on 23 March 2009
Bomber Command - the 'terrorflieger' - much maligned and their courage greatly to be admired, in my personal view. Max Hastings, as a journalist, can certainly make words meaningful. As an historian he has put together this well crafted, well researched book. Hastings goes to great lengths to be as accurate and as fair as possible, with a shrewd assessment of Arthur Harris in particular, and a number of other RAF staff officers and politicians. The main content of the book though, is devoted to the building up of the strategic bombing offensive, from the early 'nickle runs' and appallingly costly daylight operations when the bombers were forbidden to risk civilian casualties on the ground, to the final devastating raids in the closing days of WW2. We are left in no doubt of the strain on aircrew, the great personal courage of the young men who flew expecting (with good reason) to die, the insensitivity of the RAF to those who broke down, and the struggle for resources to fund the bomber offensive. We have the advantage of hindsight, and the perspective of the 21st century mind. To understand we need, if possible, to think what it was like to be there at the time. Max Hastings enables us to do this with his balanced and thoughtful assessment of the bomber offensive. I am sure his comments were not universally welcome to some of those who served in Bomber Command, but I think we are entitled to make a judgement on history - which Max Hastings has done so ably - otherwise we learn nothing from it's appalling sacrifices. An excellent book.
on 14 February 2010
Once again, Max Hastings has hit the target 'right on the chin,' with his superb account of the RAF's strategic bombing campaign. Hastings attention to detail and objectivity is clearly evident in this well researched account of the RAF Bomber Command offensive against Germany. Hastings covers the activity of the bombers from the somewhat bumbling early activity of the RAF in 1939-41, when predominantly antiquated machines such as the Whitley & Blenheim were pressed into battle, often with disasterous results. He highlights the dismal levels of accuracy achieved 39-42, and the lack of navigational aids that meant that the RAF was initially unable to actually mount effective attacks against targets. Hastings goes on to detail the evolution of Bomber Command under Harris, into the extremely potent & hard hitting military organisation that it became. Every aspect is covered in great detail, from the experiences of aircrew at the sharp end, the devastating impact on German civilians, the strategy employed by both sides, the evolution of technology IE Gee, Oboe & H2S, & counter-measures such as window, the development of the German defences etc.
This excelent book is an essential addition to the bookshelf of any person interested in RAF Bomber Command & it's activities 1939-45. It is every bit as well researched, & readable as Patrick Bishop's superlative, "Bomber Boys."
Hastings provides an objective & thorough account that allows the reader to form his/her own conclusions as to the contribution that BC made to allied victory. On reading the book, it is impossible not to be impressed & full of respect & admiration for the many thousands of British, Australian, Kiwis, Canadians and other Common Wealth aircrew who served in Bomber Command 1939-45.
Bomber Command is a masterpiece, an in depth study of strategic bombing in WWII by the RAF. From the opening days of 1939, when Bomber Command was limited to largely dropping propaganda leaflets, to the firestorm of Dresden in the last days of the European war, everything is covered off in detail. The growth in planes, both in number and capability - from the single engined Battle to the unused Avro Lincoln, the change in method to (or rather, the default acceptance of) "area bombing", the creation of the pathfinder force, the technical advances...it is all here.
Some raids are discussed in detail - notably, not the Dambusters raid - and the loss of life, the flak, the nightfighters, the sheer terror of being in the air over Germany, and in some cases being on the ground being bombed are all set out. Planes, crews, the role of 'Bomber" Harris - all you could want is here. But where this book comes into its own is by asking the question whether it was all worth it, and giving each reader the tools to make his or her own evaluation.
The economics is covered off, as is the military impact of bombing on Germany. It is incredible in one sense to read how much slack there was in the German ecomony until the last days of the war: the sacrifices that Britain made in 1940 (such as killing zoo animals) were never made in Germany until the bitter end, if at all. German women were meant to remain in the kitchen, not building planes in factories, unlike in Britain, the US, and course Russia.
