Title: Fighter Group: The 352nd "Blue-Nosed Bastards" in World War II
Author: Jay A Stout
Genre: Military History
Pages: 418
Binding: Hard cover
Extra Features: Table of Contents, 94 B&W photos, Epilogue, Author's Note, Endnotes, Bibliography, and Index.
Published by: Stackpole Books, 2012

Article Type: Review
Article Date: March 25, 2013
Review By: Douglas Helmer

Bottom Line: Excellent book. A must-buy not only for WWII air combat sim flyers, but also fans of WWII air combat history.

LtCol (Ret) Jay A. Stout's latest book is a work of narrative journalism that reveals not only the glamorous aspects of life lived by American USAAF fighter pilots tasked with escorting B-17 and B-24 bombers, but also the mundane, awkward, hilarious, tragic and even despicable aspects as well.

Rather than speak in generalities, Stout focuses his attention on the men of the 352nd Fighter Group and its pilots who were known as the Blue-Nosed Bastards due to the distinctive blue color painted onto the noses of their aircraft.

To paint the picture of WWII fighter pilot life in its true colors, Stout combines published first-person biographical accounts, unpublished memoirs, recorded interviews, his own telephone and email interviews with surviving pilots and their families, the pilots' own diaries and letters home, news releases, government reports and military bulletins, informational intelligence summaries, and last but not least, his findings from sifting through over 10,000 pages of the 352nd Fighter Group's historical records including briefings, mission summaries, and encounter reports written in the pilot's own hand within minutes or hours of the event.

Stout then filters this mountain of information through the prism of his own fighter pilot experience to produce a colourful, compelling, and above all, very human account of these young mens' lives.

It lends particular focus to the the combat actions and personal lives of ...

  • Robert "Punchy" Powell,
  • Fremont Miller,
  • Theodore Fahrenwald,
  • George Preddy,
  • Donald McKibben

But there is a legion of other pilots (both US and German), commanding officers, ground crew, resistance fighers, and even civilians whose first-person accounts appear in this book.

Author's Style:

Using the same chronological framework of chapters used in his previous book, The Men Who Killed the Luftwaffe, Stout tells the story of the 352nd Fighter Group, its three squadrons, and its individual pilots from their early pre-war days right through to the end of the war in Europe.

Stouts writing style is to start each chapter with some historical context and plenty of interesting details about the subject at hand, then he gets out of the way and lets the pilots' own words from their letters, reports, and interviews tell the story whenever possible.


This book is chock-full of details. From the first chapter to the last, Stout provides readers with fascinating details as to the numbers of men, machines, and materiel required at each significant stage of the war. And rather than just throw out a statistic and leave it there, Stout always breaks the data down in terms of the individual squadrons, the 352nd Fighter Group, the 8th Air Force as a whole, and so on to give the reader a better perspective into what those numbers mean.

For example, USAAF pilots destroyed 7,422 enemy aircraft. Impressive, no? But Stout goes farther and states the following:

The USAAF flew more than 527,000 effective fighter sorties over Europe during the war but only 7,422 enemy aircraft were destroyed by fighters in air combat. This meant that aerial victories were scored on less than 2% of the USAAF's fighter sorties against the Luftwaffe.

Now there's a stat that most folks just don't know because we tend to focus on the 7,422 number because it's quite impressive in its own right.

If Stout stopped there, I'd be impressed, but he goes further. After Stout does his usual eye-opening analysis of the statistics, he then follows-up his analysis with first-hand accounts of the fighter pilots that illustrate the data in real-life terms.

This pattern—facts, analysis, first-hand accounts—is repeated throughout the book and it's a pattern that works extremely well.

Beyond the Stats:

There is more to this book than an analysis of historical statistics, however.

One of the things I appreciate most about Stout's writing is his attention to subjects and details that other authors, especially those who are not (or were not) fighter pilots like Stout, might consider too mundane, too boring, or even too taboo to mention.

