Strike From the Air: The Early Years of the US Air Forces by Terry C. Treadwell

South Yorkshire, UK: Pen & Sword, 2020. Hardcover, illustrated, 320pp.

Review by Peter L. Belmonte

In this book, Terry C. Treadwell, an established British aviation author and journalist, desires to cover the history of “United States aviators and their aircraft in the First World War and in their little-known involvement in the Polish/Soviet War of 1919-20” (p. vii).

The first two chapters cover the beginnings for U.S. Army aviation from the Civil War through the 1916 Mexican Punitive Expedition. This is a helpful review of the “starts and stops” of early U.S. military aviation. In the next chapters Treadwell covers the Americans who served with the British and the French flying forces before the U.S. entered the war. He then reviews the background of America’s entry into World War I and the subsequent efforts to build an air service from almost nothing. It is at this point that the narrative becomes a bit disjointed. There is no discernable structure to the book. The chapters are numbered but not titled; the narrative isn’t presented in strictly chronological order, nor is it presented topically. Thus the timeline is sometimes muddled with some items being repeated in more than one chapter and some items seemingly out of sequence within each chapter.

Chapters Four through Nine cover the progress of the war in the air as the U.S. Air Service grew. Treadwell discusses the shortage of airplanes as it related to operational readiness as well as the fates of individual squadrons. Woven into the narrative of the Army Air Service is the story of the Navy and Marine Corps air units. Treadwell covers all this from a low-level perspective; the operational level of warfare (ground and air) is only touched upon. Thus the focus of the book is the U.S. air war on a tactical level.

Chapter Ten is devoted to the Kosciuszko Squadron, a group of American airmen who joined Polish forces to fight against the Russians in 1919 and 1920. These men were not, at the time, part of the U.S. military. The chapter might be considered out of place in a book about the U.S. Air Service, but it fits with Treadwell’s stated purpose for writing the book. The final chapter includes “escape reports and reports of life as a PoW from American airmen who were either shot down or crash-landed behind enemy lines” (p. 225). Three appendices provide various lists of men, units, and air stations.

Although Treadwell’s writing style is clear and free of jargon, this cannot be considered a scholarly study; none of the information is sourced, there are no credits for any of the photographs, there are only a handful of general footnotes, and the bibliography contains only eleven items. There is not a great deal of new information in the book; most of the narrative seems to have been derived from previously published sources. In addition, there are some minor errors of fact and carelessness scattered throughout the text. The book’s chief value is in assembling data in a format that provides an overview of the topic, and the photographs are a good record of men and machines. Another high spot of the book are the accounts of U.S. Navy operations, in particular naval air operations from Italy. It’s recommended for those who want basic information and are not concerned with academic rigor; others will want to search elsewhere. This should not be one’s only source for the U.S. Air Service in World War I.

Peter L. Belmonte is a retired U.S. Air Force officer, author, and historian. A veteran of Operation Desert Storm, he holds a master’s degree in history from California State University, Stanislaus. He has published articles, book chapters, reviews, and papers about immigration and military history. Pete’s books include: Italian Americans in World War II (Arcadia, 2001), Days of Perfect Hell: The U.S. 26th Infantry Regiment in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, October-November, 1918 (Schiffer, 2015), Forgotten Soldiers of World War I: America’s Immigrant Doughboys (with Alexander F. Barnes, Schiffer, 2018), Play Ball! Doughboys and Baseball during the Great War (with co-authors Alexander F. Barnes and Samuel O. Barnes, Schiffer Books, 2019), United States Army Depot Brigades in World War I (with co-author Alexander F. Barnes, McFarland Publishers, 2021), and Chicago-Area Italians in World War I: A Case Study of Calabrians (Fonthill Media, 2019). He is also working on a multi-volume history of Italian Americans in World War I. You may see his books at his webpage: https://www.amazon.com/author/peter.belmonte.

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