- Published on Thursday, 02 February 2012 00:01 Robin Jenkins
57th Fighter Group – 'First in the Blue'
Aviation Elite Units 39
Published by Osprey for £11.24
ISBN 978-1-84908-337-9 Paperback 128pp Illustrated 24.9 x 18.5 x 1.1 cm
Another question to open a review: which US air force unit was the first to deploy in group strength from the deck of an aircraft carrier, first to fight in North Africa, holds the record for the shortest time in a single action to shoot down 50+ enemy aircraft and developed fighter-bomber tactics that are still in use by the USAAF today?
Well, looking at the title of the review, you have the answer, but I bet not that many readers knew that the 57th Fighter Group held all these accolades. Probably due to a combination of the theatre they flew in combined with air-to-air combat being more "popular" than air-to-ground results, they have had nowhere near the coverage, be it in book or model/decal form, that many of their sister units had received. However, this latest volume from Osprey attempts to put the record straight.
From its activation as the 57th Pursuit Group in January, 1941, equipped with the P-40, the wartime history of the unit is traced: air defence of the New England area of the USA, its redesignation as a fighter group, its transport to the North African theatre of the deck of the USS Ranger in the summer of 1942, its training by RAF personnel, its long fight through the North African campaign, its action over Sicily and Italy, its move to Italy and re-equipping with the P-47 Thunderbolt in Autumn, 1943 and the long fight up Italy, with a diversion when they were moved to an airfield in Corsica to attack the Florence region.
Although notable as a ground attack unit, their "day of days" was an aerial encounter, known as the famous "Palm Sunday Goose Shoot". In a frantic action lasting little more than 20 minutes, 74 German aircraft were shot down in an action over Cape Bon; in retrospect, the only reason that this success has not been more widely popularised is that the vast majority of the victims were Ju 52 trimotor transport aircraft, with only a small number of escorting Messerschmitt 109 and 110 fighters making up the total.
The long story is illustrated in the usual Osprey manner with photographs and colour profiles, a selection of which are now shown. The historic flight from the USS Ranger is illustrated below:
some interesting groundwork shots (above); a description of the remarkable scrounging efforts of the unit, illustrated with a remarkable photo of a "liberated" Piaggio P.108B bomber (below);
armament and movement of the P-47 Thunderbolt (above); a variety of desert front P-40s, along with a captured SM.79 (below);
a selection of late war P-47 Thunderbolts, along with unit insignia (above); and finally, some genuine wartime colour photographs of various Thunderbolts that served with the unit (below)
As I mentioned, the book sets out to put the record straight with regard to the 57th. Having read the book, I have to say that the author, Carl Molesworth, does have a somewhat "staccato" style of writing, being factual in small, quick amounts: a style which I found a little difficult to get involved with. When spending more time on a subject, such as the fascinating section on scrounging, he comes more alive and interesting; otherwise, he is just a little dry for my taste.
So What Do We Think?
Judged by the normal standards Osprey Books are reviewed by, the reference material is top quality, but it is certainly not as readable as many of their recent publications. However, it does fill a much needed gap in the unit histories of the USAAF in WW2.
A much-needed volume on a neglected unit.
Our thanks to Osprey for the review copy. To purchase this directly, click THIS link.