The Jagged Edge of Duty

The Jagged Edge of Duty

A Fighter Pilot’s World War II

Robert L. Richardson

Stackpole Books, Guilford, Connecticut, 2017, 408 pages

Book Review published on: May 18, 2018

In The Jagged Edge of Duty, Robert L. Richardson looks at an often overlooked theater of war, and he does it in a unique way. He writes the book for the sister of his father’s friend who went missing on a mission during the Allied invasion of Sicily. Struck by the fact an individual could go missing on a mission, Richardson began a quest to find out what happened to the pilot and also explain to his family what life was like for a fighter pilot in the Mediterranean theater of operations in the spring and summer of 1943.

The Jagged Edge of Duty is part history of the air war in the Mediterranean theater prior to the invasion of Sicily and part unit history of the 49th Fighter Squadron. Instead of a general history interspersed with numerous antidotes, the author follows two pilots from preflight and wartime flight training to preparation for combat, and ultimately, to their combat tours. This approach lets the author succeed in his goal of allowing readers to identify with the pilot and explaining what life was like for a fighter pilot at this stage of the war. As part of the history, Richardson provides context for readers by discussing the strategic and operational levels at the time, aviation doctrine and how it evolved, and the German perspective. He also shows that shooting down enemy aircraft or getting shot down, although they may occupy a preponderance of the literature on air wars, did not occupy a majority of the pilot’s time during their tour. Because of this, the author argues many pilots’ wartime experiences go unrecognized. This book serves as a way for Richardson to shed some light on these individuals and their service. One of the more interesting aspects, and one germane to Richardson’s goal, is how missions can go wrong, often with severe consequences.

Richardson used many primary sources in his research, including interviews with many of the surviving pilots of the 49th Fighter Squadron, and his straightforward writing style makes his book an easy read. Although his focus is on telling the pilots’ story, he is not shy about drawing conclusions from the evidence, especially as it pertains to the lives of the pilots. For example, when discussing the challenges of being a new pilot in a wartime squadron, Richardson writes, “Lesson for the replacement pilots was stark: Losses were routine, expected, and largely unavoidable.” Readers will find The Jagged Edge of Duty interesting as it covers a theater and a time period not ordinarily written about and also serves as a fitting tribute to the pilots. I recommend this book to those readers interested in World War II history, air warfare, or wartime experiences.

Book Review written by: Robert J. Rielly, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas