Book Review: Stars & Bars (Frank Olynyk) AND American Fighter Aces Album (Colonel Ward Boyce) : AVH

8/11/2001 • Aviation History Book Reviews

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 FighterPilots of the British and Commonwealth Forces in WWII, by Christopher Shores and Clive Williams (reviewed in theNovember 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 ofhundreds of pilots. While American and British aces may not have amassed victory scores as high as their German andJapanese 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 Armservice in their flight logs appear in Aces High, as well as in Stars & Bars. By the same token, Stars & Bars generouslyincludes some U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) members who were not American citizens at the time, such as WitoldAlexander Lanowski. Born in 1915 in Lwow (Russian then, but Polish as of 1919), Lanowski served in the RAF, allegedlybeing credited with two victories, before being assigned to the U.S. Eighth Air Force as an intelligence officer. He eventuallymanaged 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 theUSAAF.

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 onTaiwan, 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), theSino-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 fourNorth Vietnamese MiGs were added to 13 German aircraft downed by him in World War II), while omitting “ace” radiointercept operators Chuck deBellevue, Jeff Feinstein and Willie Driscoll.

Stars & Bars also takes a stricter approach to defining an aerial victory. While most accounts make allowances for sharedvictories, Olynyk, who is a computer programmer as well as a meticulous researcher, counts such victories as fractional. As aresult of that, and Olynyk’s careful studies of Allied records, a number of aces’ scores are downgraded, sometimes below therequisite 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 madeace in American units, but its coverage extends back to World War I. Although Stars & Bars has an excellent selection ofphotographs, the Aces Album by the American Fighter Aces Association goes to greater lengths to accompany the briefbiography and score of each ace with a portrait whenever possible (save for very few exceptions, for whom photographssimply cannot be found). Complementing the main body of the Aces Album is an “aceology” listing special categories ofachievement and a collection of photographs showing the aircraft flown by the aces and the enemy aircraft they encountered. Afinal added boon to the modeler or aircraft restorer is a superb portfolio of color profiles by Sonny Schug, depictingrepresentative examples of all the fighters flown by American aces. His subjects include not only such familiar aircraft as EddieRickenbacker’s Spad 13, Dick Bong’s Lockheed P-38 and Joseph McConnell’s North American F-86 but also somefascinating esoterica, such as the Sopwith Dolphin in which Frederick W. Gillet scored some of his 20 victories; Frank Tinker’sPolikarpov 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 FighterAces 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.

Jon Guttman