Most helpful positive review
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
A major contribution
on 3 November 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.