THE JOLLY ROGERS:
The Story of Tom Blackburn
and Navy Fighting Squadron VF-17


by Tom Blackburn with Eric Hammel


The Jolly Rogers is the true story of one of the U.S. Navy’s foremost World War II fighter squadrons, VF-17, and its charismatic commander, fighter ace Tom Blackburn. In his action-packed war memoir and unit history, Blackburn describes VF-17’s intense, winning campaign against the Japanese over the northern Solomon Islands and Rabaul in late 1943 and early 1944.

Beginning with his own experiences as a trainer of fighter pilots early in World War II and his leadership of a small carrier-based fighter squadron supporting the invasion of North Africa, Blackburn goes on to provide a rich, detailed account of how he shaped a crew of over-eager hotshots into one of the highest scoring fighter squadrons of World War II. In only seventy-six days of combat, Tom Blackburn’s Jolly Rogers knocked down a record 154 enemy warplanes, and Blackburn himself emerged as one of VF-17’s leading aces with eleven kills to his credit.

Boisterous at times, and sober at others, Blackburn explains the methods he used and example he set to shape and wield VF-17 before and during its South Pacific combat tour. Not least of the challenges facing Blackburn and VF-17 was taming the hot new Vought F4U Corsair fighter. Originally slated to serve aboard a fleet aircraft carrier, VF-17 was ultimately transferred to land-based duty when the Corsair proved too hot to handle during carrier-deck landings. Though the Corsair’s teething problems were worked out by others—it eventually became a superb carrier-based fighter-bomber—it was Blackburn and his Jolly Rogers who proved the full potential of the Corsair as a killer of enemy airplanes.