Saturday, November 30, 2013

This Has Got to be The Very Best Short P-40 Book I've Ever Read






Thank You Dana Bell and Aircraft Pictorial/Classic Warship Publishing 

Ned Barnett

I just wrote this letter to the publisher, whom I know to correspond with (though we've never met).  This is about P-40 Warhawk by Dana Bell, Aircraft Pictorial #5, published by Classic Warship Publishing, Steve Wiper, publisher.

To Steve Wiper: Kudos to you for publishing this, and to Dana Bell for pulling it together and writing it. I have been all but obsessed with the P-40-series of aircraft (especially the early long-nose versions) for as long as I can remember, and I've bought and devoured, usually more than once, every book I've ever been able to find on the P-40, the P-36 and Curtiss fighters in general.

I say that to say this. I learned more that I never dreamed was out there from this slim volume than from any other source, bar-none. It was truly illuminating - not just about the wing fillets (though Dana is probably right that nobody had ever noticed them before) but in lots of other areas as well. A superb book, one I already cherish and one I'll keep referring back to.

I seldom write to authors or publishers, but I got the book earlier today in the mail, read it cover to cover over dinner in a burger joint, and got home just in time to write you.

That ended the letter. Let me add this.

This book has a remarkable collection of photos I've never seen before (again, that's rare as I have an extensive library of books on the P-40 series of aircraft) - and the photos are both color and B&W. Each one is carefully and fully identified, making this book remarkably useful to historians and modelers.

Right now, I'm writing a multi-part novel about the air war in the Pacific during the first year of WW-II, when these early-model P-40s flew in combat, and this book will be very helpful to me in "getting it right." But more than that, this book was informative, illuminating and insightful - I learned a lot. Buy it, read it, and you will too.

BTW - the novel can be found here on Amazon - just search my name and you'll see several titles, all eBook selections from the long novel (1,9,77 pages / 669,961 words and counting - think WEB Griffin).

The Frustration of Fumbled Oral Military History - A Lesson for Historical Novelists

Product Details

Why an Otherwise Pretty Good Oral History Book Leaves A Bad Impression - And What Historical Novelists Can Do To Prevent That

Ned Barnett

In researching my novel on aerial combat in the first year of the Pacific War, I'm currently reading a 1981 book, Corregidor: The American Alamo of World War II, by Eric Morris. This book is an oral history of sorts, based on interviews with dozens of men (and a few women) who were in the Philippines when Japan attacked.  A few of those interviewed escaped, but most of them had to survive the rigors of Japanese prison camps for nearly three years.

I imagine that this book - as most oral histories are - was inspired by Studs Terkel's ground-breaking "The Good War," a book that "wrote the book" on oral histories of World War II.  To the extent that it was, in fact, inspired by Terkel, that is a Good Thing, as Terkel's book is well worth reading, studying and emulating.

The book is eminently enjoyable, and in many cases truly enlightening, in that it gives the first-person views, experiences and feelings of the battle for the Philippines, from the air attacks on December 8, through the surrender of Corregidor the following May ... and beyond, to include the capture and imprisonment of those men and women who were left behind by MacArthur and America.

But the book is, to an historian like me, frustrating.  For it has all kinds of minor factual errors of the kind that Drive Me Nuts.  For instance - the Seversky P-35A fighter aircraft which equipped one fighter squadron on Luzon.  This aircraft had been built for Sweden, but with war clouds looming, it was commandeered by the US Army Air Corps and sent to the Philippines.  It was a generation out of date as a fighter, and - what's worse - its instruments were in Swedish, and the numbers were in meters and kilometers per hour, rather than feet and miles per hour. It was a very distinctive aircraft, not easily confused with any other.  Except, apparently, by Mr. Morris, who referred to it as a P-36, a very different aircraft (and the one which largely replaced the P-35 in US Air Corps service).

Even worse - anybody could make a numerical error like that, I suppose, but this was a factual error - he referred to its radial engine as a "rotary" engine - a type of radial engine used in World War I, but dropped almost as soon as that war ended when more powerful and modern engines came along.

