Osprey Aircraft of the Aces No 42:

American Aces of WW I by Norman Franks

reviewed by Volker Hauser


This book came as a surprise to me, as it was obviously not announced before by Osprey.

The book deals with American Aces of the Great War, both in foreign (British and French) and later in USAAS service. As such, it can obviously only give an overview over what is a quite complex subject.

The main reason why the Osprey "Aircraft of the Aces" series is so successful is the generous provision of color profiles of those aircraft. "American Aces of WW I" is not different in this field, providing 36 sideviews. Compared to other books of the series, there are no color profiles of the pilots themselves and their uniforms.

If you´re not familiar with the subject, the variety of the aircraft types will come as a surprise: Beside the unavoidable Rickenbacker and Luke SPAD 13´s, the book not only includes 6 other SPAD 13´s, but also a Nieuport 11, a Nieuport 17, 4 SPAD VII´s, 5 SE % A´s, 4 Sopwith Dolphins, 9 Sopwith Camels and 4 Nieuport 28´s. The choice of these subjects is somewhat odd - there are more Sopwith Camels than SPAD 13´s in this book, and to add to that, there are more Camels in the American Aces book than there are in the companion volume on British aces. However, while it is odd, the selection shows a substantial number of aircraft that one will not usually see in publication. This makes this volume especially interesting. Too, the variety of markings (British, French, American) and color schemes is rather interesting.

Besides the profiles, the book offers the usual supply of photos. There are a number of interesting and rare photos included - I liked those of EW Spring´s Camels a lot - but there are also some shortfalls in this area: Some of the photos are hardly related to the suject, like the prototype Camel 2F1, or a Sopwith triplane, while I personally would also have liked to see more photos of the aircraft and less of the aces themselves.

If there is any area where this book really lacks, it is the text. The text basically consists of two parts: One describes (in rather general terms) the development of aerial warfare and the aircraft involved - offering little news on that field - and the second part consists of some short biographies of the pilots in question. In my opinion, the author has tried to pack information on too many aces into the 96 pages of this book. Typically, you will learn only about date and place of birth, units the pilot served in and his score (plus some information on his eventual fate). However, the combat reports, or the desciption of some typical experiences of the period that makes some other volumes of this series so interesting, is totally lacking here. The text therefore becomes rather boring - I also think it does offer little interesting information, especially with modellers in mind.

My assessment of this book: While hardly typical for the series, the book offers an interesting selection of not so often seen aircraft of US WW I aces. The variety of the profiles make it attractive - the selection of the photos is somewhat lacking, and the text is a real weak point. Nonetheless, it is an interesting book both for those who know little about the subject and for people with a real interest in WW I aircraft due to the somewhat exotic choice of a number of subjects. However, while definitely worth having, it is not in the same class with those books dealing with specific aircraft of WW I and their pilots.

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