Race of Aces
The astonishing untold story of the WWII airmen who risked it all in the deadly race to become the greatest American fighter pilot.In 1942, America's deadliest fighter pilot, or "ace of aces"-the legendary Eddie Rickenbacker-offered a bottle of bourbon to the first U.S. fighter pilot to break his record of twenty-six enemy planes shot down. Seizing on the challenge to motivate his men, General George Kenney promoted what they would come to call the "race of aces" as a way of boosting the spirits of his war-weary command. What developed was a wild three-year sprint for fame and glory, and the chance to be called America's greatest fighter pilot. The story has never been told until now. Based on new research and full of revelations, John Bruning's brilliant, original book tells the story of how five American pilots contended for personal glory in the Pacific while leading Kenney's resurgent air force against the most formidable enemy America ever faced.The pilots-Richard Bong, Tommy McGuire, Neel Kearby, Charles MacDonald and Gerald Johnson-riveted the nation as they contended for Rickenbacker's crown. As their scores mounted, they transformed themselves from farm boys and aspiring dentists into artists of the modern dogfight. But as the race reached its climax, some of the pilots began to see how the spotlight warped their sense of duty. They emerged as leaders, beloved by their men as they chose selfless devotion over national accolades. Teeming with action all across the vast Pacific theater, Race of Aces is a fascinating exploration of the boundary between honorable duty, personal glory, and the complex landscape of the human heart

Race of Aces Details

TitleRace of Aces
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseJan 14th, 2020
PublisherHachette Books
ISBN-139780316508629
Rating
GenreHistory, Aviation, Nonfiction, Military, Military History, War, World War II, Military Fiction

Race of Aces Review

  • Marc
    January 1, 1970
    When I was in high school back in the early 80's, I read Steve Birdsall's excellent book on the 5th Air Force, "Flying Buccaneers", and fell in love with the great race by several pilots to become the highest-scoring American ace of World War II. In the following years, I read stories about Richard Bong, Thomas McGuire, Neel Kearby, Gerald Johnson and Charles MacDonald in various other books, but never knew how much the desire to be Number One consumed some of them...until now.John Bruning has When I was in high school back in the early 80's, I read Steve Birdsall's excellent book on the 5th Air Force, "Flying Buccaneers", and fell in love with the great race by several pilots to become the highest-scoring American ace of World War II. In the following years, I read stories about Richard Bong, Thomas McGuire, Neel Kearby, Gerald Johnson and Charles MacDonald in various other books, but never knew how much the desire to be Number One consumed some of them...until now.John Bruning has written a fantastic book about these five men (albeit with a bit more emphasis on Bong and Johnson) and how the competition to first surpass Eddie Rickenbacker's World War I victory total of 26, and then be the highest scoring American of World War II, consumed some of them and became a major story in newspapers across the United States. Most of the previous books I'd read about these pilots focused more on the facts about their numbers of victories and had virtually nothing about the more human sides of all of them. Bruning looks at each one in detail, with Bong and Johnson being a bit more detailed, and gives background on their upbringing, personalities, families, training and how they ended up competing against one another in the skies over New Guinea and the Philippines. For Bong and Johnson there is much detail about their early flight training and their love of the special women waiting back home for them in the U.S.From the early days of flying P-39 and P-40 fighters to the later days of P-47 and P-38 supremacy, this book focuses mainly on a few fighter groups and squadrons, and is a bit of a love letter to the P-38 Lightning. Since the P-38 was the plane which four of the five pilots profiled flew the majority of the time, it's story is an integral part of their stories as well. The P-38 was my father's favorite plane from World War II and this made the book a bit more special to me.Unfortunately, this book doesn't have a happy ending for four of the five pilots, something which they all deserved and which they fought so hard to achieve. Bruning's book is a wonderful tribute to these five heroes (and several others) and belongs in the library of anyone interested in the 5th Air Force, American aces and/or the war in the Southwest Pacific. Truly an excellent read.
