The Jolly Rogers: The Story of Tom Blackburn and Navy Fighting Squadron VF-17

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Pacifica Military History, Jun 18, 2009 - History - 308 pages
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The Story of Tom Blackburn and Navy  Fighting Squadron VF-17

 Tom Blackburn with Eric Hammel

 Introduction by Vice Admiral James Stockdale, USN (Ret.)

The Jolly Rogers is the true story of one of the U.S. Navy’s foremost World War II fighter squadrons, VF-17, and its charismatic commander, fighter ace Tom Blackburn. In his action-packed war memoir and unit history, Blackburn describes VF-17’s  intense, winning campaign against the Japanese over the northern Solomon Islands and Rabaul in late 1943 and early 1944.

Beginning with his own experiences as a trainer of fighter pilots early in World War II and his leadership of a small carrier-based fighter squadron supporting the invasion of North Africa, Blackburn goes on to provide a rich, detailed account of how he shaped a crew of over-eager hotshots into one of the highest scoring fighter squadrons of World War II. In only seventy-six days of combat, Tom Blackburn’s Jolly Rogers knocked down a record 154 enemy warplanes, and Blackburn himself emerged as one of VF-17’s leading aces with eleven kills to his credit.

Boisterous at times, and sober at others, Blackburn explains the methods he used and example he set to shape and wield VF-17 before and during its South Pacific combat tour. Not least of the challenges facing Blackburn and VF-17 was taming the hot new Vought F4U Corsair fighter. Originally slated to serve aboard a fleet aircraft carrier, VF-17 was ultimately transferred to land-based duty when the Corsair proved too hot to handle during carrier-deck landings. Though the Corsair’s teething problems were worked out by others—it eventually became a superb carrier-based fighter-bomber—it was Blackburn and his Jolly Rogers who proved the full potential of the Corsair as a killer of enemy airplanes.

Both a war memoir and a caring tribute to the aggressive, hold-nothing-back young men he trained and led in combat, Blackburn’s story is an epic in World War II history annals.

Critical Acclaim for The Jolly Rogers

Publishers Weekly says: “Blackburn was an exceptionally talented, resourceful, inspiring leader who imparted to his men a fierce warrior ethic . . . especially noteworthy is the author’s straightforward description of the methods he used organizing, training, leading his pilots in combat and developing air tactics.”

The Shipmate says: “Tom Blackburn [was] exceptional, and so is his book.”

The Hook says: “Tom Blackburn [was] one of the most successful fighter squadron commanders the U.S. Navy ever produced . . . not only a cracking good story, but a valuable primer on dealing with the rugged individualists who populate naval aviation, Highly recommended.”

The San Diego Union says: “[This] thrilling saga focuses on unsung heroes.”

Stars and Stripes says: “In a book generously laced with tales of air combat, Blackburn talks of the days spent building VF-17 into an outfit with its own identity and then leading his men into combat . . . ”

The Naval Institute Proceedings says: “Excellent . . . a well-rounded, coherent story that focuses on intense combat . . . As a professional’s account of his squadron’s . . . war, Blackburn’s has no peer.”

Kirkus Reviews says: “A macho, like-it-was memoir . . . a gritty, action-packed slice of WWII life.”

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About the author (2009)

Eric Hammel is a critically acclaimed military historian and author of more than thirty combat and pictorial histories, including several on U.S. Marine operations in World War II and Vietnam, such as Pacific Warriors: The U.S. Marines in World War II, Iwo Jima: Portrait of a Battle, and Marines in Hue City: A Portrait of Urban Combat, Tet 1968. He lives in Northern California.

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