If you like the television series Dogfights, you’ll absolutely love this book. Hampton puts you into the cockpit of every major fighter aircraft of the last hundred years, from the Great War to the Iraq War. You’ll feel the G-forces as the adversaries duel in the skies, and you’ll learn the back stories that only a historian can tell. For example, you’ll meet the German pilot with over a hundred aerial victories who nonetheless would land next to his injured victims (the ones who lived) and administer first aid and provide Geneva Convention cards. And you’ll learn about Russian aces in World War II – and some were women!
One of the unique aspects of the book is the detailed description of the selection and training of fighter pilots by each of the combatant sides in each war. And we learn about how politics affected the outcome of battles – and wars – when leaders didn’t understand how to employ their weapons systems. We all know about the misuse of the ME-262, but there are other, similar, examples. And Stalin’s paranoid removal of 90 percent of his generals due to political incorrectness has an unfortunate present-day counterpart with the current environment in our own military today.
The book is, on the one hand, a comprehensive history of the major conflicts of the past hundred years. And it is into this history that Hampton weaves the story of air combat. As he describes the evolution of the combat aircraft, he explains subtle changes that dramatically affected the aircrafts’ successes, such as modifiacations in gun placement and caliber.
But to call it a history book would be like simply calling a Ferrari a car. It is more, a lot more. It’s an adventure story that will rivet you from the time you pick it up until you finish reading all 549 pages. I couldn’t put it down, and polished it off in three days.
If you plan to fly a fighter, you’ll definitely want to read the sections, at the end of the book, that describe an air-to-air engagement and an air-to-ground attack. And there are great photos to introduce the reader to famous airplanes and pilots.
The book is extensively documented, and represents rigorous research. As the holder of a Doctoral Degree, I really admire that. I think this would make a great textbook for a Military History course, with each of the fifteen chapters serving as the framework for the study for every week of the semester.
It sure would’ve been nice if I’d had this book available when I was a student at the Air Force Academy, fifty years ago. This should be required reading for every prospective fighter pilot.