Cowboy: interpreter, warlord, one more casualty


Polish Fourth of July Slupsk is a small medieval city in northern Poland that became briefly famous in 1953. Facing the formidable MiG-15 jet fighter in Korea, the U.S. offered $100,000 and political asylum to any Soviet Bloc pilot who brought one to the West, with a bonus of $50,000 to the first one across the Iron Curtain. The prize (the equivalent of $1.5 million in today's much-debauched greenbacks) was won by Franciszek Jarecki of the Polish Air Force, stationed at the Slupsk airfield. In March 1953, he flew his MiG to safe haven on a Danish island, where it was thoroughly inspected by the Americans before they politely returned it to Poland by sea.

I emailed this yarn to a friend who himself was an escapee from Communist Poland. Now an American husband and father, he'd visited Slupsk last year, and he took his son on a tour of Soviet-era warplanes on the tarmac -- including a MiG-15. Wouldn't it be delicious if that happened to be Jarercki's aircraft? Especially because the Slupsk airport is now the site of U.S. military base, which on the Fourth of July held a gala fireworks display, band concert, and other entertainment for the locals in honor of Independence Day. Freedom from foreign dominance is something that Poles achieved just one generation after Jarecki's daring flight.

Lucky Sevens tee-shirt Did R T Smith ever dream, when he sailed for Asia in 1941, that in the next century he would be remembered on a twenty-dollar tee shirt on Amazon? (Twenty dollars, in 1941, was a month's pay for a US Army private.) Lucky Sevens was indeed the fuselage number of his P-40 Tomahawk, and he did fly for the 3rd Squadron Hell's Angels, but he might have been annoyed to see just four meatballs on the chest, since his CAMCO bonus account credited him with nearly nine air-to-air victories. They included three Ki-21 heavy bombers, five Ki-43 Hayabusa fighters (a Japanese army plane, which the AVG believed to be the navy Zero), and a share in three other aircraft.

Go to the Annals of the Flying Tigers for a photo of Lacy Mangleburg's P-40 Tomahawk as the pilot would have seen it just before he climbed into the cockpit, "iron" gunsight and all. The photo therefore was probably taken in November or December of 1941.

This is one of the dullest books I've read in quite a while, and one of the scariest. In Army of None, Paul Scharre argues that a complex system will inevitably fail sooner or later, with potentially catastrophic results as at Three Mile Island, Fukushima, and especially Chernobyl, or with a tragic waste of lives as in the Patriot missile fraticides in Iraq or the people killed in recent failures of self-driving Tesla and Uber vehicles. What I found especially awesome is the concept of robo-drones that can be launched from an aircraft and sent out to "swarm" an individual enemy craft or a formation of them, with the robots actually deciding among themselves who will attack which target and from what direction. Mr Scharre finds this reason enough for the US and the UK never to develop autonomous weapons, but personally I hope they will, because we may be sure that Russia is doing just that, and probably China as well. (Israel already has the Harpy, which can hang around for more than two hours until it finds and destroys a hostile radar station up to 500 kilometers away.)

Also reviewed this month on the Warbird's Book Club: Andrew Jackson and the Miracle of New Orleans: The Battle That Shaped America's Destiny, and Aces Wild: The Race for March 1. Or for a change of pace, go over to Reading Proust for a review of Proust's Duchess: How Thee Celebrated Women Captured the Imagination of Fin-de-Siècle Paris. Blue skies! — Daniel Ford

Welcome to the forum!

Here are a thousand or so files on airplanes, pilots, and the wars of the past hundred years, grouped under these headings:

Annals of the Flying Tigers
Annals of the Brewster Buffalo
Annals of Poland: war and exile, 1939-1948
Japan at War, 1931-1945
Annals of the Chinese Air Force
Glen Edwards and the Flying Wing
Remembering Bluie West One
The Spadguys Speak (carrying a nuke to Sevastopol)
Annals of Vietnam
War in the Modern World

Plus these excellent places to look for more: