- Hardcover: 448 pages
- Publisher: Overlook Press; 1st Edition edition (Aug 2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1585671622
- ISBN-13: 978-1585671625
- Product Dimensions: 3.9 x 15 x 22.5 cm
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 3,180,929 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The description of the various electronic aids (Gee, H2S, Freya...) shows that the author hardly understands what he is talking about, although the aids were key to the precision of the bombings.
In terms of organisation, a chart showing the structure of the bomber command with the various groups and squadrons would have saved pages of blabla. A map of Europe, UK with airfields (I doubt that readers can figure out where a countryside airfield in UK can be located), and Germany with the main cities would have helped, as well as a concise list of the missions, given the fact that the author doesn't follow a chronological order.
All in all, I found very deceptive that a good base of information is so badly organized, as if the book were not finished. The author could have done a much better job with at least 100 pages less. Simply put, the author didn't put himself in the reader's shoes.
On the positive side, personnal stories give a more lively account rather than dry statictics. The fact that the author could get testimony of so many people directly involved in the war more than 50 years after its end is remarkable: this will be hardly feasible in 10 years.
Also remarkable is the fact that the author crosschecked information between allied and German sources, and we are amazed by the descrepancies about the real damages (target destroyed and planes shot down).
I won't enter the polemic of who (RAF or USAAF) did the best job or had a leading role, I think the book is pretty well balanced in that respect. There will always be people on one side or the other but all in all the book presents the contribution of everyone (US, UK, Canadians, Australians...), and behind nationalities there were just humans fighting for liberty.
The book also deals pretty well with the fact that the more the war advances the more you don't feel bad about using terror weapons. It is an infernal spiral where human beings die in horrible conditions and cultural heritage is devastated and gone for ever. Bombing is not a computer game where you are happy with a good score, bombing generates wounds and death of innocents, and behind each human killed there are family members and friends grieving. Let's not forget it
Respecting Harris, Neillands early on establishes that he did not initiate the "area bombing" campaign he is so well identified with and then commences what can only be called a whitewash campaign. Neillands blithely ignores many indicators of the truth,--even those evident in his prized oral history --that paint a less improved picture of Harris. In the final reflection, Neillands reveals nothing new about Harris and ignores the real implications of a barely acknowledged ruthlessness and obstinacy.
Denis Richards' 1994 book ("The Hardest Victory") did as much to dispell any evidence of Harris initiating the area bombing campaign and contains a much more realistic summation of Arthur "Butch" (short for "Butcher") Harris' connection to area bombing: "...he became not only its chief executant but also--though always within the official channels--its most ardent, eloquent and obdurate champion." Neillands's faint observation that Harris continued to hold on to "the bomber dream" does not describe Harris so well. As for Harris's good qualities as a commander, those too were addressed by Richards seven years before.
Thus one is left to wonder if Harris' reputation needed, or deserved, rehabilitation.
Concerning the morality of the bombing campaigns, Neillands spills a tremendous amount of ink only to retrace the path of a multitude before him and conclude "there was a war on." While this is thoroughly true, it is hardly new or revealing. Along the way, he disgraces his arguments by attempting to bolster the rationale for area bombing by essentially pointing a finger at the USAAF on behalf of the RAF and declaring "you did it too" largely as a result of systemic flaws that rendered the basic USAAF doctrine unworkable.
While his arguments are technically and militarily correct, they fall short morally (in the ETO). Certainly both bomber forces (and the high commands that directed them) suffered an erosion of the ideals they initially entered the war with, but the RAF went much farther than the USAAF as a matter of policy in Europe. The fact that imperfect practice on the part of the USAAF often amounted to the same thing as what was policy in the RAF fails to disguise the fact that the RAF was blatantly attacking cities with the intent of killing large sectors of their populations with relative indiscriminacy.
Neillands would have been more wise to mark the parallel decline in ideals between the two services that is evident if the bombing campaign against Japan is also taken into account on the USAAF side. Instead, Neillands, like so many before, is at least partially blinded by the racial issue. When one includes the USAAF experience in the PTO in the overall continuum, the decline in moral compunctions of the RAF and the USAAF is remarkably similar.
Neillands' conclusions that the bomber was available in insufficient numbers, hampered by weather and technically immature are quite correct. So too is his conclusion that there "was a war on." These points simply required much less proof to make and did not require finger-pointing to do it.
This brings up Neillands's third purpose: dispelling myths. As nearly as I can tell, after studying this subject for a quarter of a century I'm at a loss to discern just where some of the myths he purports to identify hold sway. In 25 years I have encountered no credible work that does not conclude the following:
1) That the RAF deliberately targeted civilians as a de facto matter of policy that was not beyond the standards of the war being fought and arguably had a significant impact on German production, but not on morale;
2) That the USAAF attempted to make the precision bombing doctrine work but was largely unable due to the weather, the initial lack of fighter escorts and the immaturity of the weapons system, with the result that its attacks wrought similar and often indiscriminate damage akin to RAF raids;
3) That the USAAF fire bombing in Japan was every bit as ruthless and morally disappointing as what the RAF did to Hamburg and Dresden;
4) That the RAF developed a small cadre of highly capable precision bombing units;
5) That the bombing commands suffered a drain of resources to other fronts.
6) That the fire bombing of Japanese cities was actually worse than the atomic bombings.
None of this is new, or revealing, and given that it represents mainstream thought it hardly constitutes truth hidden behind the veil of myth.
Neillands also falls prey to a few myths and errors himself. Henry Arnold was never actually taught to fly by either of the Wright brothers and the conclusion of the Pacific War had more to do with internal Japanese politics than the use of the atomic bombs. (had a very few things gone differently, Japan would not have surrendered on 15 August 1945). So when it comes to myth-busting, Neillands is seven years late and $14.55 short (just comparing to Richards).
Even Neillands' avowed purpose of using oral history to ensure the veterans are heard before they pass is nothing new or unique. Richards's book contains 33 pages of nothing but air crew quotes. Richards's book also contains extensive appendices completely absent from Neillands's work.
Neillands's book comes off as old news. It is RAF/Euro-centric and seeks to both absolve the RAF and damn the USAAF by association on the issue of area bombing. It was not necessary to spend 406 pages reaching the same conclusions as those who have gone before. Richards's 363 pages are much more informative.