Book Review
Spitfire Aces: Burma & Pacific
Spitfire Aces of Burma and the Pacific * Aircraft of the Aces 87
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by: Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]

Spitfire Aces of Burma and the Pacific
Series & No.: Aircraft of the Aces 87
Author: Andrew Thomas
Artist: Chris Davey
Pages: 96
Formats: Paperback; ePub; PDF
ISBN: 9781846034220

Spitfire Aces of Burma and the Pacific presents the story of the pilots who fought in the legendary Spitfire against Imperial Japan.

When one discusses the iconic fighters of the Great Pacific War the legendary Supermarine Spitfire rarely comes to mind. Indeed, most students of the Pacific air war probably never heard of the superb British fighter’s participation. Churchill rushed Spitfires to Australia to provide the continent with the fighter protection that America’s P-40s were ineffectively performing. Spitfires defended India and battled to retake Burma. Spitfires were part of the ring around Rabaul. Finally, Spitfires leapfrogged along islands towards the Philippines and Borneo. Some of the UK’s greatest aces against Germany and Italy flew Spitfires against the Japanese.

Australia had great expectations when the star of the Battle of Britain, flown by UK pilots experienced in smiting the Luftwaffe’s best, arrived to sweep the skies of Japanese attackers. It was not to be. The Spitfire Mark V did not acclimate well to the humid dust of N.W. Australia. The superb Merlin engine was delicate and needed the bulky Vokes filter which sapped the fighter’s performance. The Spitfire’s Achilles heel – endurance – proved again that over the Pacific (Over anywhere!), if you don’t have range, you don’t have a fighter. Most seriously, the veteran pilots against the Luftwaffe learned what many accomplished pilots died learning – Japanese pilots in Zeros were still deadly! Aces were made or added to their scores but Spitfire losses were heavy. The arrival of the Spitfire V did herald a serious change for the Japanese: the Allies could now reach and (usually) run down the fast high-flying Ki-46 ‘Dinah’ reconnaissance planes.

Over the CBI and Bismarck Archipelago the same flaws bedeviled the Spitfire V. Again aces were made or added to their scores yet again the pilots learned that their excellent dogfighter from Europe was not the mount to dogfight the Japanese with.

Enter the superb Spitfire VIII. With a durable new two-speed two-stage Merlin and reworked airframe the Spitfire no longer needed the Vokes filter, and like their American P-38 and P-47 cousins, had performance to spare at high altitude. Japanese fighters were still dangerous on their terms but the Spit VIII could usually dictate the terms of engagement. Aces were made or added to their scores.

Spitfire Aces of Burma and the Pacific is presented through 96 pages in 10 chapters and sections:
    Chapter One, The Churchill Wing
    Chapter Two, Defending Darwin
    Chapter Three, Above The Arakan
    Chapter Four, Imphal To Rangoon
    Chapter Five, In The East Indies
    Chapter Six, Endgame In Borneo
      Colour Plates

This book is well written and organized. I only found a minor typo. The book is not a treatise on tactics or the strategic situation. It does not even discuss the performance of the aircraft. Rather, it is the story of the pilots who flew the Spitfire against Imperial Japan. Not only men like Group Captain Clive Caldwell (Top Australian ace and top P-40 ace.), Battle of Britain star Sqn Ldr "Ginger" Lacey, and training and tactics master Wg Cdr Frank Carey, also pilots whose service should have made their names household words.

Author Andrew Thomas fills the text with stories of the pilots gleaned from combat reports, log books and interviews.

Claims – not necessarily confirmed kills – are recounted with varying detail. The book mentions the plethora of over claiming on both sides while occasionally presenting known actual losses. One pilot narrative of a battle north of Darwin specifically claimed to witness seen several falling burning aircraft, including a Spitfire, splash into the sea; interestingly only a Spitfire was lost in the battle. Verifying claims is outside of the scope of this book.

The text is richly populated with pilot quotes and excerpts from logs and reports. There are even several “yank-and-bank’ stories:
    This engagement exposed a weakness in our Mk VIIIs, which, at the time, were equipped with pointed long span wingtips. I had to pull up very rapidly with a Jap on my tail, having made an attack that must have overstressed the aeroplane, because following this sortie we found tail rivets that had sprung, the wings had extra dihedral and my radio had been dislodged from its mounting brackets. Other aircraft had suffered similar problems, so the pointed wingtips were replaced with standard elliptical ones and we had no further trouble.

