Slybirds...

...A Photographic Odyssey of the 353rd Fighter Group During WW2, from Fighting High Publishing, via Casemate Books

Title:  Slybirds

Author: Graham Cross

Publisher:  Fighting High Publishing

ISBN:  978-0-9934152-6-5

The author is historian for the 353rd Fighter Group and a respected expert on the 8th Air Force of WW2.  This new photographic history of the unit and the individual squadrons within the Group is bound to be popular, containing many previously unpublished photos.  Also included are some fine colour artworks illustrating the unit badges, even if they were not officially recognised at the time.

The 353rd Fighter Group became Operational in 1943, and prior to that had formed up as one of the planned fighter groups needed to support the bombers of the US 8th Air Force.  The 353rd was the fourth fighter group to be formed, and by 1944 was one of 15 operating in the 8th Air Force.

After an introduction which provides some useful background, it grows into 14 chapters packed with archive photos, each with informative captioning.  Each chapter adds a particular aspect to the story of the group between 1943 and the end of the war in 1945, when they were able to return home.  Chapter 1 takes us through 'Building a Fighter Group - Enter the Thunderbolt'.  The 353rd FG was first formed in October 1942 in the USA, bringing the men and equipment together and undergoing basic training.  At first they used the P40 Warhawk, but by early 1943 they transitioned to the larger P-47 Thunderbolt.  It was early June 1943 when the unit shipped out to come to the UK, to their first home at Goxhill in Lincolnshire. Pictures include the early Warhawks, as well as portraits of the early commanders and members of the unit, along with their aircraft.  Even during the initial training periods accidents happened.  In chapter 2, 'To the Limit of Their Endurance' it moves on to the early escort missions they undertook to escort the bombers on their raids.  The Thunderbolt was tough and heavily armed, but it did suffer from a lack of range, even with extra tanks.  Then we get to 'Group Support' and the vital part played by the maintenance teams and support units.  This features pictures of various unit 'hacks' which might surprise some, such as Tiger Moths, Percival Proctor and Airspeed Oxford among others, and of particular interest for the modeller for showing these types in US markings, while their medical team also used British Austin K2 ambulances.  This leads into the next chapters, which cover 'Down to Earth - Dive Bombers and Buzz Boys' as they learnt ground attack operations and then chapters concentrating on each of the three individual squadrons that made up the Group, the people and their aircraft.

With chapter 8 we get to the topic of 'Accidents, Battle Damage and Crashes' and the sad consequences of flight operations in wartime.  With chapter 9 it will be modellers who especially enjoy the topic of Markings, Nose Art and Famous Aircraft.  Within this there is of course one of the famous recognition features of the group, and their use of yellow and black chequerboard nose markings.  This was a feature of the Thunderbolt and it was carried forward and used on the P-51 Mustangs which the group transitioned to in 1944.  Back to some alternative aircraft types illustrated in chapter 10 with 'Visitors to the Slybirds', those aircraft which dropped in to their bases at both Metfield and Raydon.  This is followed by 'Off Duty, Rest and Relaxation'  then 'Goldfish, Evaders, Escapers anfd Kriegies' (where Goldfish relates to those aircrew picked up by air-sea rescue.  Chapter 13 covers the unit successes, 'Achtung Indianer! - Air to Air and Jet victories of the 353rd', while the final chapter, number 14, is the '353rd Fighter Group Honour Roll'.

The basic story and detailed information is interesting reading, while the number of archive photos, and mix of both colour and black and white images will be a delight to modellers and 8th Air Force historians alike.  Heartily recommended.

Thanks to Casemate Books who are the distributors for Fighting High Publishing.

Robin