Category Archives: WWII in the Pacific

Book Review: Lucky 666: The Impossible Mission

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


Book Review: Stay the Rising Sun: The True Story of USS Lexington, Her Valiant Crew, and Changing the Course of WWII by Phil Keith

Book cover: Stay the Rising Sun: The True Story of USS Lexington, Her Valiant Crew, and Changing the Course of WWII

Book cover: Stay the Rising Sun: The True Story of USS Lexington, Her Valiant Crew, and Changing the Course of WWII

Stay the Rising Sun: The True Story of USS Lexington, Her Valiant Crew, and Changing the Course of WWII
Zenith Press
234 Pp. $30.00/Hardcover
ISBN-13: 978-0760347416

The War against Japan and America’s naval war in the Pacific both enjoy a vast and deep historiography. This body of work and scholarship includes well-researched literature from authorities on the subject including, but not limited to: Walter Lord, Samuel Eliot Morison, Dan van der Vat, John Toland, and Ronald H. Spector, and most recently, Ian W. Toll and James D. Hornfischer. While these eminent historians have contributed solid research through well-respected, lauded narrative, this assembled literature has lacked in-depth history of the officers and men and their heroism aboard the USS Lexington during the Battle of the Coral Sea. To the aforementioned list we should include historian and former U.S. Navy officer Phil Keith, for his work in Stay the Rising Sun: The True Story of USS Lexington, Her Valiant Crew, and Changing the Course of WWII.

Keith’s theory and assertion that the Battle of the Coral Sea, and not the naval Battle of Midway or land battle on Guadalcanal, was the turning point in the War against Japan. Keith’s premise is not without merit, or allies; he has other historians on his side. Naval historian Dan van der Vat, in The Pacific Campaign: The U.S.-Japanese Naval War 1941-1945, writes: “Coral Sea was a tactical defeat for the Americans, because as the weaker side they lost more men, ships, and aircraft. But it was a strategic defeat for the Japanese, who felt obliged, for the first time since they had opened their Southern front, to halt a major advance and to change their plans.” van der Vat adds: “… the victors [Japan] behaved as if they had been beaten, and therefore they were beaten.” Finally: “There is thus a powerful case for arguing that the Coral Sea, not the much bigger and more dramatic clash exactly four weeks later at Midway, was the real turning point of the Pacific Campaign.”

Operation “MO,” the Imperial Japanese Navy’s plan to take Port Moresby and ultimately Australia, was reversed as a result of heroism from the officers and men aboard the USS Lexington and USS Yorktown at Coral Sea. Numerous Medals of Honor and Navy Crosses were awarded to U.S. Navy personnel (ship-duty personnel and pilots) assigned to the USS Lexington during the war’s first battle between aircraft carriers. Japanese aircraft carriers Shokaku and Zuikaku exorbitant loss of aircraft and crews at Coral Sea preempted those ships from participating in the subsequent Battle of Midway, thus tilting the intelligence-benefitted epic further in favor of the U.S. Navy. Keith strengthens his theory.

In Stay the Rising Sun, Keith superbly chronicles the ship’s pre-war history, highlighting the mid-production transformation from CC-1 battle cruiser to CV-2 flat-top, or aircraft carrier, in July of 1921. This new contribution to the literature will appeal to those interested in America’s war against Japan, history of WWII-era naval battles and U.S. Navy leadership during the War in the Pacific.

I enjoyed reading Keith’s new book…. I’m sure you will too.

Scott Lyons

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