REVIEW Ò Bomber Command

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REVIEW Ò Bomber Command · Bomber Command’s air offensive against the cities of Nazi Germany was one of the most epic campaigns of World War II More than 56000 British and Commonwealth aircrew and 600000 Germans died in the course of the RAF’s attempt to win the war by bombing The struggle in the air began meekly in 1939 with only a few Whitleys HampdensBomber Command’s air offensive against the cities of Nazi Germany was one of the most epic campaigns of World War II More than 56000 British and Commonwealth aircrew and 600000 Germans died in the course of the RAF’s attempt to win the war by bombing The struggle in the air began meekly in 1939 with only a few Whitleys Hampdens and Wellingtons flying blindly through the night on their ill conceived bombing runs It ended six years later with 1. Max Hastings is arguably the top British war historian working today He has also contributed mightily to work on the histories of the 20th century’s great wars in a variety of media for example at the Imperial War Museum in London Bomber Command was one of his first books I read it in preparation for an upcoming trip to Lincolnshire where there is a museum on Bomber CommandHastings has a particular skill at weaving together the different aspects of a war such that one can see both the broad strategic dimensions of the conflict as well as the particular and gritty reality for those fighting on the ground This is a real gift that will become important as time passes and the people with direct experience of WW2 grow old and leave the scene as with WW1With the bombing campaigns of WW2 there is much to cover and conflicts around strategies and results that continue today for example in continuing debates about the role of American air power during the Vietnam War While Slaughterhouse Five was first published in 1969 it is still widely read today Jorg Friedrich’s Der Brand The Fire presents a view of strategic bombing from the ground up and was important in Germany before it was translated Those who paid attention in the recent Gulf Wars will surely remember accounts of “smart bombs” and how they have improved warfare I suspect the debates will not be resolved anytime soonHastings builds the story of Bomber Command and its leader “Bomber” Harris with these issues suarely in mind He is exceptional at weaving in the strategic versus tactical issues of bombing with differences between British and American approaches the evolution of technological capabilities during the war the role of the Germans in responding to bomber operations and the role of the bombing campaigns in the overall course of the war in Europe Hastings adds to his account the role of organization and personalities in the evolution of the bomber war especially the problem of getting strong leadership within the context of a complex war effort that reuired a team perspectiveHastings has strong and often critical perspectives on the bomber war but he is careful to balance it with a nuanced account of the value of the bombers to the British and overall allied war effort This struck me as an honest effort to tally up the costs and benefits of the war although it may frustrate some readers Hastings’ account is superb in highlighting the difficulties in figuring out just what to do with a branch of the services and what the overall objectives are upon which so many lives and resources depend Strategy is not just lip service but is hard to conceive of and harder still to implement consistently and effectively If anything he could have spent time discussing such issues of management and direction along with the issues of area versus pinpoint bombing The latter issues are not going away anytime soon The murkier issues of management and direction also remain with us and are likely to get important as the stakes get higherThis is a fine book and well worth the time

