Air-to-Air Review in Air Force News

Air-to-Air - The Story Behind the Air-to-Air Combat Claims of the RNZAF.  By Chris Rudge.   Foreword by Geoff Fisken.  Published by Adventure Air, P.O.Box 240, Lyttelton, 2003.  ISBN 0-473-09724-9 Hardback, 176mm x 250mm, 434 pages, 242 B&W photographs, seven maps, appendices, references, glossary, bibliography, index. Limited edition of 900 signed and numbered copies.  NZ$84.95 + NZ$5.00 P&P.  Available direct from publisher only.

Air-to-Air, Chris Rudge’s second book, is the culmination of two years full-time research and writing.

Using previously classified combat reports and operations record books held by National Archives, he has documented the story behind the air-to-air combat claims made by aircrew flying for RNZAF squadrons in Malaya and the Pacific. During the period from 15 January 1942 to 13 February 1944, RNZAF squadrons claimed to have shot down 106 aircraft in these arenas, with other claims being made for probably destroyed or damaged.

The book, which complements the official histories of New Zealand in WWII, is  in four parts.  It begins with an introduction setting out the parameters of the work and then looks at the history of air-to-air fighting and how combat claims were made during WWI and WWII.  It details how the RNZAF recorded claims in the Pacific and their combat tactics.

The main body of the book gives details of each claim and sets it against a chronological background of events so that the reader can understand why New Zealanders were fighting in South-East Asia and the Pacific.  The initial chapter covers events that led to Japan’s entry into WWII.  This is followed by the story of No. 488 Squadron RNZAF in Malaya.  After the fall of Singapore, the story swings to events in the Pacific, the threat to New Zealand and the battle for Guadalcanal.

The book details the first RNZAF claim in the Pacific - an F1M2 ‘Pete’ floatplane shot down by Hudson pilot F/O M.W. McCormick.  Providing a new page for each day claims were made makes easy reference to the battle of New Georgia, the Bougainville campaign and attacks on Rabaul.  It includes all aircrew taking part and, where known, the individual aircraft they were flying.

Although this section naturally focuses on the activities of the RNZAF P-40 fighter squadrons, a surprising amount of detail is included on major naval and ground actions, including those of the Royal New Zealand Navy and New Zealand Army.  First hand material gathered from surviving P-40 pilots enriches this section.

The third part of the book provides comprehensive biographical details of all aircrew who made claims.  Photographs of all personnel making claims for destroyed or probably destroyed are provided.

The final section of the book consists of six appendices.  These include a claim summary, details of the Bettington Report, comparisons of RNZAF and Japanese aircraft, details of aircraft designations and names used during the 1924-1945 period, names used for the Curtiss P-40 and Mitsubishi A6M, and evidence that shows the New Zealand Fighter Wing probably claimed 100 aircraft destroyed (rather than 99 as stated in previous histories).

Given that Air-to-Air covers combats that were essentially carried out in the defence of New Zealand, the book makes compelling reading.

Air-to-Air is one of the most important works ever published on the RNZAF and is essential reading for those interested in New Zealand’s air combat history.  Lavishly illustrated and supported with detailed maps, it is a highly recommended book that will be a valuable addition to any aviation library.

Reviewed by Grant Carr

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