Air Power History Book Reviews

Would you like to keep up on your reading, but don’t know where to start? Each issue of our journal Air Power History contains a dozen or two book reviews that will help you make a selection. These reviews have long been a favorite of our members. Here is a sample:

The Hunter Killers: The Extraordinary Story of the First Wild Weasels, the Band of Maverick Aviators Who Flew the Most Dangerous Missions of the Vietnam War. By Dan Hampton.New York: HarperCollins, 2015. Maps. Tables. Photographs. Notes. Sources. Appendices. Glossary. Index. Pp. 351. $23.00 hard cover, $16.00 paperback ISBN: 978-0-06-237512-4
Wild Weasels is a label given to specially trained crews flying modified fighters with the bold mission of suppressing ground-based defenses, primarily radar-guided antiaircraft artillery (AAA) and surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) so that strike aircraft can attack successfully and return to base safely. To do this, as Hampton intricately details, Weasels in the Vietnam war paved the way in a new role by routinely preceding the strikers to the target area and then departing the area last. Thus, their motto: “First in, last out.” Having flown 151 combat missions (Middle East) in U.S. Air Force fighters, earning four Distinguished Flying Crosses with Valor and a Purple Heart, this guy has an insight into his subject that is rare for a best selling author (Viper Pilot and Lords of the Sky). In fact, while his focus in this excellent book is on the early Weasels flying F–100s and F–105s in Vietnam, he flew the mission himself in F– 16s during his twenty years in the Air Force. Plus, he went way beyond the expected requirements of research to build his book, including interviewing extensively many of those who actually learned the business the hard way—looking for targets; killing them with missiles, bombs or, in some rare cases, guns; and watching buddies being shot down and rescued, captured, or killed. So, pay attention. Dan Hampton knows what he’s writing about. And what he writes about is the rise in Vietnam of the radar-guided-missile threat, for which U.S. forces were embarrassingly ill-prepared. He points out how we reacted to this threat, producing equipment that could detect radar signals, training pilots and electronic warfare officers (EWOs or “bears”) to use the new equipment and tactics, then testing them in the hottest test range in the world at the time—North Vietnam. It’s a great story that is well written. A mild word of caution: to put this Wild Weasel story in its larger context, Hampton devotes large chunks of his book to the history of the Vietnam war, including a fair amount of what happened in the ground war, primarily in South Vietnam.

If your interest is solely in the Weasel story, you may be tempted to leap over some of this. Don’t. I counted it as an added benefit of the book. If I could add one thing to the story, it would be coverage of the role played by the Air Force’s Tactical Air Warfare Center (TAWC) at Eglin AFB, Florida. TAWC was charged with influencing the equipment and tactics that were used in combat. To make sure the contact between the field and TAWC was active and useful, TAWC assigned an experienced fighter pilot and EWO to each base flying into the North. The team was called the Anti-SAM Combat Assistance Team (ASCAT) and played a key role in solving the many problems our guys encountered over the North. Having said that, I encourage anyone with an interest in this story of a challenging mission and the fearless men who flew it to read Dan Hampton’s very thorough and accurate account. You will be impressed with the thoroughness of his research, the tale itself, and his skill at writing about it.

Lt. Gen. Michael A. Nelson, USAF (Ret.), NASM Docent and former ASCAT/Wild Weasel.

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