Rocky Boyer’s War
An Unvarnished History of the Air Blitz that Won the War in the South Pacific
Allen D. Boyer
Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland, 2017, 440 pages
Book Review published on: November 24, 2017
Readers will gain an appreciation of the full extent of Army Air Corps operations in the Southwest Pacific with Rocky Boyer’s War. What Allen Boyer accomplishes with his father’s wartime diary and his exhaustive research of the 5th Air Force operations in the Southwest Pacific fills a very important and oft-overlooked chapter of World War II history. First, a surviving World War II diary is a rare find. Keeping a diary in World War II was not for the faint of heart. Regulations forbade personal diaries for fear that they could fall into the wrong hands and leak sensitive information such as troop movements, locations, and missions. The sheer act of writing down day-to-day observations, events, and emotions turned away the rest. Moreover, a diary had to survive the harsh elements of the South Pacific jungles, rainy seasons, and salty air for the duration of the war. But, that is exactly what Boyer has in his father’s diary: a well-written and uncensored account of Rocky’s Pacific War that provides personal context to the historical account of the photoreconnaissance units his father served in and the role they played in Lt. Gen. George Kenney’s 5th Air Force’s “Air Blitz.” Boyer masterfully brings to life the men and machines of the 106th Photo Reconnaissance Wing, often finishing the stories his father alluded to in his journal entries.
The significance of the New Guinea campaign to Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s island-hopping strategy to regain the Japanese-captured territories is often overshadowed by sea operations to protect those territories such as the Battle of Coral Sea or by operations supported by the newly captured bases in the further reaches of the Pacific. New Guinea, the second largest island in the world, features the rugged Owen Stanley Range. Towering over thirteen thousand feet, covered by dense tropical jungles, and subject to treacherous weather conditions, it was an unforgiving combat environment, especially for aviation. Japan’s success in New Guinea proved to be the Rising Sun Empire’s high-water mark in the southwest Pacific theater of operations. By August 1942, Japan had captured most of island, but it was finally stopped at Port Moresby. Rocky Boyer’s war began there.
By the time Rocky arrived at Port Moresby, the air raids had ceased, and his unit, the 71st Tactical Reconnaissance Group, showed up with no airplanes. Twelve months later, Rocky, by then a seasoned veteran, and thousands of others accompanied MacArthur on his return to the Philippines. Rocky’s experienced his hardest combat in the Philippines campaign beginning in Leyte and later on Mindoro Island. Rocky earned the Combat Infantryman badge for his actions during the defense of hotly contested airfields against a Japanese paratrooper battalion. The intensity of operations also brought his chronicling to an end. Fortunately, we get a good picture of the chaos and desperate fighting to keep the freshly seized airfields open, cleared of wrecks, and secured from ground and air attacks; this is because of the author’s exhaustive research into primary sources and his cross-referencing, which he superiorly meshed into a single cohesive narrative.
Yet, the heart of this story spans Rocky’s time in New Guinea. During this twelve-month span, we get a fascinating look inside the daily grind of air wing operations from an observant, judiciously opinionated, and unreserved officer who called it like he saw it. Unlike many war memoirs, written long after the last shots were fired and often containing a generous helping of fanfare and bravado, this fresh account, written in the moment, holds many surprises and bare truths. We get to know the Bell P-39 Airacobra, a mid-engine fighter plane relegated to photoreconnaissance duty for lack of power in the turn. We find that the Japanese do not pose the greatest threat to airplanes; instead the Owen Stanley Range holds that distinction. Even after seventy years, I felt each crushing loss as Rocky described them, mostly devoid of emotion but accompanied by the author’s respectful and often stirring tributes.
This book drew me in. I could hear the Allison V12 engines of the P-39s firing up and see the Willy jeeps scurrying about the airfields. My only disappointment was that it the story ended.
Book Review written by: Lt. Col. Ronald T. Staver, U.S. Army, Retired, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas