57th Fighter Group, "First in the Blue"

Published: April 19th, 2011     
Product Image
Book cover
Author: Carl Molesworth
Reviewed by: 
Anthony Tvaryanas, IPMS# 44156
Company: Osprey Publishing
ISBN #: 978-1849083379
Other Publication Information: Softcover; 128-pp; 9.5 x 7.2 x 0.4
Price: $25.95

Often overlooked in historical accounts of U.S fighter operations during World War II, the 57th Fighter Group (FG) served with distinction during nearly three years of continuous combat in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations. Activated in January 1941, the then 57th Pursuit Group deployed to North Africa in July 1942, launching their Curtiss P-40 Warhawks from the deck of the U.S.S Ranger, and in the process, becoming the first U.S. Army Air Force (USAAF) unit to deploy in group strength from the deck of an aircraft carrier. The 57th FG joined the British in "The Blue," Royal Air Force Desert Air Force slang for the North African desert stretching west of Cairo, earning the distinction of being the first USAAF to fight in North Africa. During the Allied ground campaign against the Afrika Korps, the 57th FG pioneered fighter-bomber operations in the theater; they also took a toll on Luftwaffe and Regia Aeronautica aircraft, culminating in the April 1943 "Palm Sunday Massacre" in which the group was credited with shooting down no fewer than 74 aircraft during a 20-minute engagement over the Gulf of Tunis.

With the capture of North Africa complete in May 1943, the 57th FG joined the 12th Air Force supporting the invasion of first Sicily - in turn becoming the first USAAF fighter group to fight on Sicily - and then Italy. Starting in November 1943, the 57th FG began a gradual transition to the P-47 Thunderbolt. While the 57th FG found the P-47 to be a competent air-to-air fighter, they thought it necessary to undertake a significant field modification of the aircraft to make it a better fighter-bomber:  the 57th FG took the P-47 from Thunderbolt to "Thunderbomber."  The 57th FG also pioneered dropping 1000-lb bombs from the P-47, becoming the first group to carry two 1000-lb bombs on the aircraft. When the Allied armies advance stalled in Italy, the 57th FG played a major role in Operation Strangle, the first full-scale planned interdiction campaign of World War II. The 57th FG continued to pound retreating Axis forces in Italy until the end of the war in Europe, in the process becoming the first USAAF FG to complete 4000 missions against the enemy. By war's end, the 57th FG had won three Distinguished Unit Citations and destroyed 184 enemy aircraft and thousands of enemy tanks, trucks, and other material.

Carl Molesworth attempts to compile a detailed chronological combat history of the famous 57th FG. His narrative follows a distinct pattern, first chronicling a combat event and then immediately following up with a first-hand account drawn from the archives and/or his personal correspondence with veterans. Descriptions of individual combat events are frequently accompanied by period black and white photographs, and on the whole the book is well-illustrated with more than 110 photographs. Molesworth uses his story telling technique generally to good effect, often capturing vignettes of "a day in the life" of both pilots and maintenance/support personnel who were frequently living under very austere and trying conditions, particularly in North Africa. His pattern, however, becomes repetitive at times and in places the story bogs down in details.

There are 31 high-quality color plates of various P-40s and P-47s (as well as a single captured SM.79 in U.S. markings) flown by the 57th Fighter Group during the period from August 1941 through the spring of 1945. A concise discussion is provided in the appendix of each depicted aircraft's history and unique attributes of its markings. An additional page provides graphics of the unit heraldry to include the squadron badges of the group and its constituent squadrons (i.e., the 64th FS, 65th FS, and 66th FS). Four period color photographs of P-47s are provided over two pages as well.

I would like to thank IPMS/USA and Osprey Publishing for the opportunity to review this book.

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