hell hawks

Who’s Your Daddy?

People say you can’t judge a book by its cover.   Maybe so; but the minute I laid eyes on the cover of Hell Hawks: The Untold Story of the American Fliers Who Savaged Hitler’s Wehrmacht, I had to read the book.  Why?  Because I wanted to find out if these guys really did savage the Wehrmacht; and if so, why has their story remained untold?

The Hell Hawks were the 365th Fighter Group, three fighter bomber squadrons flying the P-47 Thunderbolt, affectionately called the “Jug.”  Theirs was a gritty and unglamorous mission flown by pilots fresh from flight training.  Most were barely twenty years old.  Often working at treetop level in poor weather, they bombed and strafed everything that moved; from tanks, trucks, and trains to troops deployed in ground positions.  Stationary targets were not immune from their attacks either, especially aircraft parked on German airfields.

The 365th arrived in the European theater just prior to D-Day, and flew their last mission the day the Nazis surrendered.  During the Allied Forces’ advance across Europe, the group’s operating base was constantly moved to provide easy access to the front lines.  For both pilots and maintenance crews this meant a daily routine of living in tents surrounded by cold mud; not unlike the GIs they were supporting.

On New Year’s Day 1945, the Hell Hawks found themselves on the receiving end of their own tactics.  Early that day two Groups of Luftwaffe Bf 109Gs attacked the 365th operating base near the Alsatian city of Metz.  Their intent was to destroy the base and loosen the Allied hold over the airspace over The Bulge.   The raid took the Hell Hawks by surprise, and left most of their aircraft badly damaged or completely destroyed.  But they maintained their grip over The Bulge; because in just a few days after the attack, their ramp was filled with shiny new aircraft fresh from the factory.  This was not surprising considering that America manufactured nearly 100,000 aircraft in 1944.  When one of the Luftwaffe pilots who was shot down and captured near the airfield was shown the line of new aircraft, his only comment was, “That is what is beating us!”

One of the things I like about Hell Hawks is that it is written with the careful precision of a historian; while at the same time containing enough photographs and personal recollections to make the story come alive. 

There is a taunt sometimes heard on the streets that goes like this, “Who’s your daddy?” As an old fighter bomber pilot, I’ve decided that my daddy was a Hell Hawk in World War II!

Hell Hawks is published by Book Surge Publishing and can be ordered at major online book sellers including Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.

Reviewed by: Ron Standerfer for Reader Views (June/2009)

Ron Standerfer is a freelance writer and photographer who is a frequent contributor to Blogger News Network. His latest novel, The Eagle’s Last flight chronicles the life of an Air Force fighter pilot during the Cold War and Vietnam years. Details of the book can be found on www.ronstanderfer.com .

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