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on 16 December 2004
This a truly excellent book written by a man with that rare combination of historian and writer. So many historians just cannot bring a story to life but Max Hastings is an exception. I found the book more of a page turner than the thriller 'Da Vinci Code' which is written by someone who is neither writer nor historian. Bomber Command is a dispassionate appraisal of its value to the Allied victory in WW2.
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on 17 July 2015
Superb account of a most challenging subject full of moral as well as shifting military dilemmas. Hastings, as always, addresses topics from multiple perspectives to allow you to make your own judgement. Of course he doesn't avoid presenting his conclusions but you feel you are given the information to disagree with him.

The entire book, from start to finish, is compelling, but one chapter deserves highlighting. His detailed description of the bombing of Darmstadt on 9/11 1944 is stunning and somewhat chilling noting subsequent events 50+ years later. Some 12,000 people, mostly civilians including many children, were killed that night.

In addition though to describing the horror of the bombing on both the bombing crew and the "bombed" Hastings also looked at the operational costs and introduced, to me, the notion that the deployment of bombers had both strategic and tactical failings. For example the continued area bombing of cities came at huge expense while the potential of sustained bombing of oil facilities, which would have had more impact, was not exploited.

Hasting's assessment, towards the end of the book, that "Bomber Command was very well served by its aircrew, and with a very few exceptions very badly served by its senior officers, in the Second World War" is hard to argue with.
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on 13 July 2015
Could n't put it down and read it at a sitting. Chapters alternate between strategy and well researched history , and more personal stories of the crews involved in the second world war. Until reading this I did not really appreciate just how dangerous the life of a bomber crew in WW2 was, and how poor the odds were of completing a tour of 20 missions. The courage it took to fly these missions with a good idea of the poor odds was huge. I suspect now that WW2 is 70 year old history few young people are aware the huge debt they, and probably the whole of the free world, owes to these heroes along with those of fighter command. Nazism was in my opinion the blackest episode of human history but eventually our airmen together with our other forces and the huge sacrifices made by the Russian people (after a poor start).plus American capability meant that it was defeated ,but it was a close run thing and without our airmen would have been closer still. Strategically and morally Bomber Harris does not come out of the story that well but considered in the knowledge and atmosphere of the time I would not criticise him that harshly. His crews , the majority of which died before 25, come out very very well by any standards.A fascinating story.
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on 30 January 2014
It is unimagineable in today's world that a country would tolerate the incredible losses night after night, year after year that were inflicted by this man 'Bomber Harris' and his defiance of War Ministry orders. This was genocide of the highest order on both sides of the fight. With an average loss rate of between 5%-10% per night and 30 raids per 'tour', just do the maths. Chances of survival were poor and tens of thousands of Allied airmen were killed on these suicide missions. On the German side this was little more than incessant carpet bombing of civilians, hundreds of thousands of whom were killed, wounded or at very least 'de-housed'.

The book is perhaps a bit repetitive but for anyone interested in this aspect of WW2 and how the bombing raids fitted in (or not!) to the overall military strategy it is a good read.
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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.
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on 8 May 2009
This is truly an excellent piece of work, highly professional and well written. The whole question of whether or not Bomber Command crews should be recognised with a campaign medal has been much debated and there is no doubt that the facts tend to support the view that Bomber Command's achievements were not as worthy as those of Fighter Command. However, this book does lay the blame firmly where it belongs with the RAF and political leadership and which resulted in the most appalling crew losses. It seems unjust, therefore, that the young men who took part in those missions should bear the blame pinned on them by our political masters to-day and for which they should hang their heads in shame.

This was a highly readable and gripping book for which the author is to be congratulated. It forms a great partner book to the author's other, and equally excellent, histories of the Second World War.
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on 22 June 2001
Max Hastings has delivered both a factual and moving account of what the war did to the RAF as well as what the RAF did to the war. The anecodotes are well placed and well observed eg the bomber crew which got lost in an electrical storm and bombed London by mistake. The bravery of the men involved in the whole bomber war is too often forgotten. I disagree with some of his doubts about what they/we did. That does not detract from the achievement of Max Hastings book.
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on 24 January 2010
An excellent book that tells about the lives, loves, fears and sorties of the much-maligned men of Bomber Command in WWII. It is a shame on our national psyche that there is still no official statue to these brave men whose average age was late-teens/early 20s. So many of them gave their lives to preserve our way of life today that this book should be read by everyone and there should be a national outcry for a statue.
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on 17 October 2015
Outstanding book and with my Father having been a Pathfinder during WW II, this has been revelation to me. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Truly exceptional and should be mandated reading for any student of that period and the Bomber offensive.
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on 10 August 2014
Excellent on the British top brass and how the war developed for BC. He is unequivocal in his criticism of Bomber Harris and the higher commands who tolerated his single minded disobedience-sad that the one major blemish of the Allies' conduct of the war was effectively the result of one man's intransigence.
There is very little, or rather not enough, about the USAAF contribution (though that is not the subject of the book) or about the German hardware and aircraft, or even much detailed description of how the electronic aids to navigation actually worked. You need to read other authors to get the full picture.
There is also little on the gung-ho stuff like the Dam Busters and tallboy bombs-but the book is much the better for that. It shows the grinding reality and the sheer waste of life and effort, by both protagonists, rather than the stiff upper lip heroism of postwar fiction.
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