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With firsthand descriptions of the experiences of aircrew from 1939 to 1945 based on one hundred interviews with veterans and a harrowing narrative of the experiences of Germans on the ground during the September 1944 bombing of Darmstadt Bomber Command is widely recognized as a classic account of one of the bloodiest campaigns in World War II history Now back in print in the US this book is an essential addition to any history reader’s bookshe. This is Max Hastings first WWII book published in 1979 Now a classic it was controversial at the outset because it disputed the claims of Bomber Command and of the U S Army Air Force about the efficacy and costs of the bombing of Germany and Japan Since then Hastings has placed his stamp on other theaters of that war Only a few recent examples An overview of the war with emphasis on the Eastern Front “Inferno the World at War 1939 45” see review Operation Overlord and the march to Germany “Armageddon The Battle for Germany 1944 45” see review the Pacific Air War over Japan “Retribution The Battle for Japan 1944 45” see review Over the years he has continued to master the historical records and has improved both his organization and presentation “Bomber Command” is a very good book but it is clearly a training exercise for the outstanding military historian Hastings has become If you read Bomber Command and find it unappealing try Hastings’ later booksBritish air power was an area of hot controversy in the interwar period In WWI the airplane was essentially a tactical scouting device and the emergence of a strategic air doctrine was extremely slow with vicious battles raging between those who saw air power—particularly the bomber—as the way to win the war and those who saw air power as at best a support for ground and naval forces Into this cauldron was dropped an intense debate among the air power devotees—should the bomber’s role be precision bombing of military targets or should it be used to inflict high civilian casualties in the hope that the enemy would sue for peace Should fighters be given emphasis in the next war What role should fighters play—mere escorts for bombers defense weapons to control air spaceIn addition to the uandary over air strategy the Britain of 1940 was little suited to either precision bombing or urban damage For example the single engine three man Battle a light bomber was so slow had such a tiny payload was so poorly defended and was so clumsy that it did little than absorb the bullets of German fighters Later bombers like the medium bombers the Blenheims Stirlings etc were still no match for the Germans Not until 1943 was there a heavy bomber akin to the B 17 the British Lancaster had the speed payload self defense and range reuired to bomb GermanyNot only did the RAF of 1940 have no suitable bombers and no air strategy it also had no experience akin to the Lufwaffe’s experience from the Spanish Civil War That the Luftwaffe lost the Battle of Britain was due to a most unexpected source—the RAF’s under resourced fighter command used in a defensive role rather than the offensive weapons bombers that were the RAF’s darlings Over time an air strategy did emerge The bomber was at its core first as a precision weapon until abundant evidence showed that even when bombers did navigate to their designated targets many didn’t and passed through the curtain of flak and fighters many didn’t their bombs typically fell miles from the target In fact the evidence indicated that precision bombing had neither strategic nor morale value except perhaps at the English home front And to boot it was extremely expensive in blood and resources Had that evidence been made public it would have cut the floor from under the “Bomb Germany” policy; but it was not—and did not Thus other alternatives like using bombers in theaters like the Battle of the Atlantic to protect convoys and the MeditteraneanMiddle East were neglected Instead the “Bomb Germany” policy continued with a shift to area bombing intended to destroy the German will to fight The success of bad policy in the face of counterevidence is laid largely at the doorstep of Churchill backed by Professor Linneman his duplicitous science advisor and of a vigorous Bomber Command lobby area bombing was the de facto policy while precision bombing continued as the de jure policy In short the government lied often and loudly about its air goals Leadership of the area bombing effort was lodged with Air Marshall Arthur “Bomber” Harris a man who when chided by a policeman that his chronic speeding might kill someone replied “I kill hundreds every night” A man of extremes Harris believed that Germany could be defeated by bombing alone and his publicity machine trumpeted that “fact”Britain had the wrong strategy Bomb Germany the wrong resources too many bombers and too few fighters capable of matching the Germans and too little of everything But the entry of the U S Air Forces into the European war changed the balance after 1942 The USAAF’s 8th Air Force supplemented the urban bombing campaign while American fighters— particularly the new and very fast P51 Mustang— took control of the skies In fact an advantage of continued area bombing was that it attracted German fighters for the kill by P51s And the 15th Air Force in Italy engaged in bombing the Balkan oil fields to great effect Finally the resources and the strategy were sufficient for the task Perhaps the best lesson from Bomber Command is the difficulty of eliminating or modifying a bad policy after its adherents have become entrenched This lesson applies of course to all policy issues at every levelReviewed Books by Max Hastings Catastrophe 1914 Europe Goes to War Bomber Command Inferno The World at War 1939 45 Armageddon The Battle for Germany 1944 45 Retribution The Battle for Japan 1944 45

Max Hastings ì 9 REVIEW

Bomber Command600 Lancasters Halifaxes and Mosuitoes euipped with the best of British wartime technology razing whole German cities in a single night Bomber Command through fits and starts grew into an effective fighting forceIn Bomber Command originally published to critical acclaim in the UK famed British military historian Sir Max Hastings offers a captivating analysis of the strategy and decision making behind one of World War II’s most violent episodes. Max Hastings' Bomber Command is a rare achievement This book explores a broad complex subject with depth and balance all within a relatively brief number of pages On top of that it's very readable and entertaining Hastings explores the history of the RAF's Bomber Command in World War II beginning with it's origins tracing it's evolution throughout the conflict and concluding with it's legacy The narrative alternates between focusing on command and political discussions and historical vignettes of particular suadrons at particular times of the war In this manner Hastings gives us a pretty complete picture of Bomber Command's war without getting drawn out into a lengthy repetitive account Hastings analysis of the achievements of Bomber Command is tough but fair and evidence based While they contributed considerably to Britain's morale at key points and provided important support for the Allied invasion of Normandy their overall strategic goals were largely a failure This comes down partly to a lag in technological capability partly to lack of reliable intelligence analysis of bombing results and partly from poor decisions by the upper leadership of Bomber Command and the Air Ministry My only complaint about this book and the only reason I docked it a star is that some of it's information is a little dated Hastings buys into some of the mythology surrounding the German economy and Albert Speer that has been challenge by recent works such as Adam Tooze's The Wages of Destruction This isn't enough to hurt the overall uality of Hastings' arguments and analysis in this book but it's something of which the reader should be aware