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  • Dan Curnutt
    January 1, 1970
    What an interesting historic novel. Bruning takes us on a fascinating read about the exploits of our air campaigns in the South Pacific. We follow the true lives of several pilots who go from average every day life to that of being wartime hero's. But on the way we get a great documented telling of the struggles of getting the right planes, the right pilots and the right leaders into the war theatre.It was disheartening to read about the many pilots that never made it into war because they were What an interesting historic novel. Bruning takes us on a fascinating read about the exploits of our air campaigns in the South Pacific. We follow the true lives of several pilots who go from average every day life to that of being wartime hero's. But on the way we get a great documented telling of the struggles of getting the right planes, the right pilots and the right leaders into the war theatre.It was disheartening to read about the many pilots that never made it into war because they were killed flying planes that were untested and needed further development before they could go to war. How terrible it was to loose pilots just because equipment wasn't truly ready to fly!But the story documents the lives of airmen who are challenged to break the record of ACES from WWI. Can they do better than scoring 20 plus kills? Can they become the next "ACE" pilot? Can they survive all of the cards stacked against them? Can they provide air cover for our ground troops and Navy so that we can prosecute the war in a way that will allow us to win?I found this book interesting and yet sad because of what war does to people.I think anyone would benefit from reading this account of the war and learning what brave men and women had to endure, overcome and accomplish so that we could live in a nation like the United States.
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  • Deon Stonehouse
    January 1, 1970
    Wow, he can write! He has all of the requisite footnotes and indexes to prove this was a comprehensively researched book, but it races across the page like a tsunami! That we won the war in the Pacific is a near on miracle. Our guys were fighting in inhospitable places, outnumbered, against a foe that did not tolerate frailty or failure. What did we have? A bunch of crazy brave young men willing to hurl themselves into the sky flying unpredictable machines into fierce battles with the odds Wow, he can write! He has all of the requisite footnotes and indexes to prove this was a comprehensively researched book, but it races across the page like a tsunami! That we won the war in the Pacific is a near on miracle. Our guys were fighting in inhospitable places, outnumbered, against a foe that did not tolerate frailty or failure. What did we have? A bunch of crazy brave young men willing to hurl themselves into the sky flying unpredictable machines into fierce battles with the odds dramatically against them.Nor were the Japanese and jungles their only foe. Our pilots were given planes sometimes more intent on killing them than the Japanese! Profit over human safety in the manufacture of planes is not a new phenomenon. Lockheed’s P-38 Lightening was designed to go higher, faster thus have a better chance at taking on the nimble Japanese zeroes. A good idea, but poor execution. The planes had a nasty habit of killing the pilot and destroying their expensive selves. Engine failure on takeoff was one of the nasty surprises that felled plane and pilot. Or how about going in to battle and guns won’t work? It is not as if their foe would give them a time out from a ferocious battle to go fix their guns! As the planes were delivered and pilots trained on the complicated new system, in April 1942 there were 20 fatal crashes in California and Washington. Young pilots killed by their planes before they even got a chance at the intended foe. In 1942 the battle in the Pacific was not going well. General MacArthur, not a fan of the Air Force to begin with, was finding no reason to believe they were going to help win this war. Then two things happened. General George Kenney, an experienced battle-hardened pilot himself, took over the pilots and a gauntlet was thrown. Our flyboys were not about to walk away from a dare. Captain Eddie Rickenbacker was the stuff of legends, a larger than life hero. Fighting over the killing fields of WWI he shot down 26 enemy planes and won the highest award for combat, the Medal of Honor. He visited the Pacific, talking with the flyboys, keeping them spellbound as he recounted some of his exploits. He was known as the ace of aces, the best of the best. The highest total for an ace in the Pacific was Buzz Wagner with 8. Quite a difference. But the skies were buzzing with Japanese, a target rich environment. General Kenney seized the moment offering a case of scotch to the first pilot to beat Captain Rickenbacker’s record and the race was on!But this was war, not a game, the stakes were life and death. John Bruning introduces us to the flyboys who took up the challenge. Gerald Johnson, a hometown kid from Eugene Oregon, an outdoors enthusiast, bit of a dare devil, totally besotted with his sweetheart Barbara. Dick Bong, a quiet farm boy from Wisconsin with an affinity for machinery nurtured from his years of working on farm equipment. Tommy McGuire, a smart New Jersey transplant to Florida, a rich kid surrounded by poor boys who never quite fit in. Tom Lynch, movie star handsome, with a degree in chemical engineering and the makings of a career in command. And others, all treated with respect and compassion by Bruning as he details a race that had far more consequences than any game. Bruning takes the story from the delivery of the P-38’s to young flyboys with a penchant for mischief on to the end of the war and conclusion of the Race of Aces. Zooming under the Golden Gate Bridge, skimming the water at screaming speed. Exhilarating! Doesn’t that sound life fun??? Well, I might think it sounds like something pretty cool to try, but Air Force command was not amused. The battle scenes in the Pacific are detailed, well researched, and gripping. Our flyboys diving in against outrageous odds, crazy brave. And in the end, war exacts its price. The Race of Aces is thoroughly researched with the foot notes to prove it, but it reads like a thriller, the scenes brought to vivid life in remembrance of young men who gave their all for their country.
