Cover image for Fire in the sky : the air war in the South Pacific
Fire in the sky : the air war in the South Pacific
Bergerud, Eric M.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Boulder, Colo. : Westview Press, 2000.
Physical Description:
xxviii, 723 pages, 24 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, maps ; 24 cm
Reading Level:
1140 Lexile.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
D785 .B45 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



In the first two years of the Pacific War of World War II, air forces from Japan, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand engaged in a ruthless struggle for superiority in the skies over the Solomon Islands and New Guinea. Despite operating under primitive conditions in a largely unknown and malignant physical environment, both sides employed the most sophisticated technology available at the time in a strategically crucial war of aerial attrition. In one of the largest aerial campaigns in history, the skies of the South Pacific were dominated first by the dreaded Japanese Zeros, then by Allied bombers, which launched massed raids at altitudes under fifty feet, and finally by a ferocious Allied fighter onslaught led by a cadre of the greatest aces in American military history.Utilizing primary sources and scores of interviews with surviving veterans of all ranks and duties, Eric Bergerud recreates the fabric of the air war as it was fought in the South Pacific. He explores the technology and tactics, the three-dimensional battlefield, and the leadership, living conditions, medical challenges, and morale of the combatants. The reader will be rewarded with a thorough understanding of how air power functioned in World War II from the level of command to the point of fire in air-to-air combat.

Author Notes

Eric M. Bergerud is professor of military and American history at Lincoln University in San Francisco

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

The author of the outstanding history of World War II South Pacific land warfare, Touched with Fire (1996), takes to the sky in its companion. The South Pacific air campaign began with the defense of Australia and ended with the approach to the Philippines. It engaged the bulk of Japanese air power in a series of battles against steadily increasing Allied superiority in quality and numbers, with the consequence that land-and sea-based Japanese air power was crippled by 1944, which may have shortened the war by two years. Bergerud's coverage is comprehensive. He considers the technical merits of the aircraft on both sides; the living conditions of ground crews; Australia's and New Zealand's contributions, often in obsolete aircraft, which are seldom fully credited in American accounts; and the role of abrasive, charismatic, technically innovative General George Kenney, one of the unsung heroes of the Allied air effort in the Pacific. Catering equally well to both casual and studious readers, Bergerud's new book deserves a high berth in World War II and aviation collections. --Roland Green

Publisher's Weekly Review

A scant three years after publishing his account of WWII's land war in the Pacific (Touched with Fire), historian Bergerud has completed an exhaustive companion volume addressing the theater's ferocious air war. Bergerud states clearly at the outset that he has attempted to cover both sides of the Pacific air war fairly; but, he notes, fairness dictates acknowledging "that something went very wrong in Japan during the 1930s and that the air war in Asia was due to Tokyo's overaggressive nature." Giving Japanese pilots their due, however, Bergerud portrays them alongside their American counterparts as honorable and worthy warriors. Indeed, the cutting-edge Japanese Zero fighter plane gave Tokyo an early advantage that threatened to overwhelm the Americans. Refreshingly multidimensional, with battle tales carefully crafted within the context of the overall campaign, this meticulously documented work portrays both the stark conditions and the high stakes of one of the largest air wars in history. Although much of the factual material comes from archival sources, the meat of the work is in the firsthand interviews with the rapidly dwindling pool of Pacific war veterans. The nuggets are well worth digging for. One American former pilot, for example, describes being forced to belly flop his plane after being attacked by an enemy Tony aircraft: "I have no idea whether that Tony pilot claimed me as a victory, but he certainly had a legitimate right to because my airplane was forced to crash-land and was totally wiped out." Scenes such as these help this fine history bring home with clarity the perils and rewards of the Pacific campaign and, in the process, illustrate lessons of value to today's military commanders. Photos and maps. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Part two in Bergerud's history of the Pacific War focuses on aviation's major contribution to the effort (Touched with Fire dealt with the land campaigns). The historian uses his trademark thoroughness, eyewitness interviews, and boundless energy to produce the unoriginal thesis that Japan's goal of expanding into the South Pacific was doomed by poor leadership and a military ethic that hindered its response to the Allied onslaught. While the author's theme is not new, his participant accounts add authenticity to the sweep of the story. Though Bergerud covers only the period from the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941 to the close of 1943 (when he contends the war's outcome was no longer in doubt), he still dissects previously neglected facets of the battlegrounds, from the physical conditions and their health effects to the machinery for building landing fields. While repetitious and overly long, this wide-ranging history with aviation at its heart offers new perspectives on a brutal and epic war.--Mel D. Lane, Sacramento, CA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Remarkably little has been written on WW II air combat in the Pacific. The Pacific air war was small by WW II standards, but seizure of air bases was the central Allied strategy of the Pacific campaign. Bergerud's detailed analysis of the Pacific theater brings balance to the study of air power during WW II. The book is arranged topically in three parts. Part 1 deals with battlefields, strategy, and geography. Part 2 describes and assesses the effectiveness of the aircraft and the men who flew and maintained them. Part 3 consists of an analysis of air tactics and missions. Although the subject is largely technical, the study is well written and easily accessible to general readers. It is based primarily on interviews with Allied airmen, official histories, and secondary sources. It has too many long, unedited quotations, but they are nonetheless interesting. The author does not shy from controversy and offers opinions on nearly every aspect of the Pacific War, sometimes straying from his central topic. These shortcomings aside, this excellent book is a must for any WW II collection. All levels. C. J. Weeks; Southern Polytechnic State University

Table of Contents

List of Mapsp. ix
Important Military Terms, Acronyms, and Place-namesp. xi
Prefacep. xv
Mapsp. xxiii
Part 1 The Three-Dimensional Battlefieldp. 1
1 Defining the Battlefield: Air-Base Networksp. 5
War in an Unlikely Place: Japanese Air-Base Networks in the South Pacificp. 5
Sites for Victory: Allied Base Networksp. 49
2 The Land and Airp. 95
Modern War in a Primitive Placep. 97
A Malignant Landp. 125
A Dangerous Skyp. 137
Part 2 Machines and Men in the South Pacificp. 155
3 Japanese Warplanesp. 189
Japanese Navy Aircraftp. 199
Japanese Army Aircraftp. 219
4 Allied Aircraftp. 227
Allied Fightersp. 239
Allied Bombersp. 272
5 Airmen in the South Pacificp. 309
Preparation for Warp. 310
Moralep. 341
Part 3 Fire in the Sky: Air Battle in the South Pacificp. 407
6 Deadly Geometry: Fighter Warfare in the South Pacificp. 445
Fighter Formations and Missionsp. 446
Maneuver and Meleep. 465
7 Making History: Bombers in the South Pacificp. 531
A Confused Startp. 540
Allied Bombers Take Controlp. 562
Helping the Ground-Poundersp. 598
The Destruction of Japanese Airpowerp. 621
Conclusionp. 657
Chronology of Eventsp. 677
Author's Note on Technical Information Including Table of Major Warplanes in the South Pacific Theaterp. 679
Notesp. 685
Sources and Bibliographyp. 695
Indexp. 703