For example, how do you spot a P-47 pilot in a crowd of other pilots? Well, it's not his jacket, or the patches on his jacket, or the type of clothes he wears. In fact, it's nothing overtly noticeable, but it's there and Stout thought it was a cool detail and so he writes about it. And no, I'm not going to tell you what that detail is.

That's just one of hundreds of fascinating little factoids the constantly crop up in this book. But it's not all trivia that Stout shares, he goes into great depth about topics such as…

  • The different scoring systems pilots used for victories,
  • How to spot a Luftwaffe flight leader,
  • Behind the scenes of bomber escort mission planning,
  • How the silhouette of their own fighter aircraft could, at times, work against them, and other times, for them,
  • The relay system of different types of fighters was used for bomber escort,
  • Even an entire chapter about the most feared adversary, the weather.

Stout covers all that and more. In fact he pretty much covers everything from eating and sleeping and fornicating to drinking, fighting and gambling. Oh, and the laundry, and even the trials and tribulations of urninating while flying at altitude in sub-zero temperatures and the consequences of getting it wrong. No detail of fighter life pilot life is too small and Stout makes it all very interesting.

The Pilots:

As mentioned earlier, throughout the book, Stout pays particular attention to the lives of fighter pilots Powell, Miller, Fahrenwald, Preddy, and McKibben. Stout introduces us to each man starting with his his pre-war childhood and what motivated each to become a fighter pilot. He then shares their stories during their training, and of course, during their active duty combat days flying out of Bodney, England and then airfield Y-29 in Belgium. They, however, are not the only pilots to fall under Stout's revealing gaze.

In addition to his standout pilots, Stout regales his readers with accounts of other great pilots (some German), average pilots, unlucky pilots, and just plain bad pilots. Then there are the accounts of pilots who were borderline psychotics and wanted to kill kill kill, as well as accounts of pilots who only wanted to stay alive and put more lives in jeopardy by doing so. There's even an account of an insecure, posturing Brigadier General who shamelessly contrived a plan to receive a DFC medal for doing nothing at all ... he didn't even fly the plane!

Regardless of whether they were good guys, bad guys, cowards, or murderous bastards, Stout heaps neither praise nor derision; rather, he again steps out of the way and lets the pilots who were there tell the story, warts and all, as they themselves did in interviews, after action reports, and letters home.

The Battles:

Throughout the book, Stout recounts many of the air combat engagements experienced by the Blue-Nosed Bastards. These are all quite thrilling to read, but none more so than the final big battle that occurred on January 1, 1945 out of their base in Belgium. Stout does a masterful job of combining his research findings on this battle along with the pilots' own accounts to create a read that had me on the edge of my seat and doing the occasional YES! with a fist pump.

For the Combat Simulation Crowd:

If you fly online in WWII air combat simulations you MUST read this book.

Why? Because what was true in reality is true in the simulations. For example, we all love to strafe airfields. And why wouldn't we, eh? All those fuel-laden aircraft just sitting there not moving ... what could be easier? But, as Stout explains, airfields are the single most "deadliest gamble" as he puts it.

Now, I've always known, on some sort of intuitive gut level, that airfield strafing in WWII air combat sims like IL-2 is a bad idea, but the realities of that danger only hit home after reading Stout's analysis of why it's so dangerous. You need to read his book to fully understand how incredibly risky airfield strafing is and it will inform your future actions I assure you.

That's just one valuable nugget for the virtual pilot, but there are many, many more, such as …

  • First-hand accounts of how a squadron should work (but often doesn't),
  • How to setup and use proper radio calls,
  • Fundamentals of squadron setup,
  • Hand and head signals (yeah, not so useful for online flying, but maybe game devs will work this into their code),
  • How to bait enemy fighters and kill them,
  • Preddy's Precepts.

That last point, Preddy's Precepts, needs to be made into a poster and hung on the wall of every aspiring online air combat fighter pilot.

Basically, if you have ever wanted to mimic the actual procedures and practices of a WWII fighter squadron in your own online virtual squadron, then you need to read this book because Stout covers the squadron framework, along with everything from naming conventions to duties of wingmen, to landing procedures, and on and on in great and fascinating detail.

