Author: Tony Holmes
Illustrator: Chris Davey
Softbound 96 pages 248mm x 184mm
Prelude To War
Shock & Awe
Colour Plates Commentary and Index
Build-up to war
The book begins with a revealing analysis of the political climate in the period leading up to the war and some readers may be surprised just how early the F-18 crews "put 2 and 2 together" and predicted that combat was inevitable and the nature of the campaign. Politics are invariably the backdrop to war - never more so than in Operation Iraqi Freedom, when international relations reached the point where the crews began to wonder whether they would be able to support coalition operations at all.
Eventually, they had to fly an extended route from the Mediterranean down the Red Sea before swinging into Saudi Arabia in order to ingress and egress Iraqi airspace. The extended strike placed the F-18s well beyond their normal range and required a critical air-to-air refuelling stage. If this was delayed for any reason, the crews had no option but to abandon the mission and land, fully-loaded, at an isolated base in Western Saudi Arabia.
The only weakness in my opinion is that the book doesn't contain any maps which would make it much easier to visualise the political geography of the region, as well as allowing clearer description of some of the actual missions described.
Shock & Awe
Perhaps the biggest revelation for a modeller like me who's most conversant with WW2 operations, is the radical advances in precision-guided munition technology and its dramatic use in Iraq. The book covers JDAMs in some detail and their precision combined with much-decreased vulnerability for the attacking aircraft is remarkable. JDAMs? Now is a good point to warn readers that the book is absolutely packed with acronyms. These will present few problems for serving personnel and those well-versed with modern weapons and operations, but they can seem a bit impenetrable to the casual reader. True the terms are usually explained when first encountered, but the book would benefit from a glossary of terms for quick reference.
I was previously unaware of the extent to which reserve pilots constituted a crucial role in the strike force. It's amusing to read that some of these pilots needed refresher courses in current US operational practices because they had been Aggressor pilots, used to playing the "bad guys"! It's a tribute to their skill and professionalism that they rapidly integrated with the other crews and played a leading role in day and night operations - despite the fact that some hadn't made a deck landing at night for 13 years.
The book goes into great detail over the types of operations that F-18s (and other types) flew and the munitions they used. Topics covered include the difficulties of working with forward-air-controllers of various nationalities. The real strength of the book is that complex operations are brought vividly to life by first-hand descriptions by the officers who participated in them - something often lacking from historical narratives.
Backing up the text are masses of excellent photographs, mostly printed in colour, which are drawn from the private collections of crews and units. The quality obviously varies a little - these aren't professional posed shots - but they reveal many details both of the aircraft themselves and deck operations on the carriers, so they will be of great value to modellers.
The centre pages contain 12 excellent colour profiles by Chris Davey, plus a page of detailed "scrap views" of insignia and mission tallies. The plates are well described in notes at the back of the book, but it's a pity that there are no plan views - a quick glance at photos of some the subjects covered highlights areas outside the scope of the side profiles.
Tony Holmes does an excellent job covering a complex subject and making it accessible to readers. The reliance on eye-witnesses is an inspired choice which, combined with the excellent photo-coverage, makes this a very useful reference for historians and modellers alike.
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Thank you to Osprey Publishing for kindly supplying the review sample.