As I read the final page, and thereby closing the experience of reading this account, I paused and reflected on what a privilege it was to read about the 75th squadron and those who made up this tenacious, determined, ingenious and brave group of men.
The 44 day battle for Port Moresby New Guinea was not a victory, and was only the beginning of the Japanese offensive and the RAAF defence of Port Moresby and therefore, essentially the Australian Homeland. Green pilots, flying in a green Squadron with inferior aircraft and living in appalling conditions threw themselves at the Japanese, from the Seven Mile Strip. They were the David to Japans Goliath but never did the 75th squadron shy away from the fight. The Japanese, who prior to the 75th arrival had been unopposed suddenly came against an enemy who would always meet them in the sky, always attack even under insurmountable odds.
Michael Veitch, author of 44 Days: 75th Squadron and the Fight for Australia, rather than bogging the reader down with the logistics of tactical aerial battles, gives us an insight into the character and personalities of the men that made up the Squadron and the challenges they faced not only in fighting the Japanese but in their living conditions, sickness and the neglect shown to them from the higher echelons of the RAAF. Daring battles in the sky, near misses, tragic accidents, and detailed accountings of journeys through the New Guinea terrain after being shot down. This is engaging sitting on the edge of your seat reading.
The basic facilities the men were forced to live in, brought in turn the scourge of gastroenteritis. In the words of Arthur Tucker “We were nearly defeated by it”. The stories of perseverance and determination in continuing to bring the fight to the Japanese while suffering the symptoms of gastroenteritis has to be read to be believed. DFC’s should have been awarded for that alone.
Quotes abound from the men themselves; humour and daring was often not far away. When the Australian had their 4 kitty hawks facing a dozen zeros one airman was heard to say “several more times exciting”.
There are also excerpts from Petty Officer First Class Saburo Sakai, the only man to record the 44 days from the Japanese side. Of course coloured by his own perceptions, it is an interesting inclusion.
I found this book to be an informative, personalised account of a battle that many Australians know little about. The stories of the individual men are moving, insightful and stirring. I was grateful for the human element being the priority rather than logistical military jargon, I found a more emotional connection to the men and their stories because of this.
The author has successfully given the reader a human insight into a battle that brought out the very best and the very worst in the men who fought it.
44 Days: 75th Squadron and the Fight for Australia, by Michael Veitch, published by Hachette Australia is available from Dymocks.
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