The history of air power in the Second World War has focused on the development of strategic bombing and the daring exploits of fighter pilots who captured the American imagination. This focus commonly extends to most periods of aviation history. However, the capabilities of air forces have long included missions other than heavy bombing and air to air combat. In Air Commandos Against Japan: Allied Special Operations in World War II Burma, historian William Y'Blood launches a strike against the conventional history of the period, focusing on the innovative development of the Air Commandos in the China/Burma/India (CBI) theater. Y'Blood illuminates the history of the units, from a glimmer in the eye of Army Air Forces Commanding General Henry "Hap" Arnold through hundreds of combat missions in Burma and the Pacific. In doing so, Y'Blood demonstrates the importance of the Second World War in sowing the seeds of the future of air power.
Y'Blood starts at the birth of the Air Commandos, beginning his history with orders for Lieutenant Colonels John Allison and Philip Cochran to report to the Pentagon in the summer of 1943 for assignment to a special project. The two men were tasked with creating a unit to support British officer Orde Wingate's "Chindits." After a brief account of Wingate's eccentric and controversial leadership, Y'Blood launches the reader on the story of how the USAAF created a unit that could conduct combat operations behind enemy lines, fully supported by air. [End Page 1003]
The book is broken into three parts, each dedicated to the history of one of the three Air Commando Groups (ACG) that were deployed to the CBI and the Pacific. The ACGs missions included several "firsts." Operation Thursday, flown by the 1st ACG in support of the Chindits, was the first infantry assault that was landed, supplied, and supported completely by air. The 2nd ACG's strike on the Japanese airfield at Don Muang was the longest fighter mission of the war and a significant use of tactical airpower in a strategic role. The first combat search and rescue mission ever flown by a helicopter was conducted by a 1st ACG Sikorsky R-4 in the CBI.
The book is thoroughly researched and annotated throughout. The sources include combat records, logbooks, official histories, and interviews with former Air Commandos, which allowed Y'Blood to intersperse straight battle history with anecdotes of the operations. As he completed his initial manuscript for the book the author passed away, a sure loss to the history of air power. The manuscript was edited and shepherded through the publishing process by Jack Neufeld, former Director of the Air Force Historical Studies Office. Thanks are owed both men for helping to illuminate a part of aviation history that is little studied and even less understood. The only complaint is, despite a claim at the end of the book that the history is linked to modern Air Force Special Operations, there is no analysis of how the Air Commando operations opened the door for future development of air assault doctrine, close air support tactics and techniques, and combat search and rescue.
Air Commandos Against Japan is a well constructed and written account of a unique and innovative part of American air power in the Second World War. It provides historians of the period with a new view of operations in the CBI and illuminates the innovative thinking of some of the period's leaders. In modern discussion on the role of air power in small wars, the book provides important insight into the utility of air forces beyond the heavy bomber and high performance fighter. The book is highly recommended for students, scholars, and officers interested in both.