Crimson Sky: The Air Battle for Korea, By John R. Bruning, Brassey’s, $24.95.
A fast-paced thriller, full of firsthand pilots’ war stories, this book weaves a number of fighting tales into an overall depiction and analysis of air power’s contribution to the Korean War’s outcome. Bruning begins with a disheartening description of the condition and organization of U.S. records on the Korean air campaign. This background provides his rationale for conducting as many interviews with the survivors as possible. He then groups the war stories under functional aspects of the air war.
The book has several sound strengths and only a few minor weaknesses. Although there are times when Bruning’s aviation terminology becomes a barrier to understanding, he has a knack for putting the reader in the cockpit. Tales of rescues and desperate moments in the air abound. This makes for exciting and interesting reading. As for the occasional flights into jargon, he has thoughtfully provided a glossary–albeit somewhat limited. Bruning’s storytelling technique is another plus. By grouping his war stories by subject–rescue, strategic bombing, air-to-air combat, etc.–he is able to use some of the official analyses and more academic studies of the war’s air campaigns to explore previously documented conclusions.
Bruning is an objective judge of American performance, and he is careful to note that early U.S. Air Force claims of as much as a seven-to-one kill ratio over its adversaries in air-to-air combat is a stretch. He concludes the true figure is more likely to be in the range of only two-to-one. He also cites the inability of the air force and the navy to either destroy the road and rail crossings over the Yalu River between Manchuria and North Korea, or to thoroughly interdict the Communists’ supply routes to their front lines. The author, however, does not provide enough reference notes. This reviewer was often disappointed in being unable to find the source of some of Bruning’s facts. There is, however, apparently no reason to doubt the writer’s research, and most readers will not find this shortcoming objectionable. His extensive interviews with participants are put to good use. Crimson Sky is a fine book about an important subject. What’s more, it is fun to read.