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Corsairs and Flattops: Marine Carrier Air Warfare, 1944-1945, by John Pomeroy Condon, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Md., 1998, $27.95.

Here is a book that will be of lasting interest to former service personnel as well as to general readers. Corsairs and Flattops covers a fairly narrow segment of time–late 1944 though August 1945–and concentrates on the activities of 18 U.S. Marine Corps fighter squadrons equipped with Vought F4U Corsair aircraft in the Pacific theater.

Navy pilots provided support for Marine island-invasion forces in the Pacific. But both Marine and naval officers recognized that these pilots could not provide the kind of close air support needed by the Marine ground forces because they had not undergone coordinated tactical training. The Marine squadrons were the answer to that problem, especially in anticipation of the invasion of Japan. As often happens in war, however, things did not turn out exactly as planned, and the Marine fighters often found themselves engaged in combat air patrols and attacks on enemy targets along the fringes of the South China Sea and the Japanese Home Islands instead of supplying ground support to their leatherneck comrades.

The Marine pilots did their duty, as the accounts of their combat sorties amply testify. Nevertheless, it was a mission for which they were unprepared. They were not adequately trained in carrier operations, and they suffered inordinate operational–as opposed to combat–losses. Corsairs and Flattops is a testament to the bravery of the Marine pilots who took to the air from the decks of carriers with little assurance that they would be able to safely return.

John I. Witmer