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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding survey of the WWII bombing campaigns
I've read some other histories by Overy, so had high expectations of this. Overy has created an extensive, although highly readable, account of bombing during the second world war. It opens with how bombing became a tool of war and the fears expressed in the interwar years. Many believed that the bombing of civilians would lead inexorably to the collapse of society. We...
Published 14 months ago by R. Palmer

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5 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Heavy going but informative
A very thorough analysis of the bombing war in world war 2. Really shows the actual horrors, benefits and impact of what a bombing campaign can do.

Not light reading at all, if you have any interest in this sort of thing you can look no further.
Published 14 months ago by khisanth


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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding survey of the WWII bombing campaigns, 5 Oct 2013
This review is from: The Bombing War: Europe 1939-1945 (Hardcover)
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I've read some other histories by Overy, so had high expectations of this. Overy has created an extensive, although highly readable, account of bombing during the second world war. It opens with how bombing became a tool of war and the fears expressed in the interwar years. Many believed that the bombing of civilians would lead inexorably to the collapse of society. We know this didn't happen and, it's possible that even *with* the information they had at the time, people were scaremongering a little. All that notwithstanding, strategic bombing rightly still held terror for civilian populations.

After this, the book focuses on the effects on civilian populations in Britain, Germany France and, gratifyingly, the Soviet Union. Not wishing to diminish the experience of people in this country, but the effect of the war on the people of the USSR was huge and is a story I don't feel we hear often enough.

There's much to unpack in this book. For example, he discusses how strategic bombing wasn't all that effective and is too damaging to people's lives. There is also the fact that - especially at that time - it was very difficult to properly aim bombs, making the chances of even meeting the stated objectives.

There are hundreds of pages here, so the survey is comprehensive. It is also well referenced and noted (a significant portion of this intimidating book is the notes at the end!)

This is a highly recommended book. If you have any interest in the subject, this is worth looking at.
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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Big Boy, 27 Nov 2013
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Charles Vasey (London, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Bombing War: Europe 1939-1945 (Hardcover)
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This is by any standards a big book, and would still be big if we ignored the many many pages of notes and sources. It is never therefore going to appeal to the casual reader. However, as a non-propeller head I found it excellent at setting the position for the various parties. The bombing war brings out strong opinions and Overy's book reinforces Wedgwood's view that "History is lived forwards but it is written in retrospect. We know the end before we can consider the beginning and we can never wholly recapture what it was to know the beginning only.". One soon grasps that so much in war consists of guessing. The Germans guessed wrongly in the Battle of Britain and the Allies did so during the bombing; all based on worthy attempts at getting the correct data of course. Only when the war was over could we peek behind the curtain and see the views of the Germans as to what did or did not work. One makes war as one can, not as one should as Kitchener used to say to me.

This is a long book but it argues its case closely and I enjoyed it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A major contribution, 3 Nov 2014
For someone like myself, born a year before WWII started, who had uncles in the War and who served in the RAF in the 1950s, any serious book on British activity in this period involves the challenging of the myths with which one was brought up – Dunkirk (was it really a victory in disguise or was it simply a comprehensive defeat?), Battle of Britain (was it important to anyone other than the British who needed a morale boost after Dunkirk?). And now a peculiarly ambiguous myth – the military importance of an activity which occasioned the highest casualty rate of all British service units during the War, Bomber Command. Of course, there has been far more written about British/American bombing of Germany and German bombing of Britain than of any other facet of the Bombing War and it is one of the real merits of Overy’s latest book that he looks at bombing in all European theatres (with a rather nice use of the bombing of Bulgaria to begin and end this volume) about which so little has been written – especially on the civilian population of Italy and France in Allied raids and the German bombing of Soviet cities.
I suppose one could criticise Overy for being excessively anglo-centric, but I wouldn’t. He is British and, during the period when the only aggressive activity against Germany itself (as opposed to the German army in Russia and N Africa) was based in Britain, this emphasis is entirely justified. Such a big and thorough book deserves several thousand words of review, but in the current context all that is necessary is to state my view that this is magnificent history, very thorough and scholarly but, if you find the topic interesting at all, written in a very readable style. To someone who has (or had) friends who were Lancaster pilots, it is saddening to come to the conclusion that the results of their efforts were both militarily and morally ambiguous, but this conclusion is inescapable after reading this fine volume. When one realises that the casualty rate in a single raid on Hamburg was two-thirds that of British civilians in the entire war, or if one takes the view (as I do) that the raid on Dresden was an abomination which encapsulated what this war had done to European civilisation, a black/white dichotomy is untenable and Overy’s book illustrates this on every page.
But, and it is a big but, one has to be very careful (as Overy is), to distinguish between judgements possible now and those possible at the time. For some – notably Churchill, whose behaviour at this juncture was a disgusting rejection of the thousands of men who had carried the fight to the enemy for four years - Dresden was a massacre too far, but the general view was that the bombing of German cities was militarily justifiable. Whatever, the moral judgement (and that is important in a context where the Allies have always proclaimed the moral correctness of the war against Germany and Japan), over the years the military judgement has moved a long way from what was consistently argued during 1941-5. Overy contributes mightily to this very complex issue.
I have shelves groaning under the weight of literature on WWII, but few of those volumes would contribute more to my understanding of this important aspect of that conflict than Overy’s current volume. A tour-de-force.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A superb history, 29 July 2013
By 
S. J. Williams "stevejw2" (Leeds, West Yorkshire United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Bombing War: Europe 1939-1945 (Hardcover)
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I can't pretend to expertise in this area, but I found this book a really interesting read, despite its potentially intimidating dimensions. (For me, the greatest problem with the book was that like most proof copies, this lacked the index and, more importantly from my perspective, maps to clarify geographical issues and some detail reflecting patterns of bombing: these will obviously be in place in the first full printing.)

