on 3 May 2008
A first rate book! The second of a (projected) trilogy about the bomber war from the dark days of 1943 to the final victory of 1945. 'Men of Air' is an account of the gradual turning of the tide in favour of Bomber Command during 1944 - still the horrendous attrition rate for operataions of deep penetration into Germany in the early months (and on some later occasions), but the very positive contribution of the 'Bomber Boys' to the success of D-Day is recorded here, something that tends to be overlooked by some. A fair assessment of the problems facing those tasked with planning operations, although some of the decisions made seem extraordinary. Kevin Wilson manages to make these young men and the odds they faced very real. Highly recommended!
on 30 January 2008
A very well researched and laid out book . The author manages to convey the need for this campaign and the varying results without any hint of bias. The reader is encouraged , in my opinion , to draw their on conclusions as regards the validity of the bombing campaign and how modern historians have treated those extremely brave men who flew for bomber command.
This is a sort-of sequel to Bomber Boys, and (with Journey's End) part of a trilogy of books focusing on the men of RAF Bomber Command in WWII. This covers 1944, starting with the Battle of Berlin and ending with the return to Germany after the "Transportation Plan" support of D-Day and the unexpected role of tactical air support in the war in Normandy.
Unlike Hastings Bomber Command, this is not about the big picture, or Bomber Harris, or whether it was all worth it after all. This is a book for and about those men who flew over occupied Europe and struck back in the only way the Allies could. You understand the moments of sheer terror being lit up in a searchlight, bailing out of a burning plane, making an emergency landing on two engines with dead and wounded around you.
There is also an excellent chapter on those who bailed out, survived (not all did), and ended up in a POW camp. The Great Escape - and other escapes - are covered in detail. There is heroism here, as much as in the planes above Germany.
This is an excellent book on the bravery of those who flew bombing missions in the dark days of WWII. It will help ensure that their courage and sacrifice is never forgotten.
on 14 November 2012
This is a very detailed and well considered account of the lives of the aircrew in bomber command. The research is impressive and the author is clearly a gifted writer. One aspect that I find frustrating in this book as with many other histories on bomber command is the lack of recognition of airmen from Rhodesia. The author does not even refer to 44 Squadron by its proper name, 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron. While this squadron was by no means only manned by Rhodesians they accounted for nearly 50% of the pilots and crew at any point in time and many of the ground crew. In early 1944 of the commander of the squadron was an ex-school teacher from Gwelo in the midlands of Rhodesia. On page 9 the author acknowledges the contribution of Eire and the Commonwealth countries, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and 'a few from South Africa', but the 2,409 Rhodesian airmen who served in World War II are ignored. Of these 697 (29%) never returned. Rhodesia lost more men per capita than any other Commonwealth country. It is difficult to understand why the author would make such a pointed omission.
This book was originally published in 2007 and may now be out of print in hardback format. It is however still available as a paperback. In this instance, it is a substantial hardback purchased previously read and in excellent condition that is printed on moderately heavy paper and with several photographic insertions of some of the crews and their aircraft. Its sub-title provides a hint of their realities and expectations. When first discovered, it was mentioned within another book for its references to a former crew member who later became a POW and within which other similar stories were told; it was not then stated or understood that the book was the middle volume of a trilogy and the remainder has since been ordered to remedy the unintended oversight.
This book concentrates on the last full year of the War, 1944. It was the period when Allied losses of aircraft and crew were probably at their overall highest and the intention was still to damage German industry and morale and thereby, hopefully, shorten the War. The end was not yet in sight and, although battles were being won and former occupied territories were being liberated, no-one knew whether there would be a few months or even years before final victory was achieved.
With heavy losses of crew members, those remaining within a crew could be affected by the loss of close long-term friends who may in turn be replaced by the inexperienced. Sometimes whole crews were lost and other crews would be affected but life had to continue. There may be another raid tomorrow or the next day, but there could be relief for a few days with 'survivor's leave' which would give them a chance to spend time with family, a girlfriend or wife and not to think about the War.
There was an attitude that grief would soon give way to normality, such as it was. A man might meet someone, form a relationship and possibly marry, then be lost in action or the woman widowed and all within a few weeks. Months later and in a new relationship, the woman might remarry and again be widowed a little later. It was war!
The book is highly informative and worthwhile. It allows those who were not then born to understand those who were involved and to understand and appreciate their efforts. Although various bombing Campaigns are self-contained in their own chapter, some readers may not be happy with the presentation style, author's choices and possible omissions. Not every incident, every airman wounded or killed, became a POW or was subject to a rescue can be named or included. There are various notes and Appendices at the back of the book but not full listings of crew members for every sortie - that would be impracticable and unwieldy.
on 19 November 2008
Having spent many hours engrossed in the content of this book, I can certainly say this is one of the better accounts of life in bomber command during WW2. It really opens your eyes as to what it was like to serve. I actually felt I was there during certain parts of the book. Highly ecommended. Another excellent book is 'Carried on the Wind' by Sean Feast, The story of Ted Manners (101 Squadron - ABC operator on Rusty Waughman's Crew). A riveting read to anyone interested in Bomber Command.
