Thursday 29 September 2011

Exploding Fuel Tanks by Richard L. Dunn

There is no shortage of myths circulating about the Pacific War or on the subject of Japanese aircraft flown during that war. Whilst the rise of the internet has contributed to the dissemination of arcane factual information to a much wider audience the concomitant rise of the internet forum has contributed to the dissemination of myths, half-truths and misperceptions, more often than not motivated by the best intentions. Despite this there are still many 'black holes' of knowledge where we might grope and speculate but which remain essentially hidden from us by time and chance.

Filling a knowledge gap and shining a light into one of those black holes, Richard L. Dunn has tackled the crucial subject of aircraft fuel tank protection in his new book 'Exploding Fuel Tanks'. This book tells the story of the air war over the Pacific in World War Two from the perspective of aircraft vulnerability. The result is surprising history with many oft repeated but inaccurate characterisations of the combatants debunked. In addition to a story about technology it sheds new light on combat operations and the actual losses (not just the claims) each side suffered. The main chapter titles in the book are:-

I. State of the Art – 1940
II. The Experience of War: 1940-1941
III. Opening Rounds of the Pacific War
IV. Case Study: Midway
V. Shifting Balance: mid-1942 to early-1943
VI. Progress and Problems for the Japanese
VII. Tactical Consequences – 1943
VIII. Air Combat Late 1943 – Early 1944
IX. Reckoning
X. Lessons from the Final Months
XI. Course and Consequence – It Made a Difference

The book can be obtained via Amazon or direct from Richard's own website which includes reviews, a sample chapter to read and examples of the lllustrations and photographs. Richard's meticulous approach to research and writing has been previously evidenced in several excellent articles on the subject of Japanese aviation at

Image credit: Cover art © 2011 Richard L. Dunn

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Should be an interesting read, Nick. Thanks for posting this!

Dunn has selected an ideal illustration for his cover. Reproduced in the wide crop version, the full story can be easily seen. The Jill has fallen victim to a 5" shell, almost certainly fitted with a radio-proximity fuse. The black cloud shows the point of detonation, and the splinter impact pattern is still visible as splashes on the water surface. Momentum has carried the Jill forward as it disintegrates. Few, if any, aircraft could be expected to survive such a close detonation of a heavy shell, regardless of their construction and protective systems.

The courage of Japanese aircrew in pressing home their attacks is quite impressive, considering the effectiveness and concentration of the defenses employed by the Allied fleets.

Both the British and the Germans were researching radio proximity fuses at the beginning of WWII. Like many other programs, the German effort was suspended in 1940, while the British work was furthered by American collaboration and production. The strategic bombing campaigns may well have been impractical had the Axis succeeded in employing proximity fuses in their AAA and arial rocket defenses.