In asking how effective was the bombing campaign, the question is only worth asking to the extent alternative uses of the capital can be identified. Hastings does this - although he could perhaps go into more detail - but the clear example given is that by devoting the resources it did the production of heavy four-engine bombers, Britain had to resort to buying most of its tanks and all of its transport aircraft from the US.
Ultimately, Hastings conclusion is that air power alone could not win WWII, without air supremacy, which was achieved in part by the day bombing of the USAAF (with and without escorting Mustangs) and the boots on the ground in Western Europe. This is hard to disagree with.
The morality and effectiveness of air power in WWII is something everyone must make their own decision of, with the benefits of hindsight. What this book does is enable that decision to be informed. It's a must read if you want to learn more about WWII in Europe.
on 4 January 2001
I always think of Max Hastings as that bloke on Question Time with the pinstripe suits that have the stripes just a little too wide.
Pity he has to waste his time with all that journalism, his real forte is military history and I think he should stick to it.
This is an extremely good book that manages to convey the appalling unreality that must have been the lot of bomber crews who knew they only had a few months to live - at best and yet conveys a proper appreciation of 'Bomber' Harris and his vital role in maintaining British morale when all we had to hit back at the Germans were the bombing raids of dubious accuracy and effectiveness. The sense of theatre that Harris brought to the job - with his 1,000 bomber raids and his uncompromising public statements - is well chronicled here.
But when Hastings describes the carnage of the raid at Darmstadt - a really boring little raid by Bomber Command standards - you feel real revulsion about what was done in the name of freedom.
Great stuff. Well worth buying.
on 2 November 2011
Outstanding book. I already knew a excellent writer about Bomber Command, Mr Martin Middlebrook. Now I've met another. This is by far the most comprehensive and thorough book I've ever read about Bomber Command, dealing with virtually all the tactical, strategic, operational, human, moral and ethical aspects of the issue. Nothing was left to discuss. You are sure to enjoy this book, as much as I did. Moreover, it was written in 1979, therefore many aircrew were still alive at the time and were interviewed by the author. So much suffering, and so much courage from both sides! These people went through the most dreadful ordeal, and, still, they always found the courage somehow to start up and get airborne, night after night. As you read the book, try to imagine yourself commited to do just the same. Or, if you prefer, read the truly horrible chapter about Daarmstadt and think how lucky you are for not being a German citizen in WWII.
This a very serious book, that must be read with a lot of respect. The courage, dedication and sense of duty of those Airman is excellently portrayed and should never be forgotten.
on 28 August 2000
...Yes, the campaign was costly, and yes, it was cruel, in tems of the number of Allied airmen who lost their lives. But pointless? No, and to say it was, does nothing but trivialise the huge loss of life endured by those who served in Bomber Command. The book itself is one of the more accurate portrayals of Bomber Command, and should be on the bookshelf of anyone who is interested in the subject. Sometimes brutally honest, and portraying facts that we might not like to admit, it nevertheless gives the whole story. We must not forget that Bomber Command provided us with the ONLY way to strike directly at Germany from June 1940 until June 1944, and the author readily acknowledges this fact when detailing occasions when things went wrong. Non-sensationalist and factual, overall, a good, recommended, buy.
on 13 July 2009
Max Hastings gives a balanced and unbiased account of the efforts of Bomber Command to strike a decisive blow against Nazi Germany. Thoroughly researched, with eyewitness accounts on both sides, Hastings does not flinch from describing the horrors of aerial war in graphic detail. The bravery and dedication of the volunteer RAF airmen is never in doubt and the suffering experienced by bombed German civilians is treated sympathetically and with due dignity.
