Hollon on Faulkner, 'Flying with the Fifteenth Air Force: A B-24 Pilot's Missions from Italy during World War II'

Tom Faulkner
Cory Hollon

Tom Faulkner. Flying with the Fifteenth Air Force: A B-24 Pilot's Missions from Italy during World War II. Edited by David L. Snead. North Texas Military Biography and Memoir Series. Denton: University of North Texas Press, 2018. 336 pp. $29.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-57441-731-9.

Reviewed by Cory Hollon (Air University, Air War College) Published on H-War (April, 2019) Commissioned by Margaret Sankey (Air War College)

Printable Version: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showpdf.php?id=53621

Tom Faulkner and David Snead do an excellent job of placing a personal tale within the broader historical context in Flying with the Fifteenth Air Force. They do not make an explicit argument in the text, as the primary purpose of the book is to investigate the events surrounding Faulkner’s final combat sortie. It is an easy and entertaining read with a satisfying conclusion to Faulkner’s experience.

The book is broadly separated into three parts. In the preface, Snead provides a succinct summary of the context for the rest of the book and explains the overall effort of the United States to rapidly field airpower capable of striking German industrial and war-making capability. Faulkner takes over the story and recounts his early life experiences and the series of events that led him into the Army Air Force upon turning eighteen. Able to attend one year of college before being called into service, Faulkner was eligible to become a pilot, and he was one of the youngest, if not the youngest, pilot in command of a B-24 during the war. He quickly covers his time at undergraduate pilot training and advanced flight training, and his introduction to the B-24 Liberator. He gives a brief biographical sketch for each of his assigned crew members, although they do not play an integral role in the remainder of the story.

The second part of the book is the heart of Faulkner’s narrative. He details the missions he flew from San Giovanni Airfield in Italy from September 1944 until his last combat mission in February 1945. Faulkner’s journal entries for each mission are interspersed throughout this section with longer explanations about specific aspects of living and flying in combat. For example, the entry on his sixth mission mentions that he was carrying the heaviest load in the bomber to date. The following paragraphs then discuss the hazards and challenges of taking off and landing in the B-24 in combat conditions. Further examples include formation flying, separation from his formation, unexpected bad weather during a mission, food and accommodations at camp, and methods for staying clean and dry on the ground. Faulkner’s last mission does not have a journal entry, but he provides the most detail about the events during that sortie. Targeting a rail yard in Augsburg, Germany, Faulkner pressed through several mechanical issues during the flight. Heavy flak in the target area had an impact on his plane, and Faulkner fell out of formation because two of his four engines were malfunctioning. An inexperienced navigator combined with poor weather in the area forced the plane to land in Switzerland, where the crew was briefly interned before being returned to Allied forces. Faulkner felt doubt and guilt over his decision to make for neutral territory, but he recently received evidence that it was the best decision given the state of his plane. Further, he also discovered that he had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions that day, which the Air Force presented to him sixty-eight years after he had earned it.

The final section quickly recaps Faulkner’s life after that fateful mission in 1945. He returned to service until the end of the war, flying in the Air Transportation Command. He married, began a successful insurance company, and had two successful children. The work concludes with anecdotes about the men to whom he dedicated the book.

Faulkner and Snead do a good job of placing this individual story within the broader context of the southern air war against Germany. The extensively footnoted text provides resources for further study and amplifying information about the topic discussed in the main text. In the preface, Snead does an admirable job of framing the broader socioeconomic and political context for the specific narrative Faulkner provides. In the main text, the technique of alternating between journal entries and broader reflections keeps the work well grounded in the events of the time while allowing for a useful expansion of core ideas and themes. The introduction and conclusion are interesting, but they lack a narrative framework, which makes it difficult to see these sections as more than a collection of interesting anecdotes from Faulkner’s life. That minor flaw, though, should not detract from the unique contribution this work makes to our understanding of air combat from the perspective of an individual who fought in it.

Flying with the Fifteenth Air Force is an entertaining and insightful look at what it means to fly combat missions. It will be interesting to those who have a solid understanding of the air war over Germany on the southern front and wish to gain a deeper appreciation of personal experiences of the war. Overall, it is a well-written and thoughtful memoir set within the broader historical context that illuminates a somewhat neglected section of the air campaign in the Second World War.

Citation: Cory Hollon. Review of Faulkner, Tom, Flying with the Fifteenth Air Force: A B-24 Pilot's Missions from Italy during World War II. H-War, H-Net Reviews. April, 2019. URL: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=53621

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.