World war II Fighter Bomber Pilot, by Bill Colgan (Blue Ridge Summit, PA: Tab Books Inc.,1985),
xiii, 207 pp., index, illus., $13.95.
Aerospace Historian, March 1986.
Military bookshelves (and bookshops) are full of books on fighter pilots and dog-fights, on bomber
crews and raids, but relatively little has been published on other aspects of the air war. There may be
good reason in a commercially oriented world: it is hard to draw much excitement from accounts of
photo recce work or aerial re-supply.
But what could be more exciting than fighter-bomber operations? Here's a book which has plenty of
it and will add a new dimension to many individuals' perceptions of the air war, 1941-1945. Bill Colgan
was a 21-year old minor pro football player in 1941; by 1945 he was a 25-year-old major in the
USAAF, commanding a squadron of P-47s in northwest Europe. In the intervening months and years
he had learned to fly, had flown 116 missions in Sicily and southern Italy, had taken a furlough in the
United States, had become a Forward Air Controller in northern Italy (his account of life in the front line
has a fascination all it's own and left this reviewer begging for more), had returned to flying operations
and had taken his squadron through southern and central France and into west Germany in support
of the U.S. 7th and French 1st Armies, and had raised his total of missions to 208.
Casualties on fighter-bomber-operations were heavy. In the 79th and 86th Fighter Groups he
reports, casualties averaged 23 percent over two years of war, and only a very skillful, thoughtful, and
lucky pilot was going to go over the 200-mission mark. Colgan's number came up on 28 February
1945 when his machine was hit by flak east of Zweibrucken. The details can be left to intrigue the
reader, but Colgan--by some miracle--came out of it alive.
A marvelous story, told well enough, but the author could have used a good editor, to encourage
him to expand on some aspects of his story, and a good copy editor, to tighten up the manuscript.
National Defence Headquarters,
Ottawa K1A, OK2 Canada
Copy of origional publication of above Book Review,
from "Aerospace Historian" magazine, published in
Allied Strafing in World War II, A Cockpit View of Air to Ground Battle.By William B.
Colgan. London and Jefferson NC: 2010. Photographs. Illustrations. Bibliography. Index.
Pp. vii, 263 $38.00 Paperback ISBN: 978-0-7864-4887-6
Air Power History / Summer 2011.
Colgan, an AAF/USAF combat pilot during World War II and Korea, describes in detail the
mechanics of strafing or the "Air-to-Ground Battle" as he terms it. The air war of World War II was
mostly, and erroneously in the public eye, about strategic bombing. To say that is not to diminish the
heroism and courage of the bomber aircrews who flew into German air space in a vain attempt to
destroy German war industry and the German will to fight. To question the effectiveness of the
execution of the flawed strategic theory they pursued is another matter entirely. As the tonnage of
bombs dropped on Germany increased year after year, German war production amazingly increased
yearly until finally it fell off a cliff in late 1944.
Next to strategic bombing campaigns in the public eye were the "aces," fighter pilots who had shot
down five enemy aircraft in aerial combat. They were lauded beginning in the First World War and
continuing in World War Two and Korea.
But fighter pilots who engaged in trench strafing during World War I had little glory and relatively
short lives. The same can be said of fighter-bomber pilots of the Second World War. They went out
day after day looking for ground targets: aircraft on fields, locomotives hauling trains with war
supplies, armored vehicles, staff cars with high-ranking officers, artillery pieces being moved, and the
like. They found them, but they also frequently found intense flak, enemy fighter aircraft, or targets
that occasionally exploded in their faces. Air-to-air combat in an instant.
Colgan well outlines the history of strafing. He began his career as a strafer in North Africa and
transitioned to Italy, France, and Germany. Various chapters describe in detail specific operations in
each area. Basically most operations fall into the category of "battlefield interdiction" using guns rather
than bombs or other weapons. The primary gun was the 0.50 caliber Browning machine gun with
armor-piercing incendiary ammunition. He also deals with strafing in Korea and Vietnam.
Strafing has been and remains a doctrinal-free area of endeavor. No one has been able to model
it. Air -to-ground gunnery was taught during flight training using ground targets that didn't fight back.
Each squadron or group developed its own tactics but basically left the decision about what tactics to
use to judgement. The flight leader had to integrate all the parameters of weather, visibility, terrain,
flak, and target value before committing his flight to combat. He also points out that in air-to-ground
combat, the ground had a probability of kill of close to 1.0 always to be kept in mind when making
low-level passes at 300 mph.
Colgan quotes a narrator's phrase "Every man (pilot) his own general," true enough and
descriptive of the rapid decision making required of each pilot as he hurtled towards a ground target.
However, the phrase is repeated too many times. I got it the first three times. That said, the book is
excellent. The European phase of World War II ended only when Allied armies reached the west bank
of the Elbe River in Germany, and their Soviet counterparts were on the east bank. Both armies
succeeded in combined arms fighting against highly professional German foes because of air power,
and much of it was invested in air-to-ground combat.
Capt. John F. O'Connell, USN (Ret).
Docent, National Air and Space Museum
Copy of origional publication of above
Book Review, from "Air Power History"
magazine. Summer 2011