Every Day a Nightmare: American Pursuit Pilots in the Defense of Java, 1941-1942
by William H. Bartsch, Texas A&M University Press, College Station, 2010, $40
William Bartsch reminds us of an often overlooked period in World War II, when American airmen faced the greatest odds. Forced by circumstance to fly outmoded aircraft from ill-prepared bases, the young pilots who defended Java nonetheless gave their all. But while the Flying Tigers’ exploits in defending China were properly publicized and brought welcome news to the home front at a time when the United States sorely needed it, the story of the pursuit pilots’ flight from the Philippines and subsequent brutal battles in the skies over Java was glossed over in the press.
Bartsch, who spent some 20 years researching his book, provides an extraordinary wealth of detail covering the grand scope of the war, often from the point of view of the Japanese. This insightful day-by-day treatment of his subject is demanding of the reader, yet also rewarding, since it puts all aspects of the battle in perspective. Bartsch enlivens his narrative by including the thoughts of some of the pilots involved (many just out of flying school), using their letters as a source. And he doesn’t confine himself to combat scenes, also exploring the amorous adventures some pilots had.
Bartsch’s description of the sinking of America’s first aircraft carrier, the seaplane tender Langley, is in itself worth the price of the book. This is a story that has too often been dismissed with a line or two in ordinary histories, but the author depicts in detail just how sad and meaningful Langley’s loss actually was.
Every Day a Nightmare is a superb book for the scholar and the dedicated buff, yet it will also open the eyes of casual readers. Perhaps it will make more people aware of the dangers a nation brings on itself when it neglects to provide its warriors with the necessary tools at the right time.
Originally published in the January 2012 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.