Never judge a book by its cover – judge the cover artists

I’ve read several great books over the last few months, and I’ll speak about them individually in the near future, but first I’ll give you a bit of a quiz about the cover art. As you’re probably painfully aware, most artists care f-all for the accuracy of their work when it comes to military history books. This leads to the core audience of these books to look at the covers and wonder if anyone involved in the project ever gave a second thought to the final and most visible aspect of the book.

Anyhow, here we go. I’ll give you a title, the subject of the book, and the cover. You tell me what’s wrong:

1. The Few, by Alex Kershaw – the story of the first American Volunteers in the RAF and their role in the battle of Britain:

2. The Forgotten 500: Gregory A. Freeman – the tale of the rescue of downed airmen from Yugoslavia:

3. Duel of Eagles – Peter Townsend’s epic history of the Battle of Britain:

Point out the problems with these covers in the comments section. No prizes – just consideration as an informed airplane person!

Book Report: “Retribution”

If you want your history with some attitude attached, you need to read Max Hasting’s latest book, Retribution: the Battle for Japan 1944-45. Not only will it open your eyes to some remarkable events at the tail end of the war, it may dispel the illusions you may carry about the “great men” who led the Allies in the Pacific. Once Hastings gets done with them, it’s apparent that the only thing that distinguishes them from your idiot boss at work is that they have more resources to mis-manage.

It’s easier to list the figures Hastings admires; they boil down to Gen. William Slim, the British commander in Burma, and Adm. Raymond Spruance, who alternated command of the U.S. fleet with William Halsey. Halsey gets called out for the typhoon incident, for leaving the escort carriers untended off Samar in the Battle of Leyte Gulf, and for a general degree of recklessness that would have cost him his command had he acted the same way earlier in the war. Douglas MacArthur get a blistering treatment for his egomaniacal management style, his disdain for intelligence and his fanatical focus on freeing the Philippines, which had ceased to be strategically important by the time MacArthur waded ashore.

The entire nation of Australia takes it on the chin for, basically, bailing out of the war for the most part once the threat to the north evaporated. Did you know that the allied war effort was hampered by repeated dock strikes in Australia, or that the commander of Australia’s forces had been fired from a police job in 1938 for corruption? Neither did I; it’s a tribute to those men who fought in North Africa and with the RAF that their service has largely eclipsed the nation’s later failures.

Britain also takes a pasting, primarily because its fight for Burma was driven by a desire to re-establish its colonial mastery at a time when occupation had acquired a very bad name. Hastings performs a valuable service by recounting the fight in Burma, where the Japanese were actually able to make advances into 1944 before being inexorably driven back across the Irawaddy and into Thailand. The service of the Indian, East African, Gurkha and other commonwealth troops is given a spirited treatment – these, and their British counterparts, are surely the least heralded of all the troops to serve under the Union flag during the war.

China is discussed at length and with a thinly-veiled contempt. Essentially, Hastings demonstrates, the Japanese invaded a country that was too occupied with its own civil war to put up any capable resistance, even in 1944 and 1945 with tons of supplies being flown in over the Hump. Much of this material, he asserts, was diverted into the black market by Chiang Kai-Shek for his own enrichment. The rest of the material was not used against the Japanese, but was hoarded for the inevitable fight with Mao Tse-Tung’s forces once the Japanese had been beaten by the west. Instead of fighting the Japanese, both groups missed no opportunities to hide and husband their resources while the average Chinese suffered starvation, deprivation and worse at the hands of the Japanese. Hasting paints a picture in which it is hard to call anyone a Chinese patriot.

Is there any group that comes in for rougher treatment than China? Yes: Japan. The Japanese commanders are portrayed largely as petty martinets given to pursuing their own pleasures or hopelessly indecisive men whose actions are dictated purely by circumstance. A few are identified at real leaders, but most are shown as mis-managers who condemned their troops to needless death. The true villains – the military leaders in Tokyo who kept issuing impossible orders right until the end of the war – are also painted as bullies who live in a fantasy world. Their dithering delayed the inevitable and led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.

The invasion of Manchuria reveals the Russians as anything but heroic as well. The Chinese saw the murderous Japanese expelled by a new army that was equally given to rape, robbery and murder, and the interviews with survivors drip with bitterness.

Surprisingly, Curtis LeMay gets a fairly neutral treatment – as horrifying as the B-29 fire raids were, they were effective. The accounts from the bomber crews and from survivors who were in Tokyo the night of the first fire raid show how effective they were militarily and how devastating they were psychologically. If Japan could have been shocked into surrender, the fire raids should have done it.

Hastings illustrates that the atomic bombs didn’t lead to the Japanese surrender – it was the bombs, the blockade, and the Russian entry into the war that jarred the Imperial staff from its fairyland and, more importantly, convinced Hirohito he had to take some action to avert utter annihilation of the country.