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  • Dan Trefethen
    January 1, 1970
    For those people interested in WWII aviation, this book provides a blow-by-blow, turn-by-turn account of many of the major air battles and dogfights in the Pacific theater, mostly during the campaign on New Guinea, leading up to and including the invasion of the Philippines.Aerial warfare is a curious thing. Official counts are kept of enemy planes downed (called “kills” although the pilot may survive). Pilots either receive official credit, or credited with a 'probable', or uncredited when For those people interested in WWII aviation, this book provides a blow-by-blow, turn-by-turn account of many of the major air battles and dogfights in the Pacific theater, mostly during the campaign on New Guinea, leading up to and including the invasion of the Philippines.Aerial warfare is a curious thing. Official counts are kept of enemy planes downed (called “kills” although the pilot may survive). Pilots either receive official credit, or credited with a 'probable', or uncredited when there are no allied witnesses or camera evidence. There are no shared credits, so when there's a conflict between two pilots who both fired on a plane, one of them gets sole credit. In some cases it came down to a coin flip or drawing cards.This official crediting system gave rise to a competition among pilots to become the biggest Ace in US history, after WWI Ace Eddie Rickenbacker promised a case of whiskey to the Ace who beat his WWI record of 26. The press stoked the competitive fires, and the government saw it as a good morale-boosting exercise for the general public.Unfortunately, it had deadly consequences for pilots. As the race heated up, leading contenders flouted common air warfare practice to go 'freelancing' to hunt enemy aircraft. Some of these men were killed by doing things that they would normally not do, and in fact had preached against doing earlier. The race warped their judgment. In their defense, there was a lot of pressure on them, and the conditions were physically and psychologically exhausting.The author has done an astonishing amount of research to get this fine a detail. It's a real “You are there” approach, although some of the third-person omniscient narrative may be suspect (you ask yourself 'how does he know what that guy was thinking, or give a verbatim account of that conversation?), and he needs to be more careful with his slang; his use of the term REMF early in the book made me laugh out loud because I knew what it meant, but he doesn't define it until later. He never defined the "short snorter" that people were signing - I had to look it up.In summary, the book is a compelling read that shines a light on the brutal conditions in that theater and the technical sophistication of aerial dogfighting at that time. Highly recommended for fans of WWII history.
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  • Steve
    January 1, 1970
    A interesting book on World War II pilots who fought in the Pacific campaign. The story focuses on Richard Bong, Tommy McGuire, Neel Kearby, Charles MacDonald, and Gerald Johnson, who through training, became the deadliest aces during the Pacific War.
