This is a very well written book- a 'good read', whereas many modern 'war books' are just a hard slog through detail and statistics. Frank Tinkers progress through the Navy and the Army Air Corp was packed with incident and would fill a good book even before he got to Spain early in 1937. He was ambitious and always looking for excitement; a distinctive 'character' who was easily bored and then easily led into trouble, so not a man to lightly endure the petty bureaucracy and discipline of the Navy or Army, especially during peace time. Although he did make some good friends, Tinker would go off on his own and then his adventures began: his personality was essentially that of the classic 'loner'.
Following his arrival in Spain, the book describes Tinkers 'war in the air' in considerable detail and a good job is done filling in the background and outcomes of the operations and campaigns in which he served: it also explains the characteristics and performance of the aircraft of this 'transitional' period. The Russians supplied nearly all the Republican aircraft- and most of the men who flew them: I had not realised how completely Starlin's youthful airforce took over the Republican air war and we get rare insights into the characters of those Russian airmen. In the epilogue we also learn the rather sad fate of many of these men after they returned to their homeland. A large number of them quickly rose to very senior rank and then had the misfortune to be in charge at the time of the USSR 's disastrous defeats during the German invasion of June 1941. But of course the Russians fought back and ultimately triumphed: we see from this book that the Russian airforce was in fact well organised, disciplined, technically capable and grossly underestimated in the West.
In contrast to Tinkers disciplined and intelligent service when actually flying, when on the ground and given free time his life became a curious mix of the quiet, the chaotic and the unruly. Along the way he befriended fellow American mercenaries such as 'Whitey' Dahl and John Baumler, men who were as 'colourful' as Tinker himself. Although Madrid was itself under fire in a war zone Tinker spent most of his spare time there and met up with period personalities such as Ernest Hemingway whilst ding so.
For a while when back in the USA Tinker became a minor celebrity and added some excitement to the usually dull lives of ordinary people in rural Arkansas. Suddenly, this was followed by his untimely death, which was as mysterious and hard to explain as most of his life had been. If he'd lived to see World War Two there would doubtless have been more excitement for him, though he may not have survived in it for very long. As it was, Tinker spent much of his life struggling as the classic square peg trying to fit into a round hole.
I bought this book hoping to learn something about the Civil War in the air from a Republican perspective and this I did. Even todays left wing politicians would find the idealism of their 1930's counterparts naive and simplistic: certainly the American authors display a clear distaste for them - rightly accusing them of being very brave from the safety of distant Valencia. Cordell Hull and the bureaucrats of Roosevelt regime do not find favour with them either, duplicity and hypocracy being the order of the day in Washinton. Of course the Russians were in Spain purely for political reasons, though understanding Russian psychology was and still is always difficult: Winston Churchill was soon to describe that counrty as 'a riddle, wrapped up in a mystery, inside an enigma'.
Churchill's words can also be applied to the personality of Frank Tinker, though he was conspicuously 'without politics', a man who was there for the money, but whose true motivation lay in the shear thrill of combat flying: for him, close contact with danger was the spice of life. In times of peace such men become a problem and a headache for everyone in authority, but without them no war could ever be successfully fought.