A blog about miniatures, wargaming, and the people driven to ruin by them....

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Book Reviews: Fox Two, Blue Berets, ... and Predator Cold War


Part two of my month of book readings begins here....

Fox Two:  The Story of America's First Ace in Vietnam, Randy Cunningham and Jeff Ethell.  Now, Jeff Ethell was also the author of Air War South Atlantic, which I also read this past month.  I will begin by saying that I don't think that Fox Two is written as well as Air War South Atlantic... but, it is informative, technically sound, and still interesting.

The paucity of American aces in Vietnam was due primarily by the lack of targets for American pilots.  It was also the result of the direction American fighters and fighter pilot training had gone... by focusing on missiles and missile platforms, American pilots lost their dogfighting ability.  I digress..

"Duke" Cunningham and his RIO Willie Driscoll earned their five victories during Randy's second tour, late in the American phase of the war.  The book covers in detail the types of missions that were flown, some of the workings of a US carrier at this time, the aircraft that were flown, what weapons were used... and Randy's personal feelings about everything.  He certainly was not fond of Jane Fonda, American press, or the anti-war movement.  On the other hand, he remarked several times how much he appreciated the efforts of the enlisted crews supporting him and his aircraft.  Its commendable to see this ace acknowledge the often overlooked work carried out by enlisted personnel... and pleasant to read how happy they were when "their" pilot downed his MiGs.

You certainly get a feel for the bleakness of the US air war in Vietnam, a war primarily fought by the pilots against SAMs and AA guns.

This book was short, and didn't seem to be as "professionally" written as others I have read.  I won't call it a great book, but it is worth reading (I picked up my copy for a quarter at a yard sale)... though I do feel I have to mention, that this American ace would eventually end up in serious legal trouble many years later.  Here in Vietnam at least, he had his moment, and deserves this recognition.

Inside the Blue Berets, Steven Zaloga.  If you are a wargamer, its quite likely you have a book or two from Zaloga.  This is the first non-Osprey of his I have read.  Its a large book, chronicling the development of the Soviet (then Russian) airborne forces, known as the blue berets.  Its well written, informative, and I learned several new things.  However....

It's almost like its two books.  Not that Zaloga divided it that way, in fact, I get the feeling that it is not his fault at all.  The first part of the book details the initial stages of the airborne, through all of their WWII actions.  I think the problem is Soviet records, perhaps also because these were written under Stalin's rule.  Its just simply what planes were used, where they were dropped, and how many were killed in losing the battle.  Because, essentially, they lost almost every drop battle apparently.  This large section of the book has some interesting parts, and might be useful for mapping out these WWII combat drops... but it just doesn't have a lot of detail, and I found parts of it boring.

Then, as the book gets to the 1950's and 1960's, the information is deeper, more detailed, more thorough.  It must be the available records being more complete, and less censored than under Stalin.  Whatever the reason, from here to the end, suddenly this is a great book to have on the shelf.

Here the actions of the VDV in putting down revolts in Eastern Europe coincide with the development of airborne equipment (ASU-57 to ASU-85, BMD, aircraft, helicopters).  Zaloga makes a strong case for why the Soviet government would turn to the VDV as its "Imperial Storm Troopers" whenever the need for action was desperate.  In short, the blue berets were capable and reliable... unlike most other units in the Soviet army.  Since they were so small in comparison to the rest of the army, the Soviets were able to gamble on new ideas and equipment (being a small portion of their spending).  The most expensive programs were for aircraft... which could be used for other things as well.

The book continues through Afghanistan, explaining different tiers of Speznatz (and why we are confused about what this means), the coups of the 1990's, and the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

For someone interested in the Cold War, or the VDV, this is a good book to have.  If you get a copy, and find the beginning bogging down (maybe, for you, you will like it better than me), I think you will still enjoy the latter half.

Predator:  Cold War, Nathan Archer.  I do read fiction, science fiction, and fantasy.  This is a novel dealing with the alien hunters, the Predators, crashing in Siberia, and fighting Russian soldiers and scientists.  Sounded interesting, and for a quarter, why not?

Short version of the review:  it sucked.  Not particularly interesting, not well researched (technically written ok, but writing about police, spies, and soldiers... it shows when you don't know what you are talking about), not worth the time to read, not worth a quarter to buy.  But, it was one of the books I read in the past month, so I included it in my review.

Okay then, there it is.  I think I will try to review books again in a few weeks.... for better or for worse!

Thanks for reading.


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