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Book Review P-38 Lightning vs Bf 109 by Edward M Young

ARRSE Rating
4.00 star(s)
P-38 Lightning vs Bf 109 is from Osprey and is part of their Duel series. Written by Edward M. Young, it covers the aerial combats between the two fighters over North Africa, Sicily and Italy in 1942-43.

Once again, Osprey has exposed gaps in my knowledge. Like so many British people, what I know of the air war in this area and over this time is focused on the RAF, and specifically the Desert Air Force, fighting the Luftwaffe rather than the American part of the battle. What Young writes about is the arrival of the P-38s in North Africa after Operation Torch, their tasks escorting US bomber missions and their fight against the Luftwaffe's Bf 109.

The author takes the reader through the design and development of both aircraft. He manages to hit that fine line between skimming over the topic and giving so much detail that the reader is overwhelmed. He provides enough detail in a clearly-written way that's easy to follow and should intrigue the petrolheads amongst us to look for more and allow the technofools like me to get an understanding of the planes, including their particular advantages and disadvantages. Like all Osprey's, the illustrations are excellent and there are numerous photos. There are various diagrams to explain combat tactics and they all add value.


The combatants are the next part and this covers the training and some pen portraits of some of the pilots. Rather worryingly, the Americans could not produce P-38s fast enough at this time so pilots had to learn and train on other types before getting to theatre. The Luftwaffe's pilot training over this period was still structured and pilots arrived at the front line well-tutored and well-schooled. This gave them an initial advantage, especially when coupled with their leaders' greater combat experience.

The description of combat is the main element of the book and there is a lot of detail here of combat between the various squadrons and Staffels and Young has included a lot of detail; this could be a touch confusing at times as any number of units are referenced and you have to work hard to follow it. The point is well made that the P-38s primary role was bomber escort rather than achieving air supremacy whereas the Bf 109s were in an air defence role. The combats listed are numerous and Young includes some nice little stories, including shot-down Americans being captured and introduced to the pilot who shot them down. The author does make the salient point that claims are not the same as kills and that claims from one side don't always meet the records kept by the other. That said, the Germans routinely seem to have had the upper hand in combat but the Americans achieved their aim – the bombers suffered comparatively few casualties so the P-38s achieved their aim.

I enjoyed this book and, to anyone with an interest in the era and the particular subject, it's a good read and I recommend it.

Purchase via this link - P-38 Lightning vs Bf 109

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