Sunday, June 12, 2011
Book Review of "Bombs Away: The World War II Bombing Campaigns over Europe"
“When the commander arrived, the room went silent and the tension immediately spiked. Behind their old-man facades, these boy-warriors prayed for an easy mission. The daily toll of deep strikes had left them weary.
“They’d long since learned that the glory they saw back home on small town silver screens simply did not exist in the skies over Germany. Physically and psychologically, the strategic bombing campaign was a death march that only the luckiest and strongest would survive.” (“Bombs Away,” page 166).
“Bombs Away: The World War II Bombing Campaigns over Europe” is an enormously oversized book (so big, in fact, that it caused some moderate pain when, ironically, it landed on my foot) filled with reams of stunning photographs and which contains more of the human element than other similar titles. In the introduction, author, John R. Bruning, who, during the 1990’s, interviewed many veterans of the European air war, promises that his book is less about “aircraft specifications” than about “the men who flew the machines and the civilians on the ground who endured the fall of their bombs.”
The book not only includes the winning human element, however; it does describe the types of planes (German, American, and British) used in every major bombing campaign in the European Theater and, most interestingly, frames the entire story in terms of an Italian who first conceived that superior air power would grant victory to whichever country possessed and utilized it. A veteran commander of the Great War, Giulio Douhet wrote what Bruning describes as “the single most influential book on military airpower for the next thirty years,” a book that was “nothing short of an apocalyptic vision of societal destruction through aerial bombardment.”
Bruning relates how the Luftwaffe used “Douhet’s playbook” to destroy civilians in Guernica, Spain, in 1933 and in Warsaw six years later. The Germans were able to subdue France and the Low Countries quickly, also because of their superior air force. And superior air power is obviously what kept the British from succumbing to the Germans when the two countries pitted their air forces against each other in the skies above Britain during the summer of 1940. The subject of British resolve during the Battle of Britain and the Blitz is a tremendous subject in anyone’s hands, but especially in Bruning’s as he sums up the chapter thus: “Moral never wavered. Britain did not submit to terror. Guilio Douhet’s nihilistic vision of future warfare, once put to the ultimate test, proved bankrupt. The Germans gave up on the invasion of England . . . “
The air war replaced the bloody trenches of the Great War and was similarly costly in terms of lives lost (based on percentages of those involved). And although the Allied plan to end the war by targeting Germany’s munitions factories and fuel supplies fell short of its immediate goal – bringing Nazi Germany to its knees quickly (the attempt which Bruning shows clearly in several chapters, including one on the missions to Ploesti, Romania where the Nazi war machine kept oil refineries) -- Bruning also points out that during the Ardennes Offensive the slim German hopes for victory were pinned only on the remote possibility of stealing Allied fuel. Their own supplies were running short thanks to the strategic bombing missions of the U.S. and British aircrews.
Covering the major campaigns, the strategies, the planes, and most of all, the people involved, “Bombs Away” uses superior prose, quotes, and numerous stunning photographs to bring the story of the air war in Europe to life in a powerful and unforgettable way.
(Published at BookPleasures.com).