The advances in British and German technology are well explained and help emphasise the struggle Bomber Command were up against, especially against the German night fighters. Many unanswered questions remain at the end of this book, none more puzzling than the decision not to award Bomber Command airmen a campaign medal.
on 6 December 2007
This book is a very good read.It gives very detailed accounts of how the bombing offensive of the RAF was created.It also exonerates Harris from the blame he and his crews were shouldered with during and after the war.The bravery of the crews in the RAF is brilliantly shown amongst these pages.Even though the stupidity of the Politicians of the day and some of the RAF's Command structure is highlighted as being narrow minded and short sighted. Their stupidity being paid for with the lives of the crews who were simply following the directives passed down by the Government of the time.These pages are filled with pride and bravery,and those who deserted what Bomber Command crews did from day one to the last should bow their heads in shame.Read this book yourself and come to your own judgement. The truth is Max Hastings at least has done those brave men of Bomber Command some justice at least by exposing the TRUE version of what happened.
on 20 August 2014
This is easily the best book I ever read (and re-read!) about the second world war. Hastings' obviously enormous and all-round knowledge about the subject matter is presented such that the reader will, within a few hundred pages, properly understand all aspects of the bombing campaign, from politics and strategic decisions, technical developments in path finding, the aircraft, air defenses, and most importantly, how it must have been to sit in the ice cold cockpit of a bomber somewhere over Germany in the middle of the night, and for that matter, how it was to be on the receiving end.
There is a lot of tragedy associated with Bomber Command's campaign. Hastings points out how a mythical pre-war belief that raining down bombs on the 'soft' enemy civilian population would somehow break the enemy's will to fight (without too much thought having been put into the practicalities and problems) shaped the way Bomber Command entered and fought the war.
Having to find the hard way that daylight bombing was infeasible because of the bomber's vulnerability to modern fighters, then having to opt for night bombing and finding out (only after a year or two of deluded hopes) that the vast majority of crews did not even get within miles of the target, Bomber Command eventually overcame the difficulties of night time bombing. Hastings does a good job in describing how they did that, i.e. the technology behind nightly navigation and target identification e.g. using pioneering airborne radar technology.
Only towards the middle and end of the war was it possible to dish out serious punishment. Sadly, despite all the civilians killed and maimed, it is very unlikely that this effort was critical in defeating Germany. Both industrial plant and civilian morale just proved much more resilient than anyone had expected. Equally resilient were those brave bomber crews who just kept going at it despite horrendous loss rates (at some 5% loss rate and a 'tour' of 30 flights anyone can do the math on the crews' odds of survival).
For all its flaws the bombing campaign achieved a lot of 'indirect success' by tying up enormous German resources in air defence (imagine what all those 88 mm Flak guns could have done on the battlefield in Normandy) and, most importantly perhaps, giving Churchill vital bargaining power vis-a-vis the Russians and Americans to delay the invasion to an appropriate time. Perhaps this avoidance of massive Allied battlefield casualties was ultimately Bomber Command's greatest achievement.
on 14 February 2012
Max Hastings was a good newspaper editor who has carved out a later career as an excellent historian.
This book is well-researched and scholarly without the negative attributes of poorer academic work. The writing style shows how the author was clearly educated to write well and combines that with the easier style of a seasoned newspaper man.
I do not, and never have, always agree with Sir Max's conclusions nor always find comfortable his departures from standard orthodoxy - perhaps even more surprising from a man associated with the Daily Telegraph and Evening Standard - but can never fault the evidence used that leads up to the conclusions. Sir Max researches his subjects well and clearly gives it some thought - this is far less common than many would expect.
The pictures are well-chosen and support the text, the index is useful and above average for its type and clearly the publishers have worked hard to reflect the effort put in by the author. The book goes a long way towards setting in context the heroism of Bomber Command in the dark days of World War 2 and their sustained onslaught against the German war machine, as such it is to be welcomed and will remain a classic for many years.
This book was useful when I was writing my own book on Guy Gibson ( kindle Heroes of the RAF - Guy Gibson VC (Hereoes of the RAF) and in book version Heroes of the RAF - Guy Gibson) because it helped contextualise that extraordinary life. Sir Max's book was so useful I bought it for my own library and thoroughly recommend it to others