The Fight in the Clouds: The Extra ordinary Combat Experience of P-51 Mustang Pilots During World War II. By James P. Busha. Minneapolis Minn.: Zenith Press, 2014. Illustrations. Photographs. Index. Pp. xvii, 238. $30.00 ISBN: 9-780-760345184
No pilots loved their airplanes more than those who flew the P-51 Mustang. Busha emphasizes that sentiment based on his interviews with hundreds of pilots over fifteen years. His book records the Mustang's combat roles by relating a long string of accounts of pilots who flew the plane in the Second World War. The book's action centers on operations in Europe, with its closing pages given to escort duties over Japan.
Busha repeatedly refers to the Mustang's 1,651-horsepower, Packard-built, Rolls-Royce Merlin engine and signature teardrop canopy, because those features won the instant admiration of pilots, most of whom transitioned from the P-47 Thunderbolt. The Mustang's sleekness, speed, range, and maneuverability convinced them it was the ultimate fighter of the war.
Busha intersperses post-war interviews with wartime "encounter reports" to build the P-51's history. Even though a majority of his interviewees are aces, their straightforwardness and absence of egotism enhance the historical value of their words. The narratives, however, still describe the dangers encountered and the inherent fears. An excellent index makes it simple to find references to fighter groups and squadrons as well as individual airmen. Because most of the narrators were unfamiliar to me, I saw their experiences as fresh views of old, but important, topics. Basically, the book is enlightening and enjoyable.
The pilots recall all phases of flying the P-51, a few starting with their leaving college to fight in the war. They talk about the good and the bad. There was a mass night takeoff during which a P-51 crashed: The control tower was still smoldering when I landed. The only thing left of Lieutenant Frascotti's airplane was the Rolls-Royce engine lying on the floor in the control tower. With full fuel, he had plowed right into the darkened tower." Or the gut-wrenching anti-aircraft artillery: "The train was dead ahead, sitting quietly at the end of a peaceful valley....As our flight neared ... all hell broke loose. We took fire from 20mm and 40mm guns, and from small arms. The fire erupted from the trees, the church, and the headstones. We had flown into a trap and I was the rat caught in the valley of death! There was the...