Hastings’ book illustrates that it is much easier to start a war than it is to end one. If you want a fresh take on the history of the end of the war in the Pacific – told with a truly unique and incisive voice, I urge you to read this book.

They actually dared to print it…!

Last Friday, I came home to a nice surprise: a single advance copy of my new book (seen here, in all its Amazon-based glory). The cover art, by Mark Postlethwait, is pictured above in its full form; it’s cropped a little horzontally to fit the book cover. Mark did a great job – it really has an illusion of motion to it. That’s Grover Siems shooting a Bf 109G off of Deacon Hively’s tail, by the way.

I have one copy so far, so please don’t feel bad you haven’t received one, if you’re one of the people who helped me out – I’ll be sending yours shortly, when I get a few more from Osprey.

Here’s what I think about the book: I like it a lot more than when I turned in the photos and manuscript! The design is very good, and there are a few extra photos plugged in that address specific incidents mentioned in the text ( a couple of which are “via Roger Freeman,” which are interesting since Roger’s died a little while ago and I have certainly not spoken to him since then). Chris Davey’s profiles are really nice; I compared them to profiles of some of the same planes that appeared in “P-51 Mustang Aces of the Eighth Air Force” and these are far superior in accuracy of markings and weathering. It’s impressive how much better the artists have gotten in the 15 years or so since Osprey started doing books of this ilk; you can thank the readers and their constructive criticism for that.

A couple of observations about this book:

1. There are a lot of dogs in the photos – Kidd Hofer’s Alsatian Duke is most prominent (he’s even labeled in a shot of personnel gathered at Debden, right next to Don Blakeslee), but there are others – Ken Peterson’s dog, Johnny Godfrey’s dog… The book is crawling with dogs.

2. There is no photo of “Shangri-La” after Don Gentile pranged it, but there’s a photo of it immediately before that mission, thanks to Wade Meyers.

3. There are a lot of photos of people who are mentioned in the text – which I think is a very good thing. It helps to humanize the stories, and I used a lot of contemporary accounts this time around, so putting a face with the words helps make things more involving.

It comes out for real on Nov. 18. Now, I just have to get the next book okay’ed by someone who doesn’t mind paying for it to be printed…

No modeling, just model parts

This week is an Obscureco week – four orders already sent, many more to come. A lot of people don’t realize I do Obscureco as a sideline – it’s not my real job. If it were, I’d be living in a tent somewhere. So I get lots of help (Elizabeth has been taking stuff to the post office, for instance, and Bill Ferrante’s cranked out a lot of parts, although we’re again out of A-6B conversions and Hamilton Standard props in 1:48) and I count on customers being a little understanding.

That said, people are mostly interested in what’s next. I’ve started work on an A-3 Skywarrior interior, and people are asking for A-3 slatted wings, too. But many have their own very specific desires. These are very difficult to meet, and often they’d prove bad investments of my time from a business perspective. On the other hand, the 1:72 P-47D-10 conversion Roy Sutherland cooked up for us just needs some instructions, so that will be yet another new product this year. Still, carving out a little time to work on this stuff can be rough; it’s easy to be a victim of one’s own pseudo-success.

Speaking of pseudo-successes, Roy Sutherland is reviving Cooper Details with some great 1:72 cockpit sets for the Bf 109E, F and G. He’s also cranking out a bunch of decals under the Barracudacals logo (the as-yet unfinished website will be here ). Roy deserves your support; he helped start the whole resin aftermarket industry and he does very good work. He also does some subcontracting for Obscureco when we have an excess of demand. I also extend my thanks to him for casting up some copies of Dragon’s 1:72 F4F wheels for my FM-2, which took a third at this weekend’s Tri-Valley Classic in Fremont. Roy delivered them at 11:45 p.m. in a Denny’s parking lot, which is going well beyond the call of duty.

362nd decals in the blessed 1:72 scale

I had a comment on the blog from a family member of a 362nd FG pilot asking about where one could find profiles of the planes of the 378th FS. That’s a tough one – at least, until I convince someone to publish my book on the group. Profiles are closely related to model decals, since smart artists (like Tom Tullis) can maximize their efforts by using the graphics applications they’re using to make profiles to extract markings for decals. Anyway, I’m especially interested in decals for 362nd FG P-47s, and I plan on building as many as I can (thank you, Tamiya, for your kit, which makes my life much easier). Here are the 1:72 decals that I know of, synopsized briefly.

