Little Friends Volumes I and II
Little Friends Volumes I & II, copyright 2013 by Thomas J. Mullen, are books about the fighter planes and pilots of the United States Army Air Force that served during World War Two. Well researched and factually accurate, these books are gems. While Mullen gives us enough of the “big picture” to place events in context, the focus of these books is on the planes and individual pilots rather than presenting a general’s eye view of the war.
Beginning with the P-26 (the forerunner of the P-35 and P-36), which but was used by Filipino and Chinese airmen, the author sketches a history of the development of each plane, its performance specifications, its design features, its armament, as well as where and when the plane was deployed. He does this with each of the fighter planes used by the US Army Air Force ending volume II with the P-51 Mustang. Numerous photographs and excellent drawings accompany each article.
As interesting as the technical and historical information is, and it is very complete, what the author then does is novel. Colonel Mullen presents mini-biographies of the pilots who flew the featured aircraft. These vignettes are very well researched and documented, oftentimes including interviews with fellow airmen, friends, and relatives of the subjects. We are told about their backgrounds and careers before and after the war. However all too often, the biographies end by the author telling us how and where their young lives ended during the war. On the other hand, some lived to fly on during the Korean War and several flew in the Vietnam War. While he profiles a few famous leaders, Generals Doolittle and Chennault for example, most of the biographies and stories are about men and women most of us have never heard of, but were equally essential to ending that terrible conflict.
Like the biographies, many of the photographs are heretofore unpublished. I have read many history books and seen numerous documentaries of the period and these are all new to me. In addition, the illustrations and diagrams are excellent. They are the work of graphic artist and painter Liz Makowski while some of the artwork is by Jim Laurier.
A history buff myself, I did not know for example, that Claire Chennault’s Flying Tigers flew their first combat mission against the Japanese after Pearl Harbor. I had always assumed they were fighting “secretly” at the behest of the United States long before the war officially began. This has been the historical narrative promoted by Hollywood and folklore for as long as I can remember. Tom Mullen sets the record straight in the section in Volume II about the P-40, the plane used by that group early in the war.
These make great “coffee table” books (they are on mine) and are especially interesting in that function as the vignettes and profiles can be read individually. Anywhere you open one of these books, you will discover something new and worth reading. Both of these fine books are currently available at Amazon.
Thomas J. Mullen served in the Army as an enlisted man for four years and did two tours of duty in the Republic of Vietnam (RVN). He was commissioned as an Army Infantry officer fifty-eight days after the United States ended its combat mission to the RVN. Other duties included service in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and Kuwait during the Gulf War, as well as in Germany, Korea, and Bosnia. Colonel Mullen has Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Economics from Purdue and Ball State Universities respectively. He retired as a Lieutenant Colonel and resides in Virginia.