Peter E. Davies, A-4 Skyhawk vs North Vietnamese AAA (Osprey, 2020)
In this, one of the more contrived Osprey titles, Peter Davies surveys the compact Douglas A-4D Skyhawk and its performance in the Vietnam War against a range of North Vietnamese anti-aircraft weapons.
Developed to tight specifications, the A-4D, entered service in 1956 and became the US Navy’s main strike aircraft in Vietnam. While that was happening, the North Vietnamese expanded their AAA, importing better weapons, mostly from the Soviet Union, and more of them. Davies works his way through those tandem developments, identifying the key steps and weapons used. As you might expect, he highlights the technical specifications. Davies turns to how these weapons were used in a discussion of the strategic situation for both sides, with Davies echoing complaints that US political decisions allowed the North Vietnamese to reorganize and re-arm. He then relates the experiences of those who manned these weapons, although the addition of a photograph of an all-female NV gun crew illustrates the total war effort of the North Vietnamese. The pilot descriptions of coping with anti-aircraft fire is particularly interesting and many pilots were fortunate that the A-4D proved so sturdy. Davies’ accounts of lost pilots show the danger of their actions, though it could not have been a picnic on the receiving end of an A-4D strike either. All this is brought home in Davies’ section on statistics and analysis.
The Osprey Duel books work best when both sides are given equal weight. In this one, however, Davies tips the balance decidedly to the A-4D. He cannot be blamed for that because a historian has to follow the evidence and there is clearly more available on the American side. Still, the AAA defences are well described within those limitations. Davies is also assisted by excellent graphics, and photographs that illuminate our understanding of the weapons and people involved in these tense engagements. If you want to supplement your knowledge on the air war in Vietnam, or just enjoy reading about modern warplanes, then you will enjoy this book.