Monday, August 11, 2014

Book Review: Gunship Ace--The Wars of Neall Ellis, Helicopter Pilot and Mercenary

I've always been interested in the lesser known conflicts of South Africa and Africa in general which receive little media interest compared to say Europe and the Middle East here in the US.  I also have always found those who choose to participate in war for money or ideals as mercenaries.

This then provided a nice joining of the two interests as Neal Ellis fought on the side of South Africa against Angola and its Cuban proxies during the '70s and '80s and also fought in a number of other conflicts--Sierra Leone, Bosnia, Afghanistan, etc. as a helicopter pilot in a number of roles ever since.

Unfortunately the author, Al Ventor, is not exactly a skilled writer.  More of a newspaper reporter trying his hand at a long form story, the book is a regurgitation of interviews he has done with Neall Ellis added to Ventor's own dry observations from his time in the field as a war correspondent.  There is little story flow or connection between the various parts of the work.  We're here one minute and there the next with no threads between the two places.  Neall Ellis also remains a cardboard cutout and not a fully fleshed character as we get little insight into him as a person and only get a paragraph here and there of his own words to describe his thoughts and feelings.

Ellis' resume is impressive, piloting Mi-8s and Mi-24s across the globe in addition to his earlier flights behind the rudder of a number of South African helicopters.  He comes across as an honorable individual who was not solely driven to fight out of a desire for money but more out of need for employment and few options for a man of his very specific skill sets.  His history includes the participation in missions that saved the lives of a number of UK serviceman who had been taken captive in Sierra Leone where he earned the majority of his fame (and a sizable bounty on his head).
Ellis is currently (or at least most recently) operating in Afghanistan with a number of NGOs supporting US and other operations.

Most interesting within this work is the shear number of conflicts that Ellis was involved in and that one generally forgets are actually taking place at any one time.  That Ellis survived the antiaircraft fire present at every turn in this piece is amazing.  You do get to learn a good deal about the modern mercenary here as well as a fair introduction into a number of lesser known conflicts but its style, structure and disjointed nature of its telling leaves Ellis deserving of a better encapsulation.

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