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  • CoffeeBreakBooks
    January 1, 1970
    Race of Aces is an educational, powerful, and intense read, with a behind the scenes look at the Southwest Pacific Theater of Operations in World War II. In the early years of the War, air forces from the United States, Australia, and Japan engaged in an unrelenting struggle for superiority in the skies over New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. Allied forces were operating under primitive conditions in a largely unknown and noxious physical environment. John Bruning explores the technology and Race of Aces is an educational, powerful, and intense read, with a behind the scenes look at the Southwest Pacific Theater of Operations in World War II. In the early years of the War, air forces from the United States, Australia, and Japan engaged in an unrelenting struggle for superiority in the skies over New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. Allied forces were operating under primitive conditions in a largely unknown and noxious physical environment. John Bruning explores the technology and tactics, the multi-dimensional battlefield, and the leadership, living conditions, medical challenges, and morale of the combatants.In July 1942, General George Kenney assumed command of the US Fifth Air Force in General Douglas MacArthur's Southwest Pacific Theater. Kenney was an innovator, and he promptly began revitalizing an air force that had been weighed down with poor aircraft and poor morale. During a visit by America's most successful World War I ace Eddie Rickenbacker, Kenney promised a case of scotch to whomever broke Eddie's record. Rickenbacker promptly offered a second case to the winner. So, the race was on for a Pacific ace to top Rickenbacker's record. Pilots like Neel Kearby, Dick Bong, Tommy McGuire, and Gerald Johnson, along with other contenders, began to pile up scores. It is somewhat difficult to talk about the ace race without revealing plot elements. Suffice it to say that the author presented very fascinating and extremely thorough background information on the main contenders and their ongoing challenges to become the winner. Enjoying history, I have read a number of books regarding WWII, along with hearing many stories from family members who served. Race of Aces was very readable and almost impossible to put down. I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher, through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
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  • David
    January 1, 1970
    A detailed account of the air war in the Pacific from the perspective of Air Force aces. Bruning brings 30 years of research to play in this account of the aces who sought to break Eddie Rickenbacker's record and their goal to be be top American ace of WWII. Bruning makes the characters come alive, flaws and all.The book is a record of the heroics of the Pacific War, but also a warning about the popularization of individual achievements in combat. The media, as well as the ambition of the A detailed account of the air war in the Pacific from the perspective of Air Force aces. Bruning brings 30 years of research to play in this account of the aces who sought to break Eddie Rickenbacker's record and their goal to be be top American ace of WWII. Bruning makes the characters come alive, flaws and all.The book is a record of the heroics of the Pacific War, but also a warning about the popularization of individual achievements in combat. The media, as well as the ambition of the pilots, drove the race of aces. Unfortunately, many died in combat due to their reckless actions in pursuit of kills. This is a long and detailed book. However, after 100 pages I could not put it down. I recommend it to anyone interested in WWII or the history of aviation.Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for providing a prepublication ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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  • Craig Pearson
    January 1, 1970
    Thank you to Netgalley for the opportunity to read and review this book. Some reviewers have described this book as an historical novel. The author probably took liberties with conversations and situations but all in the context of telling the story. I did find it difficult to stay interested with the characters and the situations they found themselves in, both in the civilian world and in combat. 'Race of Aces' does give the reader valuable insight into flight training and the minutiae of Thank you to Netgalley for the opportunity to read and review this book. Some reviewers have described this book as an historical novel. The author probably took liberties with conversations and situations but all in the context of telling the story. I did find it difficult to stay interested with the characters and the situations they found themselves in, both in the civilian world and in combat. 'Race of Aces' does give the reader valuable insight into flight training and the minutiae of living in bare bones outposts. Good information just no wow factor.
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  • Nathan Schmidt
    January 1, 1970
    I received this book as an advance copy through Goodreads First Reads and am very grateful for the opportunity to read this brilliant book prior to publication.This was a great book, with a focused lens that kept us connected to the larger tides of World War II while helping us better understand the specific Pacific theater that the aces were fighting in. What I like most about the book is that it helps us visualize the setting of the fighters' story, from the sensation of taking off to the I received this book as an advance copy through Goodreads First Reads and am very grateful for the opportunity to read this brilliant book prior to publication.This was a great book, with a focused lens that kept us connected to the larger tides of World War II while helping us better understand the specific Pacific theater that the aces were fighting in. What I like most about the book is that it helps us visualize the setting of the fighters' story, from the sensation of taking off to the visceral tensions in the air. Doing so made it feel as if we were right alongside the pilots, who in turn are shown to all be human, with their own virtues, vices, and sorrows. It's this compelling empathy that helps make the book effective, as the tragedy of the ill-fated contest slowly unfolds.I also appreciated that the author has clearly done plenty of research, collecting not only many history books on the subjects but also taking the time to investigate primary sources, even oral histories with survivors from that time. The acknowledgements and bibliography at the end pay testament to his dedication to doing justice for all the fighter aces in his book.I think my only issue with the book is that, while the text itself gives us many opportunities to visualize the war, there aren't many actual visuals. I'd like it if there was a collage of photos midway through the book, as those help to better illustrate the key points in the history. Plus, a map of the war front would help us better organize the various flight routes and tactics of the war front. Since this is just the advance copy, I have hopes that the final version will contain these much-needed visuals.Overall though, this is an excellent read, perfect for both WW2 buffs and history lovers in general. Thanks again for the chance to read it ahead of time!
