Air Combat Over the Solomons


Bill Yenne has been writing aviation history for half a century. Sometimes groundbreaking, his books is always informative and entertaining

“America’s Few: Marine Aces of the South Pacific,” by Bill Yenne is his latest. It tells the story of the two dozen US Marine Corps aviators who achieved double digit ace status: ten or more kills.

All spent time in the South Pacific Theater in World War II, fighting in or from the Solomon Islands between October 1942 and May 1944. A few scored kills outside that period (including one who shot down two aircraft during the Korean War). All achieved double-ace status as a result of their exploits in the Solomons or over Rabaul.

The men who fought these battles became national heroes. Greg “Pappy” Boyington, Joe Foss, Marion Carl and the other aces Yenne discusses became household names during World War II. Their battles were deadly serious, critical fights in a deadly struggle for national survival. Yenne frames its importance perfectly.

The book’s weakness is Yenne’s overreliance on US sources, wartime after-action reports and published memoirs by the aces. He accepts these uncritically. This led to errors, particularly in chapters in the fighting over Rabaul. Its air defense during the period of the great Ace Race was purely the responsibility of the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Force. Japanese Army aircraft were absent. Yet wartime reports frequently misidentified aircraft attacked as Army aircraft. Yenne repeats these claims blindly. He ignores controversy over exaggerated kills during this period, honest mistakes and glory-seeking alike.

The book is redeemed by his accounts of the aces’ lives before and after World War II. He creates a vivid image of what it took to become a leading fighter ace. Most were college educated; they hunted during childhood and teen years, and were competent outdoorsmen. They came predominantly from Western states. They were mostly reservists, and all joined the Marines prior to World War II.

Yenne also writes sensitively of how they lived after World War II. Some coped well with fame; others struggled. Only a few remained in the service after World War II. Some had highly-successful post-war careers. Others fought depression and alcohol. Yenne captures all of it.

“America’s Few” is worth a read. As with all Yenne books it tells an exciting tale. He captures an era when the United States created heroes who fought against difficult odds, and ultimately triumphed.

“America’s Few: Marine Aces of the South Pacific,” by Bill Yenne, Osprey Publishing, 2022, 352 pages. $35.00 (Hardcover), $24.50 (Ebook)

This review was written by Mark Lardas who writes at Ricochet as Seawriter. Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, historian, and model-maker, lives in League City, TX. His website is

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  1. DaveSchmidt Coolidge

    I will use snippets from your review in my WW II  class. 

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  2. Seawriter Contributor

    DaveSchmidt (View Comment):

    I will use snippets from your review in my WW II class.

    I am flattered. I wrote a book about the siege of Rabaul. That is one reason I made the criticisms about the errors. I knew there were no Army fighters. (They were all in New Guinea.) What I found interesting was Yenne used several of Bruce Gamble’s works (noted in the bibliography), but ignored Gamble’s Rabaul trilogy. 

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  3. Skyler Coolidge

    It’s kind of a occupational hazard to have “over exaggerated kills . . . honest mistakes and glory seeking alike.”

    When I was in Afghanistan, my battalion was responsible for the defense of the perimeter of Camp Leatherneck, the British air base “Bastion” and the Afghani section section, Camp Shorabak and we were also responsible for several miles radius around all three compounds.

    A British RAF Regimental Battalion was responsible for protecting the air corridor on the approach and departure lanes for the air field and they were co-located with us at a joint Operations Center.  We worked hand and glove with the Brits every minute.  In all that time, we never had an anti-air threat anywhere near the base.

    However, occasionally, when certain USAF aircraft (I recall C-130’s) flew to the base, they always radioed in that they were taking fire from mysterious enemy units.  Of course we were duty bound to investigate but there was never a chance that anything was there, most certainly not shooting at anyone.  It’s not like anyone could hide there.  There is no vegetation of any kind, not even scrub brush.

    If that aircrew claimed to be under fire a certain number of times then they get a nice shiny air medal.  It’s my experience that air force pilots include a lot of liars.  Claiming to be under fire is not something other crew aboard the plane wouldn’t notice.  Every crewman on that plane lied.

    • #3
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