Fans of military aircraft cannot ask for more than what Osprey Publishing provides with its Combat Aircraft Series. The series authors and illustrators are historians who focus on specific models of aircraft and their crews during a narrow period of warfare.
US Navy F-4 Phantom II Units of the Vietnam War 1969-73 (Osprey, 96 pp.; $23, paper; $18.40, Kindle) is author Peter E. Davies’ twenty-third book in the series. For it, he interviewed Navy and Marine Corps fliers who operated from aircraft carriers.
Illustrator Jim Laurier, who has worked with Osprey since 2000, contributes thirty color profile paintings of F-4 Phantom IIs with distinct markings of their aircraft carriers. A history of each plane complements his artwork.
Nearly every page of the book contains a photograph of crewmen or an airplane. Captions provide related facts to enhance readers’ knowledge of Navy operations.
Davies first explains the fighter aircraft environment before the 1969-73 period that he concentrates on. He examines changes in the F-4 II airframe, its missiles and tactics, as well as the political climate—for good and for bad. Comments by pilots provide an insider’s view. For example, when discussing a Phantom-MIG Fresco duel, he quotes Lt. Cdr. Ronald “Mugs” McKeown, who says, “It’s like a knife fight in a phone booth.”
This format continues through the book. Vivid accounts by fliers who fought the war support theories and practices of the time—again, for both good and ill.
Davies presents a clear picture of what it was like for F-4 II crewmen when they hit problems in air-to-air, interdiction, and close support sorties. Along with striking targets in South Vietnam, carrier-based planes bombed North Vietnam and Laos. In addition to normal survival concerns, crewmen coped with problems ranging from frustration due to complex rules of engagement to the dealing with the rationale behind awarding medals. Davies emphasizes stories involving hunting and killing MIGs, the premier accomplishment of fighter jocks.
To keep the ledger honest, Davies includes successes and failures of MIG pilots who challenged U.S. aircraft and ships.
Insights from the Navy fliers brought back many memories. Anyone with even a minimal interest in military tactics or warfare should find satisfaction with this book.
Davies has a talent for finding and reporting what is important. I especially enjoyed reading about idiosyncrasies of aircraft carrier operations. They reconfirmed my appreciation for my flying career with the Air Force.