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  • Terri Wangard
    January 1, 1970
    In an effort to improve morale in the Southern Pacific theater, General Kenney said he’d give a case of scotch to the first fighter pilot to best Eddie Rickenbacker’s total of 26 kills in WWI. Rickenbacker sweetened the deal by throwing in a case of his own.The south Pacific was a grim place. The European war received the lion’s share of supplies. The men of the Fifth Air Force had to cope with bad food, bad living conditions, diseases, and not enough planes and parts.Several fighter pilots In an effort to improve morale in the Southern Pacific theater, General Kenney said he’d give a case of scotch to the first fighter pilot to best Eddie Rickenbacker’s total of 26 kills in WWI. Rickenbacker sweetened the deal by throwing in a case of his own.The south Pacific was a grim place. The European war received the lion’s share of supplies. The men of the Fifth Air Force had to cope with bad food, bad living conditions, diseases, and not enough planes and parts.Several fighter pilots sought to become the highest scoring ace. Some received the Medal of Honor. Many were obsessed. Neel Kearby and Tommy McGuire got themselves killed because they crossed a line between duty and ambition.Charles Lindberg showed up, wanting to fly and get kills, even though he was a civilian. And he scorned the American fliers for their immoral actions when they strafed enemy pilots they’d shot down. He would have gotten himself killed with his poor situational awareness if not for those immoral pilots. He was pro-Nazi, anti-Semitic, and a hypocrite.I learned a lot about the Fifth Air Force. The lifestyle was atrocious. The ground crews were the unsung heroes. Admirable aces like Jerry Johnson and Dick Bong, survived the war, only to die in crashes in 1945.I found one statement by the author shocking. The Japanese intended to fight to the bitter end and, for the aces, this may have been welcome news. They would have plenty of opportunities to score. Would they seriously want to prolong the war, resulting in the deaths of thousands of American soldiers and sailors, so they could get more kills?
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  • Parker
    January 1, 1970
    A well written book about the incredible Ace Race of WW2. I found it interesting that these men were so famous at the time, and I (and likely many others) had never heard their names before. I'm glad to have had the opportunity to learn more about them and their service through this interesting, exciting read.
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  • Don Price
    January 1, 1970
    Well Researched and Written Informative book on fighter warfare in the Pacific in WWII. Answered a lot of questions I had. Uses extensive research from multiple sources. John Bringing is an author worth following.
  • Mary Greiner
    January 1, 1970
    Very good for folks more interested than I am with this genre.
  • Mark B
    January 1, 1970
    This is a "can't put down" book for military history buffs. I didn't know of this race until reading this book.I'd give it a 10 star if possible!
  • Eric
    January 1, 1970
    I received this as a Goodreads advanced copy read. I found this book well written. It was evident that the author spent considerable time and effort researching and fact checking.Anyone interested in military aviation, particularly during WWII will find this book of great interest.
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  • Brandon
    January 1, 1970
    I was fortunate enough to get an advanced copy from Netgalley.My typical fare is Sci-Fi/Fantasy but I have an abiding love of history, particularly military history. This checked so many blocks for me.Reading a pre-release version, there were a few small things that I am sure will be caught and corrected before publication so I won't even count those as a negative. Towards the positive, it is apparent that Bruning has done his research (quite extensively based on his listed resources). I was fortunate enough to get an advanced copy from Netgalley.My typical fare is Sci-Fi/Fantasy but I have an abiding love of history, particularly military history. This checked so many blocks for me.Reading a pre-release version, there were a few small things that I am sure will be caught and corrected before publication so I won't even count those as a negative. Towards the positive, it is apparent that Bruning has done his research (quite extensively based on his listed resources). Summarizing a list of sequential events is not difficult, but he has taken the multitude of sources and information then sorted and done a superb job of combined them into a compelling story. I greatly enjoyed the book and would love to see a version with the photographs that were mentioned at various points through out. A definite recommend for anybody that enjoys military history, and could still be enjoyable even for those that don't.
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