Stars & Bars: A Tribute to the American Fighter Ace, 1920-1973, by Frank Olynyk, Grub Street, London, distributed in the United States by Seven Hills Book Distributors, Cincinnati,Ohio, 1995, $69.95 plus $3.50 shipping.
American Fighter Aces Album, by Colonel Ward Boyce, American Fighter Aces Association, Mesa, Ariz., 1996, $85plus $6.50 shipping.
Following in the slipstream of Grub Street’s greatly expanded reprint of Aces High: A Tribute to the Most Notable Fighter Pilots of the British and Commonwealth Forces in WWII, by Christopher Shores and Clive Williams (reviewed in the November 1995 issue of Aviation), Frank Olynyk’s magnum opus, Stars & Bars: A Tribute to the American Fighter Ace,1920-1973, bears immediate comparison to its British predecessor. Both books chronicle the careers and individual claims of hundreds of pilots. While American and British aces may not have amassed victory scores as high as their German and Japanese counterparts, there were more of them (almost 1,400 aces can be found in Stars & Bars).
The books complement each other to some extent, for both take the approach of including any pilot, regardless of nationality,who served in a British or American air arm. As a result, numerous Americans with Royal Air Force (RAF) or Fleet Air Arm service in their flight logs appear in Aces High, as well as in Stars & Bars. By the same token, Stars & Bars generously includes some U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) members who were not American citizens at the time, such as Witold Alexander Lanowski. Born in 1915 in Lwow (Russian then, but Polish as of 1919), Lanowski served in the RAF, allegedly being credited with two victories, before being assigned to the U.S. Eighth Air Force as an intelligence officer. He eventually managed to fly a tour in the 61st Squadron of the 56th Fighter Group, scoring four more victories in the cockpit of a RepublicP-47 Thunderbolt. Lanowski became a British citizen in 1949, but Olynyk includes him because he did serve for a time in the USAAF.
A similar rationale explains the appearance of both native Chinese and Sino-American aces in Stars & Bars. During theSino-Japanese War of 1937?1945, several aces of the Chinese air force were, in fact, Americans, such as Los Angeles?born Wong Sun-Shui, who scored8 1/2 victories flying Chinese Boeing 248s (P-26s) and Gloster Gladiators. While leading the 5th Group in a PolikarpovI-15, Wong was mortally wounded on March 14, 1941–an early victim of the new Mitsubishi A6M2 “Zero” fighter. TsangHsi-Lan, on the other hand, was born in Tsingtao and eventually became a general in the Nationalist Chinese air force on Taiwan, but in 1943 he was assigned to the American 23rd Fighter Group. He later commanded the 8th Squadron of the 3rdFighter Group (Provisional) of the Chinese-American Composite Wing, downing a total of six Japanese aircraft while flyingCurtiss P-40s.
As their full titles indicate, the 730-page Aces High focuses on World War II while the 668-page Stars & Bars ex-tends its coverage beyond that conflict. Also covered in Stars & Bars are the Spanish Civil War (1936?1939), the Sino-Japanese War (1937?1945), Korea (1950?1953) and Vietnam (1964?1973). In the case of Vietnam, it may be noted, the author sticks to a stated policy of pilots only,thus recognizing McDonnell F4 Phantom II pilots Randy Cunningham and Steve Ritchie, as well as Robin Olds (whose four North Vietnamese MiGs were added to 13 German aircraft downed by him in World War II), while omitting “ace” radio intercept operators Chuck de Bellevue, Jeff Feinstein and Willie Driscoll.
Stars & Bars also takes a stricter approach to defining an aerial victory. While most accounts make allowances for shared victories, Olynyk, who is a computer programmer as well as a meticulous researcher, counts such victories as fractional. As a result of that, and Olynyk’s careful studies of Allied records, a number of aces’ scores are downgraded, sometimes below the requisite five.
Representing 20 years of dedicated effort, Stars & Bars is the basic reference for its subject, but anyone with an interest inAmerican aces will also find plenty of eyebrow-raising reading among its biographical passages.
The American Fighter Aces Association’s updated 1996 edition of its American Fighter Aces Album may be related to Stars& Bars by subject, but the books differ in scope–the American Fighter Aces Album excludes non-U.S. citizens who made ace in American units, but its coverage extends back to World War I. Although Stars & Bars has an excellent selection of photographs, the Aces Album by the American Fighter Aces Association goes to greater lengths to accompany the brief biography and score of each ace with a portrait whenever possible (save for very few exceptions, for whom photographs simply cannot be found). Complementing the main body of the Aces Album is an “aceology” listing special categories of achievement and a collection of photographs showing the aircraft flown by the aces and the enemy aircraft they encountered. A final added boon to the modeler or aircraft restorer is a superb portfolio of color profiles by Sonny Schug, depicting representative examples of all the fighters flown by American aces. His subjects include not only such familiar aircraft as Eddie Rickenbacker’s Spad 13, Dick Bong’s Lockheed P-38 and Joseph McConnell’s North American F-86 but also some fascinating esoterica, such as the Sopwith Dolphin in which Frederick W. Gillet scored some of his 20 victories; Frank Tinker’s Polikarpov I-16 of the Spanish Republican Air Force; Wong Sun-Shui’s Chinese Gloster Gladiator; and the North AmericanA-36 Invader of Michael T. Russo–the only pilot to score five victories in that Allison-engine precursor of the P-51 Mustang.
Anyone interested in American aces will probably find Stars & Bars a more scholarly reference, while the American Fighter Aces Album is a slicker package–an attractive coffee-table book with plenty of substance and somewhat wider scope. Bothvolumes have much to recommend them, and a choice between the two is very much a matter of taste.