AeroMaster 1998 IPMS/USA Convention Special
P-47D-11 42-75465 “Damon’s Demon,” flown by Capt. George Rarey
P-47D “Wheelboy”/“Tennessee Cannonball,” flown by Lt. Ken McCleary
P-47D “Slo Joe,” flown by Lt. Joe Jensen
P-47D “Dudge,” flown by Lt. Robert Doty
P-47D-30 “5 By 5,” flown by Col. Joe Laughlin

Eagle Strike 72-055, 362nd FG Jugs Part 1
P-47D-22 “Carol Ann,” flown by Col. Morton Magoffin
P-47D-27 “Shirley Jane,” flown by Capt. Edwin O. Fisher
P-47D-28 “Bonnie,” flown by Lt. Gene Martin

Eagle Strike 72-058, 362nd FG Jugs Part 2
P-47D-30 “Gooch,” possibly flown by Lt. Kenneth Caldwell
P-47D-30 “Why Pick on Me?,” flown by Lieutenant Robert V. McCormick
P-47D-25 “Chuck’s Wagon”/“Victory First,” flown by Lt. Chuck Mann

SuperScale 72-598
P-47D-20 “My Gal Sal,” flown by Lt. Joe Hodges

EagleCals EC-104
P-47D-38 “Chief Seattle,” flown by Lt. Ray Murphy

I’ve already built “Damon’s Demon,” “Carol Ann” and “Chuck’s Wagon,” and “Chief Seattle” is coming along. I really need to shift my attention slightly – I’ve met or spoken on the phone with Bob Doty, Mort Magoffin, Joe Laughlin and Gene Martin, so I should hop on Gene’s plane next, since he’s the last of these gentlemen with us. As I blogged earlier this week, another 362nd FG Jug will be on the IPMS/USA Journal special sheet, making 14 of the group’s planes available in this scale.

I have a lot of other useful material that I plan to pass on to a decal manufacturer soon so that more of the George Rarey – painted planes will become available to razorback fans. Meanwhile, progress remains slow on the current P-47 project… I can’t wait to not do a natural metal subject for a change!

The most expensive decal sheet I ever bought

Well, I just bit the bullet and paid (well, Obscureco paid!) for a little present for all my friends in the IPMS, and my friends in the 362nd Fighter Group Association by extension. The gift: a decal sheet covering one P-47D in 1:72, 1:48 and 1:32 scales, which will be inserted into one of the next two issues of the IPMS/USA Journal (depending on logistics) following the delivery of the nationals issue (which is at the printers and headed out to the public as I type). The full story will be revealed at the time when the Journal arrives with the decal in it; let me just drop a few teasers about it:

1. The nose art was painted by George Rarey, but was not one of the items the late Damon Rarey had on his wonderful and now sadly defunct website tribute to his father. In fact, when I showed him the photo of the aircraft in question, Damon exclaimed, “My father never painted any girlie art!!!” But, says the pilot, indeed he did.

2. George did a study for this pilot – but the original idea was scrapped.

3. The pilot of this plane hadn’t seen a photo of his aircraft for 62 years until I sent him a scan of the photo after I interviewed him; I asked if, by chance, was “________” his airplane, and one thing led to another. A few months later, at the 362nd Fighter Group reunion in Portland, Oregon, I presented him with a set of profiles of his plane done by IPMS’s own Jack Morris, who did the decal artwork.

That’s all I’m going to say, beyond this: My goal is to demonstrate to other modeling companies the value of doing decals for the Journal. If twice or three times a year a nice sheet is included, it will add a lot of value to the publication and, for the sponsors, allow them to build their relationships with the 4500 most ardent scale modelers in the country. The beautiful thing is that several vendors I’ve spoken to informally have thought the idea was great. So, if you aren’t a member and like P-47s, it’s time to head over to the IPMS/USA website and get yourself current…

Raising the Jolly Roger over San Carlos

Another aces symposium has been announced by the Northern California Friends of the Aces, this one on November 9 at the Hiller Museum in San Carlos. As was the cast last fall, this one will focus on Navy aces, and the focus is very sharp: the theme is Aces of VF-17 and VF-18, the “Jolly Rogers.” The men on the panel are scheduled to be Charles Mallory (10 kills), Billy Watts (8.75) , Bill Hardy (6.5), Ted Crosby (5.25) and Jim Pearce (5.25), all of whom were Hellcat aces. As always, the local club is planning a display; Cliff Kranz is building four Hellcats, he says, and he’s the kind of modeler who’s likely to finish them. I think we’ll do another Navy Aces display; that’ll give me a chance to break out my Alex Vraciu F6F-3 and the FM-2 of Joe McGraw (which I was supposed to be building for the navy aces event last October…!). If any other Bay Area modelers would like to participate, let me know.

The event’s at 12:15 at the Hiller Aviation Museum; for more information you can e-mail the Northern California Friends of the Aces.