Air-to-Air Review in Pacific Wings magazine

Air-to-Air.  Author - 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 is Chris Rudge’s second book and is the culmination of two years full-time research and writing.  Utilising 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 has been written to complement the official histories of New Zealand in WWII, is written 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.  Details are then provided on how the RNZAF recorded claims in the Pacific and the tactics they adopted in combat.

The main body of the book gives details of each claim and sets these 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 and this is followed by the story of 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. Details of the first RNZAF claim in the Pacific, an F1M2 ‘Pete’ floatplane shot down by Hudson pilot F/O M.W. McCormick, are then given.  Throughout the chapters covering the battle for New Georgia, the Bougainville campaign and attacks on Rabaul, a new page is used for each day a claim or claims were made, allowing for easy reference.  Details are provided of 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.  This section is also enriched by additional material gathered from surviving New Zealand P-40 pilots.

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, this book makes compelling reading given that New Zealand scrapped it’s air combat force in 2001.  Air-to-Air is undoubtedly 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 and the country’s defence.  Lavishly illustrated and supported with detailed maps, it is a highly recommended book that will be a valuable addition to any aviation library.

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