently missing from these works. The book fills in a missing piece of the Greatest Generation’s story.

This high-quality unit history is laid out as a coffee-table book; the multitude of pictures lends itself to this format. Many military histories suffer from a lack of adequate maps, but this one has plenty of useful maps. The appendices are particularly useful and include a place name listing; comparisons of Allied and Japanese fighter aircraft; a unit timeline; a record of all originally assigned aircraft and their fate; and listing of personnel killed in service, aerial victories claimed by the squadron, and kill totals for all squadron pilots.

There are a few shortcomings, however. Jackson minored in Chinese and knows the language better than most. He uses the Pinyin rather than the out-of-date but more commonly known Wade Giles renderings of Chinese place names – distracting for several locations, as the Wade Giles and Pinyin terms are not at all alike. There are a few editing errors, but the only other real complaint is the high price. Only the real student of the theater, veterans, or family members will probably ever buy it. This is a shame because the 449th veterans deserve to have their story more widely known and Jackson’s talent deserves a wider audience. Schiffer and Jackson really put together a real gem in this book.

1 thought on “Review of The Forgotten Squadron in Air Power History

  1. An outstanding job in telling an important story that has remained almost entirely unknown. Beyond explaining the role played by the 449th Fighter Squadron in the air war that was fought over China, Lt. Jackson has done one of the best jobs to date in contextually explaining both the timeline and the accomplishments of the airmen who served in China under the inspired leadership of Lt. General Claire L. Chennault, USAF (ret), from the legendary American Volunteer Group, to the bantam weight, China Air Task Force that slugged it out with the Imperial Japanese Army Air Force as a true heavy weight, and finally as members of Chennaut’s fabled 14th Air Force which despite suffering from a chronic lack of fuel and equipment, directly affected the air/land battle that raged across China and southeast Asia from the latter half of 1943 until the Japanese surrender in August 1945 in a way that can best be summed up in the lexicon of today’s “War Fighters” as one of the most effective force multipliers of the Second World War.

    Well done Dan.

    Jeffrey B. Greene
    Executive Director,
    Sino-American Aviation Heritage Foundation

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