Book Review: Lucky 666: The Impossible Mission

18 Nov
From Simon & Schuster: Lucky 666: The Impossible Mission

From Simon & Schuster: Lucky 666: The Impossible Mission

2016 by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin
Simon & Schuster

☆☆☆☆☆ Highly recommended

When I consider new work detailing personal wartime history, my initial concerns are: “where does this fit in context of the vast literature of the Second World War,” and “why is this story important and noteworthy?” Lucky 666: The Impossible Mission (non-fiction) by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin, authors of the #1 New York Times bestseller The Heart of Everything That Is, tells the true story of U.S. Army Air Forces pilot Lieutenant Colonel Jay Zeamer, winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor. Zeamer, along with his B-17 crew, helped clear the way for Admiral Bull Halsey and General MacArthur’s commencement of Operation Cartwheel in June 1943 in the southwestern Pacific.

On 16 June 1943, “Lucky 666,” the moniker for Zeamer’s patchwork B-17 Flying Fortress, was tasked with critical photo reconnaissance of both the Japanese airdrome on Buka Island and Bougainville’s west coast. Both locations held large numbers of Japanese aircraft—Zeros from the 251st Imperial Air Squadron (these Japanese Zeros were the newer and faster Mitsubishi A6M3). Without the security of fighter aircraft accompanying their mission, Zeamer and his crew were to complete this photo reconnaissance and return safely from their mission—a 1200 mile solo flight—itself a miracle. The authors note that their return was not without peril however: “The final flight of old 666 with Capt. Jay Zeamer at the helm commanding his crew of Eager Beavers was—and remains—the longest continuous dogfight in the annals of the United States Air Force.” (p. 287) Yes, it was one against many. I won’t spoil the story for those who have yet to read this thrilling contribution to the literature, but the ‘devil is in the details’ as the saying goes. And Old 666 was a special aircraft as you’ll discover.

The authors suggest that the heroism of Zeamer and his B-17 crew helped save countless lives among the 37,000 U.S. Marines and Army G.I.s whom would storm the beaches at Bougainville. (p. 261) Citing historians Dr. John Prados and Bruce Gamble, Drury and Clavin offer that it was the Solomon Islands Campaign which served as a turning point for the Allies in the Pacific and not the Battle of Midway. (p. 292-293) No matter which side you take in that ongoing historical debate, the true story of Zeamer and his brave crew is well worth your time.

Lucky 666: The Impossible Missions ample Bibliography is replete with primary and secondary sources. Primary sources include Zeamer Family Papers and mementos belonging to the estates of the crew. This new work will appeal to those readers fond of the stout B-17 Flying Fortress and aviation history as well as aficionados of the War in the Pacific during the Second World War.

Scott Lyons
18 Nov 2016


Posted by on November 18, 2016 in WWII in the Pacific


4 responses to “Book Review: Lucky 666: The Impossible Mission

  1. Clint Hayes

    November 28, 2016 at 9:38 pm

    Love the website. Great job. Always nice to see someone else spreading the word about Jay Zeamer and the Eager Beavers, too. They were an extraordinary crew. Just to be clear, however, the crew never called the plane “Lucky 666.” That’s the moniker Drury and Clavin gave the plane for their book, and the very confusion I was afraid might arise from that choice of title. Zeamer came to call the plane “Old ‘666” later in life, but the crew itself, the surviving members of which I had the privilege of interviewing back in the ’90s, called the plane either “‘666” or simply “the plane.”

    As for the Drury and Clavin book, I appreciate their wanting to tell the story of the crew, but after a fairly good introduction to Zeamer and Sarnoski prior to the war, they veer off into alternative history once they get the men into the war. Beyond the broadest strokes—Zeamer and Sarnoski did reunite, form a crew, fix up ‘666, and fly the 16 June 1943 mission together—almost no part of the narrative they present once the men arrive in Australia isn’t mistaken in some way. Their list of sources looks comprehensive, but the footnotes show they relied extensively on individual memories without checking them against archival personnel records and especially the squadron diaries and morning reports. It doesn’t take anything away from the heroism of the crew. It’s just a shame that it doesn’t tell the actual story of the crew (which they in fact, surprisingly, get wrong).

    If you’re interested in my full review of their book, you can find it on Amazon. I’d also invite you to visit my website,, to read my own story of the crew based on my two decades of research and exclusive interviews with the crew members and their closest squadron mates.

    Clint Hayes

    • Scott M.H. Lyons

      December 24, 2016 at 1:44 am

      Hi Clint, sorry for the delays.

      I’ve checked out your website on your work. Highly recommended for those wanting to learn more about Jay Zeamer and the ‘story behind the story’.


  2. Janice Blake

    December 15, 2016 at 1:44 pm

    The landing on Bougainville is of special interest to me. A friend/former colleague was a Seabee vet. He had left art school to join the Seabees. Documented his years in the South Pacific with sketches and paintings, now entrusted to his daughter. He asked us to create a book about this artwork and we have done so. One of the paintings is of a Black Cat, lost off Bougainville. I have been following you on Twitter (and now signed up to receive your blog postings). Would love to be able to share our book of Nat’s Paintings (not yet published) with you! – Janice Blake

    • Scott M.H. Lyons

      December 23, 2016 at 6:27 am

      Hi Janice, thank you for the information. I’m now following you on Twitter and have sent a LinkedIn invitation as well. I’m looking forward to your new book once published. Just let me know! All the best.



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