While the book lacks comparisons between Spitfires and Japanese fighters as the subject is out of the scope of this title, there is one interesting insight between the marvelous Spit VIII and a Ki-44 Shoki (“Tojo”.) Over Burma RAF No 136 pilots flying the Spitfire VIII found “Tojos” challenging in a dogfight and with equivalent performance: Flt Sgt Cross wrote:
    Having dived from a great height, my IAS (Indicated Air Speed) was 320-340 mph, so I swung around and climbed…I was followed by four bandits who kept up with me very well until I was forced to flatten out at 18,000 ft and fly level, weaving violently.
Considering the Spitfire VIII had the high-altitude Merlin, this revels not only how formidable the Ki-44 could be but also that Allied pilots faced true danger from enemy fighters.
Photographs, art, graphics
The book is full of black-and-white photographs that support the text. The images range from casual pilot portraits and aircraft pictures, gun camera film of Spitfire victims, to crash scenes. Pilots fighting the Japanese seem to have had more latitude with personal markings as several Spitfires are shown with nose art. There are many excellent scenes to inspire modelers for dioramas, or to expose detail for models.

Artist Chris Davey created 36 full color profiles of the Spitfire V and VIII for this book. With personal markings, a riot of insignia, unique camouflage and bare metal Spitfires, these profiles are very interesting. Unfortunately, there is no line art of an airframe. Each profile has its own narrative in the Appendices.

Tables of the pilots are also included in the Appendices. These list the pilots, their kills in and out of Spitfires plus those against Japan, and units.

If I have a persistent complaint about Aircraft of the Aces books it is the usual lack of maps to help the reader visualize and orient the combat arena.
This book is about the United Kingdom pilots who fought the Spitfire in the Far East. Fans of aerial combat will find general accounts but few specific stories. Those interested in how Spitfire performance compared to its Japanese rivals need look elsewhere. Eye-opening as that subject is, it is outside the scope of this book, as is corroborating claims while clarifying overclaiming. Several years ago an article about great Group Captain Caldwell presented claims verses recorded losses from both sides over N.W. Australia; Japanese records were more accurate and showed the Spitfire did not fare well against Zeros. It should be recognized that the Spitfire V did not acclimate well to the humid dust of N.W. Australia and their tactics did not respect the Japanese capabilities. Combat over the CBI with the Spitfire VIII provided better results – so long as they respected Japanese capabilities.

If you never knew Spitfires fought the Japanese air forces then this book will enlighten you. If you already knew, this book will expand that knowledge. If you are a fan of the Spitfire, this book should be a popular source. Modelers should be inspired by new camouflage and makings foreign to European and Mediterranean theaters. The book is full of photographs of varying quality which support the text. The profiles are excellent. Modelers and artists should find great inspiration from them.

I enjoyed this book and happily recommend it!

Please remember to tell Osprey and retailers that you saw this book here - on Aeroscale.
Highs: Photographs and color illustrations. Some 'there I was' accounts.
Lows: No maps to help the reader visualize and orient the combat arena.
Verdict: If you never knew Spitfires fought the Japanese air forces then this book will enlighten you. If you already knew, this book will expand that knowledge. If you are a fan of the Spitfire, this book should be a popular source.
Percentage Rating
  Scale: N/A
  Mfg. ID: ISBN: 9781846034220
  Suggested Retail: £12.99 / $22.95
  PUBLISHED: Jun 30, 2013
  NATIONALITY: United Kingdom

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About Frederick Boucher (JPTRR)

I'm a professional pilot with a degree in art. My first model was an AMT semi dump truck. Then Monogram's Lunar Lander right after the lunar landing. Next, Revell's 1/32 Bf-109G...cried havoc and released the dogs of modeling! My interests--if built before 1900, or after 1955, then I proba...

Copyright ©2021 text by Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]. Images also by copyright holder unless otherwise noted. Opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of AeroScale. All rights reserved.


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