Later, in talking about the new, state-of-the-art P-40, he referred to its Allison in-line engine as a "radial" engine - which was the very antithesis of the Allison V-12 inline engine.  Radials are round, with cylinders radiating in a circle around a central hub.  An inline V engine is no different than most V-6 or V-8 auto engines (except for having a dozen cylinders).  The difference is between night and day.

Less obvious, he referred to the volunteer American pilots who were in the process of traveling to China in the summer of 1941 - going there to fight the Japanese before World War II - as "Flying Tigers."  Those brave and courageous men eventually became known as the "Flying Tigers, but that was only after they entered combat - not while traveling to China.  At that time, they were merely the "American Volunteer Group," the AVG.

Finally (and I'm not through with the book yet, so there may be more), he referred to one of the aircraft flying over the Philippines in the immediate pre-war era as the B-23, a replacement for (and vast improvement over) the Douglas B-18 Bolo, which was based on the Douglas DC-2 airliner.  In fact, just 38 B-23s were built, and none of them ever left the continental United States, though once war started, a few flew anti-submarine patrols off the US coast.  There were, however, a dozen or two of the B-18s assigned to the PI (most that left the continental US were in Hawaii or the Caribbean, where they also flew anti-submarine patrols until better planes came along).

None of these mistakes makes earth-shattering, and none of them take away from the human interest and essential heroism of the Americans forced to fight the Japanese with no hope of relief or salvation (and forced to fight under a delusional Douglas MacArthur who made some of the most remarkably bad military decisions of his career in the ten months from July, 1941 through May, 1942).

Still, these mistakes could have been easily rectified by having the book read and edited by someone who knew the technology of military history, rather than just the human element.

This Is A New (to me) Approach for Keeping On Track When Writing an Historical Novel

 How I'm Using An Excel Spreadsheet To Keep Track Of Dates and Times, Relevant History and My Characters  

Ned Barnett

Let's face it - if you write an epic historical novel, you've got to figure out some way of keeping track of everything.  The alternative involves relying on the Mark One - Mod 1 Organic Memory Storage Unit (the brain), and sometimes, I'm convinced that memory is the second thing to go ... and I can no longer remember what the first thing is.

OK, last bad pun.  Promise.

I've developed something new to me (obviously not to others, though I haven't heard of it before) to help me with my massive-and-growing historical novel about the start and first year of the War in the Pacific (WW-II).  The book is:

"Year One - Pacific ... Aerial Combat from Pearl Harbor to Guadalcanal ... and Beyond"

It is also currently at 1,977 pages, or 669,961 words - which is why I'm publishing sections - some of them mini-books of 150 or more pages - on Amazon:

To help me keep track of everything, I have already created an extensive bibliography to help me remember of what I've read in the way of research (it helps when i need to go back and clarify a point of historical fact).  In addition, I've already put together a 70-page collection of character bios (so when I return to a character after 750 pages or so, I can remember who they are).

However, starting last night, I've been using Excel to create a timeline - from the 1890s through WW-II and even beyond to Korea - and for each character, I'm putting down what they did on a given year, or month, day - or (for some hectic days like December 7 or June 4), parts of days. 

At the top of the page, in a line that is always at the top of the page (it took me a couple of hours to figure out how to do that), is the date and the historical events that took place on that date (September 1, 1939, Hitler invades Poland, launching WW-II in Europe).  Then, for each character in turn, if he or she did something important on that date, I add it in.

Already I see a couple of benefits.  First, I'm seeing characters who I'd created for just one scene, who could easily be involved in other parts of the book.  Since the interconnectedness of the characters is important (if you've read anything by WEB Griffin or Tom Clancy, you know what I mean by that).  Next, I'm spotting critical dates and historical events that are not included in the book. Yet.

I offer this as an insight that other writers of historical fiction (or, for that matter, any fiction), might find useful.  If you do, please drop me a line and let me know - and if you've got a better way, HELP!  I'm wide open.