The book comprises three main sections: 1 Germany's Bombing War; 2 "The Greatest Battle": Allied Bombers over Europe; 3 "The Greatest Miscalculation?"

Overy explores all aspects of the issue from the logistical, tactical, political to the moral, philosophical and effectiveness points of view, the latter throwing up some particularly striking surprises. Chapter 7, 'The Logic of Total War: German Society under the Bombs', shows just how effectively German society weathered the years' long aerial onslaught until the latter weeks of the war when Allied troops were on the soil of Germany: we Brits understandably hug ourselves proudly regarding indomitable spirit, but this chapter shows that quality not to have been our monopoly, though admittedly German society had the iron grip of a totalitarian state to encourage resilience. He also teases out the erosion of moral principals in the face of practical necessity and an increasing belief in the overwhelming effectiveness of bombing: this in even the most liberal of democracies.

The final section is, for me, perhaps the most interesting, which is as it should be in a well-written and constructed book: the threads are drawn together and conclusions explored. Nonetheless, it remains chastening, within the context of national mythology and my own childhood in the early fifties with its extended memory of our finest hours, to read that "'strategic bombing had not won the war'. On the most favourable account it had simply eased the path of the ground troops," and that "German statistics showed that war output grew dramatically under the pressure of Germany's many military commitments, even while the bombing became heavier and heavier". (However, it has struck me that we have no statistics to show what German output might have been without the bombing campaign!)

Recommended to the general reader very strongly: academic historians may, of course, have a different perspective!
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars get ready for a long haul!, 28 Nov 2013
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D. Thurgood "dan.tee" (Liverpool Uk) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Bombing War: Europe 1939-1945 (Hardcover)
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This is a heavyweight book, no doubt about it. It's long. Very long. Is it worth it? Definitely. Superbly researched and written, this will become the final word on the bombing of Europe in the Second World War. Covering the politics of both the Allies and the Axis, in great detail, it leaves no stone unturned. Overy has not only done his own homework, he's done enough to keep several PhDs happy too. An incredible effort that is to be commended. If war history is your thing, this is the book for you.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb, 20 Nov 2013
By 
John M "JM" (Cardiff, Wales UK) - See all my reviews
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This is an excellent account of the bombing carried out by all players in WW2, covering much more than the raids and the damage. Balanced, thorough, comprehensive, and a fascinating and compelling read. Highly recommended.
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28 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Masterly overview of bombing in Europe during WW2, 10 Sep 2013
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Tim62 "history buff" (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Bombing War: Europe 1939-1945 (Hardcover)
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Richard Overy is to be congratulated on producing a work that is sure to become the standard overview of bombing in WW2. For too long studies of bombing in English have largely been limited to the impact of the Luftwaffe on Britain, or the bombing of German cities by RAF's Bomber Command and the USAAF.

For instance, The bombing of Italy and France both saw roughly the same number of civilians killed as were killed by the Luftwaffe in their bombing of Britain, but only recently have we had a study on this in English - Forgotten Blitzes: France and Italy under Allied Air Attack, 1940-1945 by Claudia Baldoli and Andrew Knapp. Forgotten Blitzes: France and Italy under Allied Air Attack, 1940-1945

I did not know until now that Italy received some 370,000 tons of bombs, nearly five times the total dropped on Britain by the Luftwaffe, while France received over 570,000, nearly eight times the British figure. In each country, over 55,000 civilians died.

