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Check Six!

Check Six!

JC Curran & TG Popravak
ARRSE Rating
3.5 Mushroom Heads
If (like I was) you are largely aware of the US military’s Pacific air campaign through the prism of Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children island-hopping in Corsairs and Bull Halsey’s carriers, then you should definitely read this book as it gives depth, texture and colour to the assumed “bit part” played by the US Army Air Force in that theatre.

“Check Six!” details the wartime experience of James Curran, a young Thunderbolt pilot flying operationally from Aug 43 to Apr 45. It follows the standard path of a war memoir, dealing with Curran’s early life very quickly, and spends a significant time describing his training and pre operational experience before getting to the main meat of his operational deployment, over 200 combat sorties. Starting in New Guinea Curran flew with 461st Fighter Squadron (under Col Neel Kearby, a Medal of Honor winner) before being posted to help form the renowned 360th “Black Rams” Fighter Squadron, mostly flying Thunderbolts, until re-equipping (reluctantly) with Mustangs. Whilst this might seem curious to those who have read frequent adulatory books devoted to how great the Mustang was, it’s not without precedent (James Goodson felt the same in his excellent autobiography “Tumult in the Clouds” before being won over by the Mustang in Europe). The raw power and stability of the Jug made it incredibly popular with pilots and the trickier, more agile, longer ranged but less visceral Mustang took some time to convert many fliers to its charms.

Sadly, Curran died before this memoir was completed and his manuscript was passed to Popravak (a former pilot and USAF historian) for completion. Although the book is written wholly in the first person (presumably by Curran), there are extensive footnotes provided by Popravak – and by extensive, I mean austistic spectrum levels of intricately dull information. If you’re really into that much detail, crack on, but for me it was a distraction. The text is interspersed with ‘war diary’ – type entries charting events, which appear not to be contemporaneous, and for me jarred with the flow of the prose. Curran’s writing style is pedestrian but engaging, and I found reading the book didn’t require any great effort; outside of the footnotes, the book was not overburdened with technical content as some fliers’ memoirs tend to be. The combat sequences are described in a laconic style, (which as always impresses me with the courage of our forebears), and deaths are marked perfunctorily. Kills are mentioned in a similar way – Curran’s overall style puts across the reality of his war, without glamourising the experience into a great adventure (although on some level I’m sure it was). It was something he did because it had to be done, not for the joy of it.

Curran left the Black Rams in Apr 45, rotating back to the US mainland having served 19 months on operations (barring occasional R&R runs to Australia), and he details the joys and anti-climaxes of going home perfunctorily.

At 352 pages and containing 16 photos, “Check Six!” is priced at £14.99 in paperback – a bit steep if you ask me but a worthy addition to any bookshelf. This is not an earth shattering re-evaluation of the Pacific air war; it’s a straightforward story of one who was there.

3.5 / 5 Mr Potato Heads.

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