The Fight in the Clouds
James P. Busha
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Buy *The Fight in the Clouds: The Extraordinary Combat Experience of P-51 Mustang Pilots During World War II* by James P. Bushao nline

The Fight in the Clouds: The Extraordinary Combat Experience of P-51 Mustang Pilots During World War II
James P. Busha
Zenith Press
256 pages
March 2014
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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The library is full of books about WWII fighter planes. A big chunk of those focus on arguably the most famous WWII fighter of all: the North American P-51 Mustang. What differentiates this book from the hundreds of other titles about the P-51 are the firsthand accounts that bring the air war closer--fewer facts, but much more wind in the hair. Author James P. Busha interviewed many of the still-living veterans who flew these beautiful machines in deadly duels in both the European and Pacific Theaters of war.

The stories as retold by the actual pilots give some of the human qualities that are often missing in pure facts-and-figures historical reference books. While there is some coverage of the specifications of the various P-51 models, the real focus is on what it was like for these very, very young men to take to the air against often much more experienced pilots of the German Luftwaffe. That is, until the attrition on the German flyers became so great that the advantage of combat experience shifted to the Allies

Busha has crafted a collection of tales of P-51 Mustang combat missions throughout the war. Drawing on his interviews with dozens of veteran P-51 pilots, the author traces the progress of war in a chronological format. There are even several stories of the American Mustangs tangling with Russian-built Yaks right at the end of air operations over Germany. Many still question whether those engagements were intentional or accidental.

As US production of all war materials began ramping up, the P-51 started appearing in real numbers in 1943. With its ability to fly long ranges--something its counterparts like the P-38 or P-47 could not do even with extra fuel tanks--the P-51 was the perfect escort fighter. The long legs of the Mustang allowed them to protect the bombers all the way from Allied bases to their targets and back. It was the crucial difference that allowed the ongoing strategic bombing to continue. Without those escorts, the cost in men and material was becoming too painful for the Army Air Corps and the American population to continue to bear.

The Mustang was the critical element that allowed the bombing to continue. Many of the pilots telling their stories were coming out of different types of fighter planes such as the P-40 or the P-47 and moving to P-51s. The way these men describe the differences of each plane is of great interest. Reading these stories tells much more about the different attributes, characteristics and personalities of these planes then reading spec sheets.

The Fight in the Clouds gives you some of the feel of the era, the mindset of the pilots and what it was like being strapped into a single-seat fighter plane with 1450 HP and 6 x.50 caliber machine guns at your disposal. The book is an easy and fast read.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at Mick Rosen, 2014

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