And as for trying to find anything on the bombing of Soviet cities by the Luftwaffe, or the bombing of other European countries during WW2 - there has been almost nothing in English.

There is of course nothing wrong in looking at the above topics in isolation - but if one truly wants to grasp why European states undertook to bomb each other in the way they did between 1939-45, what air defence precautions states took in the 1930s, and how the bombed societies survived - then this is the book for you.

What is fascinating is how societies, even liberal democracies which had signed up to various pledges to place some limits the impact of bombing, quickly overcame their moral scruples in the furnace of total war, and moved to a position of moral expediency where the end justified the means. A truly important study.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Profound, 16 Oct 2013
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All of them Witches (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Bombing War: Europe 1939-1945 (Hardcover)
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A superb book in almost every sense 'The Bombing War' is really well researched and provides a compelling narrative of the second world war aerial bombing campaigns waged across Europe.
It was interesting to note how such an inaccurate and indiscriminate method of eliminating ones enemies had so much time and resources thrown at it. Overy details how despite four years of almost saturation bombing, German infrastructure including industrial production, food supply and welfare remained practically intact until the last few weeks before the end of the war.
It's difficult to pick out any particular aspects as it was all pretty rivetting but it was interesting reading about some of the not oft mentioned public dissent during the bombing of Britain (the Blitz) in contrast to the populist image of all pulling together and who could blame them? The section on Bomber Command was also interesting which will do little to unify the opposing camps in the Bomber Harris debate.
There are maps included in the finished copy (not available in the proof read) and presumably an index which also was not included. There were however dozens and dozens of pages of references and notes etc which I didn't really refer to. Worth mentioning that it is not a 'dry' read at all like some historical tomes can be but a really great story and expose of a terrible time in human history and its ongoing legacy.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars understanding the bombing war, 2 Feb 2014
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Richard Overy answers two key questions: what were the strategic effects of bombing; and was it moral?

Overy says answers to these questions have generated much heat but have relied on a shallow base of evidence. He sets out to give the first full account of the bombing war in Europe 1939 to 1945 (not just in the UK and Germany). His research is impeccable, and he is able, as a result of detailed evidence, to come up with a fresh picture.

Bombing in Europe, he says, was never a war-winning strategy and the other services knew it. British Bomber Command wanted to prove its worth as an independent force, but lacking the technology for accurate bombing fell to area-bombing of cities in the belief that given sufficient damage to structures and people Germany would surrender without the need for an army invasion. This aim failed.

Overy also explores how the concept of 'total war' gradually gave acceptance to the deliberate large-scale killing of civilians who were now seen as in the 'front line'.

As a young child I can recall sitting in an Anderson shelter at night hearing the drone of bombers overhead who (it turned out) were on their way to bomb Coventry. We saw the sky lit up with fires. Later, I can recall how the BBC radio news reported the launching of RAF '1000-bomber' raids, with a degree of satisfaction it seemed to me. My young friend's brother was killed - he was a rear gunner in a Lancaster.

This book has allowed me to see the bombing war in a balanced light. Bombing aside, if you have any interest in the Second World War you must read this.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reaping the Whirlwind, 19 Sep 2013
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Withnail67 (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Bombing War: Europe 1939-1945 (Hardcover)
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This is a magisterial account of the World War 2 Bombing Offensives that changed forever the Western way of war, and set the terms of the moral debate on aerial bombardment that dominated the Cold War and shapes the world today.
Overy is a historian at the height of his powers, and this is much more than a simple return to a debate coherently overviewed in a chapter his 1997 book Why The Allies Won. Without spoiling the progression of Overy's argument, it is fair to say that he follows the trajectory pioneered by Max Hastings in his books Bomber Command, which in the 1980s seemed assured of the military value of the Allied air campaign, to an altogether more sceptical position in his book Armageddon. Given its size, comprehensive coverage and academic tone, it is not surprising that Overy's account is far more nuanced This is an exhaustive account which is careful in its scope, ranging from the genesis of bombing by the Italians in Balkan War the Balkan War, and is particularly to be praised for broadening its focus away from allowing the RAF's war to dominate. Overy is strong on the historiography of the bombing war which saw Noble Frankland's Official History of the British area bombing read through the perspective of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Dr Strangelove, and Mutually Assured Destruction.
I would have liked more on the development of bombing in the Great War, but this is a small point to wave at a definitive account which is unlikely to be bettered in the foreseeable future.
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The Bombing War: Europe 1939-1945
The Bombing War: Europe 1939-1945 by Richard Overy (Hardcover - 26 Sep 2013)
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