Vietnam Air War Debrief: The Story of the Aircraft, the Battles and the Pilots Who Fought, edited by Robert F. Dorr and Chris Bishop, Aerospace Publishing Ltd., London, distributed in the United States and Canada by AIRTime Publishing, Inc., Westport, Conn., 1996, $29.95.
During the 30 years of conflict between the end of World War II in 1945 and the fall of Saigon in 1975, Vietnam was a crucible in which aerial warfare was transformed from warfare based on propeller-driven airplanes to a multivariable conflict involving supersonic jets, missiles, electronic surveillance and helicopters.
Vietnam Air War Debrief partially lives up to the promise of its title. A distillation of past research by Robert F. Dorr and Chris Bishop–both experts in their field–the book is up-to-date and comprehensive in its treatment of the American air effort over North and South Vietnam, as well as the operations of the Republic of Vietnam Air Force throughout the war and the French air effort in Indochina prior to American involvement. Dorr and Bishop’s work is illustrated with hundreds of color and black-and-white photographs. Also useful are appendices that include maps showing the air bases, explanations of code names and abbreviations, the American and South Vietnamese orders of battle, a complete list of American air-to-air claims over North Vietnamese fighters and an encyclopedia of every airplane and helicopter type that served over Indochina between 1945 and 1975.
Although its scholarship on American, South Vietnamese and French air operation is impressive, Vietnam Air War Debrief falls curiously short in regard to two other participants in the conflict. The contribution of the small but highly efficient Royal Australian Air Force contingent is limited to a photograph and a caption. More disappointing is the book’s treatment of North Vietnam’s air defenses, which adds little or nothing to what is already known.
If one is primarily interested in the American side of aerial operations over Vietnam, then Vietnam Air War Debrief delivers the goods in full, but a definitive, truly comprehensive and balanced account of the war in a single volume still remains to be written.