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TWO RIVALS IN THE SKY

P-39/P-400 Airacobra vs A6M2/3 Zero-sen: New Guinea 1942  - Michael John Claringbould

"P-39/P-400 AIRACOBRA vs A6M2/3 ZERO-SEN: New Guinea 1942" is a concise book which describes to the reader a time during the early days of the Pacific War in which 2 rival fighter planes battled for aerial superiority over New Guinea. 

From the commencement of hostilities in December 1941 and well into the following year, Imperial Japan was in the ascendant in Asia and the Pacific. Its forces had invaded New Guinea in January 1942 as part of a plan to expand and consolidate Japan's power and control over land and resources vital to its security and economic needs. By the time the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) arrived in April 1942 with the Airacobra to contest Japan's almost total air superiority, the Imperial Japanese Naval Air Force (IJNAF) with its superlative Zero-Sen fighter had largely taken the measure of the Royal Australian Air Force's (RAAF) P-40 Kittyhawk fighter. Many of the pilots flying the Zero-Sen were fully blooded veterans of the battles in China, the Philippines, and the Dutch East Indies. Their counterparts in the USAAF flying the Airacobra were largely untried in combat, yet eager to pit their flying skills against the Japanese. 

The book conveys to the reader the nature of combat over New Guinea as faced by the P-39/P-400 and the Zero-Sen fighter pilots. New Guinea was bedeviled with challenging tropical conditions and treacherous weather throughout 1942. In many key respects, the Zero-Sen was a qualitatively better fighter plane than the P-39/P-400 Airacobra, which best functioned at low and medium altitudes. 

In reading this book, I learned a great deal about the determination and sheer grit of those pilots flying the P-39/P-400 Airacobra and the A6M2/3 Zero-Sen during the battles Japan waged throughout 1942 to gain control of New Guinea. Indeed, one of the hallmarks of "P-39/P-400 AIRACOBRA vs A6M2/3 ZERO-SEN: New Guinea 1942" is its many photos and illustrations. They give the reader a palpable sense of what the Pacific War was like at a time when Allied victory was far from certain. 

From reading this book, I now have the greatest admiration for those USAAF pilots who bravely took the P-39/P-400 Airacobra into the skies during 1942 to challenge Japanese military power in New Guinea. They managed to hold their own until the USAAF was able to phase out the Airacobra and bring in vastly better performing fighters (e.g., the P-38 Lightning and the P-47 Thunderbolt) to help turn the tide of the Pacific War. The Imperial Japanese Navy, by contrast, lost many of its top fighter pilots and the attrition suffered by its fighter units in New Guinea during 1942 contributed to the diminution of Japanese air power there.