Book Organization:

  • The book weighs in at a hefty 418 pages including the index with over 450 line items (I love a good index!)
  • There are 30 chapters covering the lives of the boys who became men in the USAAF 352nd Blue-Nosed Bastards Fighter Group from their time in the US before the war, to their training, to their base in England, and finally over to Europe where they finished the war.
  • Each chapter is a mixture of fascinating facts and figures, historical context, and first-hand personal accounts taken from mission debriefs (complete with the spelling mistakes the pilots made when writing them), personal letters, and personal interviews by the author.
  • Two galleries of images comprising 94 black and white photographs on gloss paper. Most are posed images, but several are from gun camera footage. Here's one that you'll find especially haunting …

Image taken from the gun camera footage of a USAAFF fighter pilot's plane. The image shows the legs of the German fighter pilot who just bailed out of his stricken aircraft. Unfortunately, for the German, this image is taken from the footage just before the German pilot hit the propellor of the American pilot's aircraft.


I am by no means an expert in the area of WWII air combat history, but I do own a fair number of fighter pilot biographies and autobiographies, a few books about the 8th Air Force, and many books about WWII fighter aircraft. I like all of those books as each focuses on a specific aspect of the WWII air combat experience. Stout's book, Fighter Group, is similar in that it focuses on one aspect (a single fighter group), but unlike those other books, it manages to tell the broader story of the life of a WWII fighter pilot better than any other single book I've ever read.

Stout may think of himself as a fighter pilot who became a book writer, but I really think he was a historian who just happened to become a fighter pilot. I'm not at all aware of his record as a fighter pilot, but if his gifts as a fighter pilot were only half as good as his gifts for finding the narrative gems in the mountains of personal letters and yellowed, crumbling squadron reports and debriefings that he sifts through with the dedication of an archeologist working on a dinosaur bone dig, then he must've been one helluva great pilot.

Unlike his previous book, The Men Who Killed the Luftwaffe, Fighter Group doesn't make any assertions or proclamations about the goodness or betterness of this or that fighter combat doctrine, nor does it try to make a point or set the record straight on any subject. What it does do is give us, the readers, an incredible insight into the daily lives of WWII American and even German fighter pilot life in the European Theatre of War.

Stout says in his author's note at the end of the book that he hopes the book "will become the seminal book on American fighter group operations over Europe during World War II". I believe he has achieved that goal, and in a highly engaging, balanced, and immensely readable way that does great justice to men and machines during this singular time in history.

Join a forum discussion about this review ...

Other books by Jay A. Stout:

About Jay A. Stout:

Jay A. Stout is a retired Marine Corps fighter pilot. An Indiana native and graduate of Purdue University, he was commissioned during June 1981 and was designated a naval aviator on 13 May 1983. His first fleet assignment was to F-4S Phantoms at MCAS Beaufort, South Carolina. Following a stint as an instructor pilot at NAS Chase Field Texas from 1986 to 1989, he transitioned to the F/A-18 Hornet. He flew the Hornet from bases on both coasts and ultimately retired from MCAS Miramar during 2001.

Aside from his flying assignments, he served as the executive officer of 1st Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company, and in a variety of additional assignments with various staffs around the world. During his twenty-year career he flew more than 4,500 flight hours, including 37 combat missions during Operation Desert Storm.

Following his military career Stout worked for a very short time as an airline pilot before being furloughed after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. He subsequently flew for the Kuwait Air Force for a year before returning to the States where he now works as a senior analyst for a leading defense contractor.

Lieutenant Colonel Stout's writing has been read on the floor of the U.S. Senate and has been published in various professional journals and newspapers around the nation. Works published while he was on active duty addressed controversial topics (women in the military, the MV-22 Osprey, effectiveness of the AV-8B Harrier, etc.) and took viewpoints that were often at odds with senior military leadership. Nevertheless, his cogent arguments and forthrightness contributed considerably to his credibility. Indeed, his expertise as a tactical aviator is recognized by Fox's national news network, which has hosted him twice as a combat aviation expert.

© 2014 COMBATSIM.COM - All Rights Reserved