The P-51B/C Mustang was the first Merlin powered version of the fighter, and the first American fighter capable of escorting their heavy bombers anywhere they went. At the same time it was a world class fighter more than capable of dealing with the German fighters it came up against, and as a result it dramatically changed the nature of the 8th Air Force’s daylight bombing campaign, which until then had been dominated by unsustainable losses as the bombers attempted to ‘get through’ without escort.
We start with a description of one of the first Mustang escort missions, which helps set the scene for the impact of the aircraft. This is followed by a brief look at the German air defences, including an overview of the different aircraft available.
The P-51B/C is then introduced through the early experiences of the first unit to use it as an escort fighter in Europe, the 354th Fighter Group, a useful comparison to the P-47 Thunderbolt and the expansion in the number of units early in 1944.
Chapter three takes an unusual approach for this type of book, focusing on the full careers of two P-51 pilots, Clayton Kelly Gross and Johnny Godfrey, from their entry into the Air Force to the end of their combat careers.
The development of the Merlin powered P-51 is covered next, again a slightly unusual approach – this sort of material is normally found early in the book. The chapter itself is good, with more emphasis on the problems with the P-51B/C than is normally the case, looking at a series of technical flaws that were revealed in combat and how they were fixed.
The Art of War chapter looks at how the USAAF used its Mustangs, and the Luftwaffe’s attempts to deal with the new threat. The Combat chapter starts with a comparison of the P-51B/D and its main German opponents, showing that it outperformed them at the altitudes most combat took place at, then looks at some examples of how the P-51 actually performed.
I like the balance of this book. Many air war type books are dominated by endless accounts of individual battles, but here we get much more context, which in turn makes the combat accounts we do get more valuable.
1 – In Battle
2 – Setting the Scene
3 – Path to Combat
4 – Weapon of War
5 – Art of War
6 – Combat
Author: Chris Bucholtz