United States Naval Aviation, 1919-1941: Aircraft, Airships and Ships Between the Wars

by E.R. Johnson, McFarland and Company, Jefferson, N.C., 2011, $45.

E.R. “Buddy” Johnson has done it again, producing a book that deserves a spot in everyone’s aviation library, and creating a link to the great aviation books of the past through his meticulous research, organization and presentation. His 352 fact-filled pages are supported by 605 photos, color profiles and data-filled appendices. Three-view drawings abound. Once again his writing is superb, offering vast quantities of information in a readable style.

Johnson takes an interesting approach to U.S. naval aviation, assembling the facts on where the Navy stood when America entered World War II after Pearl Harbor. He then analyzes how that same service, meagerly equipped and not yet backed by a pipeline of equipment and personnel, was nonetheless able to first blunt the Japanese attack, and then overwhelm it.

He’s divided the work into three parts, with the first part covering heavier-than-air development in chronological order, by type, and the second chronicling the far less well known development of lighter-than-air, with welcome depth that brings to light surprising new information. His final part is the most unusual—and for many scholars the most valuable—in that it details aviation-related ship development. Aircraft carriers immediately come to mind, of course, but there are also details on seaplane and airship tenders, as well as seaplane-equipped warships. This section alone is worth the price of the book.

For many readers, Johnson’s four appendices may be the book’s most fascinating part. The first one includes foreign aircraft and airships the Navy tried, all of which were news to me. The next explores experimental and racing planes, revealing how shortsighted the Navy was in giving up too soon on promising designs. Two other appendices cover unit designations and nomenclature, and a mind-blowing table of naval aviation as it stood in December 1941. It is amazing that the U.S. was able to build on such a fragile foundation.

Like Johnson’s other books, this is a bargain, offering an inspiring change from the plethora of well-illustrated but contentempty books flooding the marketplace.

 

Originally published in the January 2013 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.