on 20 February 2009
My Father was an air Gunner in World War 2 with the RCAF, stationed at Skipton-on-Swale in Yorkshire in 1944 and 1945. This incredible book helped me to understand the quiet heroism of the very young crews who did their job, night after night. Easy to read, well documented, well written, but also filled with thorough understanding of what it was like. If you have a relative who was in the war, and you are only going to read one book about it, this is the one.
on 20 September 2014
This has to be one of the very best books about how it really was for the young men who flew these giant bombers on an almost daily basis. In addition to Kevin Wilson's detailed descriptions there are so many actual reports by the survivors themselves. I have always known that the contribution of Bomber Command shortened the war considerably but this book is an eye opener regarding the terror facing the men especially on the long flights into Germany. Berlin was of course the main target that "Bomber" Harris had his eyes continually on. I cannot understand though why the Air Ministry did not over ride Harris and his constant desire to flatten every German city. There were so many far more useful targets to shorten the war even more. Oil being the over riding such targets. Another plus for this book are the brief descriptions of life in POW camps and especially the Great Escape. Also the reports after the war by aircrew who were shot down and were picked up eventually by the Germans and went to the camps. All in all I find it difficult to find fault with any aspect of this amazingly detailed book. Some years ago I read "Journeys End" which is the last of the Bomber Command trilogy by Wilson . I recall how much I enjoyed sharing a little bit of the lives of these unsung heroes. That is the one truly appalling omission at the end of the war. Not only did the politicians omit to mention the Command's huge contribution but no medal or memorial was ever mentioned. As much as I admire Churchill for seeing us through the war why was he such a coward when it came to standing up for the bomber boys? He also had ultimate control over the Air Ministry and Harris so why did he let so much destruction of civilian targets take place and ignore the vital oil etc targets? We can only guess but at least books such as "Men of Air" show those of us who choose to read them what extraordinary men these bomber boys really were.
on 4 June 2008
Today's generation of authors have a distinct advantage over the immediate and later post-war breed of writers- that of an unlimited bibliography upon which to draw. The notable raids of 1943 and 1944 carried out by Bomber Command Aircrew - Hamburg, Peenemunde, Nuremburg, the Dams Raids, covered by the more eminent historians, have been well documented requiring entire volumes to accommodate the wealth of material required for such projects.
These texts however were technical in nature and were directed more to defining history for the more serious Bomber Command historians and aficionados; the modern-day journalist now merely resorts to conducting as many interviews as are possible with remaining Bomber Command survivors weaving their personal recollections around the material already provided by their peers , subject to the required credits being attached.
Wilson's new book, as was the case with his first publication , is an example of this type of journalism; this does not detract from the content however, as he is an excellent writer and has obviously empathized with these crew members; the downside is that in this endeavour, he has allocated complete chapters to these previously well chronicled sagas which renders much of the material redundant for many readers all too familiar with history , and the consequences, of membership in the 'Lost Command'.
This book, while not necessarily being recommended for ex: Air-Crew, should be required reading for a younger generation who have no conception of what was expected of young men who, driven maybe by patriotism and the prospect of adventure, were exposed to the harsh realities of war where life expectancy could be measured in such short terms. Men who were subjected nighty to ill-planned raids by chair-borne Air Staff, at times having to operate with faulty equipment, constrained by career-concious squadron and wing commanders , which combined with frequent inaccurate weather predictions, resulted in an horrific loss of life often under appalling circumstances.
In preserving these vignettes, Kevin Wilson has served his subjects well; with the above reservations, it is without doubt a worthy validation of their commitment for which, from an ungrateful country, they received no official recognition. The recollections of these survivors are poignant and will remain with them for the rest of their lives ; stories which had to be told before being lost to an indifferent society whose values are perhaps less than those of previous generations.
on 27 June 2014
I recently finished the third volume of Kevin Wilson’s excellent WWII Bomber Command trilogy, Journey’s End. The first two volumes, Bomber Boys and Men of Air, dealt with the early years of the war and the development of Bomber Command from its fitful beginnings in 1943 to an efficient instrument of total war in 1945.
All three of the books are excellent and highly recommended. Mr. Wilson does a fantastic job of communicating information. He strikes just the right balance of technical detail, overarching strategy and, most importantly, the personal stories of the men and women who were impacted by the campaign. I was impressed throughout the books by his ability to convey information and give the reader some sense of what it was actually like – in the air and on the ground. The trilogy is made up of a huge number of small details viewed through the larger prism of history. For example, I was amazed to learn that most of the young Bomber Command pilots did not have a driver’s license when they began training.
As a Yank, and given the coverage around the recent 70th Anniversary, I found some of the lead up to D-Day and the debates over the Transportation Plan to be particularly interesting. The real genius and enduring impact of the books are the personal narratives – they are incredibly poignant, meticulously researched and epic in the scope and sweep of the information and emotions they convey.
Some of the trilogy’s basic facts – the horrific casualty figures and the scope of the courage and personal effort required are nothing short of remarkable. Mr. Wilson clearly has a deep appreciation of and respect for the parties involved, but does not sugar coat the grim realities of a terrible war in the air.
With Bomber Boys, Men of Air and Journey’s End, Mr. Wilson has done history and Bomber Command a great service.