21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Big Boy
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...
Published 4 months ago by Charles Vasey
3 of 8 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 5 months ago by khisanth
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Big Boy,
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.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb,
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This review is from: The Bombing War: Europe, 1939-1945 (Kindle Edition)
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.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars get ready for a long haul!,
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.
12 of 13 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 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.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Right on Target,
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I doubt if there has been a more detailed insight into this aspect of World War II. Details of civil defence measures are perhaps a touch overplayed but interesting nonetheless. The chapters on the offensive against Italy are particularly interesting
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent study of the Bombing War.,
This is a massively impressive study of an aspect of wartime history much discussed but often either misunderstood or distorted.
Overy takes an admirably objective approach to his narrative, eschewing anecdotal accounts for most of his text in favour of a thorough research of recorded facts - contemporary reports, assessment studies, official documents etc., often revising opinions, correcting interpretations and figures that have been widely accepted for decades. The scope of his study is wide; he looks at the familiar, much covered theatres of conflict - the Battle of Britain, the Blitz, the RAF and USAAF campaigns over Germany - but also less well-documented theatres like Russia, Italy and the Nazi occupied territories. He presents a meticulously detailed examination of both military and civil defence, how Government and political parties organised and sustained these structures, the effects of bombing on industry, the economies and morale of each country involved, together with the military strategies of the airforces concerned.
The book is certainly an academic study, but written in a very approachable style; I found it both fascinating and engrossing.
This is an excellent and much needed overview of the Western bombing offensives; an example of how historical perspectives can be clarified through careful reassessment and a useful volume to have alongside the many established accounts of the more familiar campaigns you may already have. It is the most authoritative study I`ve read on the subject; it may well be the definitive reference work.
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Masterly overview of bombing in Europe during WW2,
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.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A superb history,
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!
12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A powerful analysis of Allied and German bombing campaigns during WW2,
Richard Overy has written a number of award-winning books analysing the military ideas and practices that shaped World War II. In his latest book 'The Bombing War' he looks in detail at the bombing strategies developed by the English, American, German and Italian air forces in the period between the early 1930s and the late 1940s.
This is a lengthy but highly readable book (642 pages plus a further 162 pages of bibliography) supported by a substantial number (2,371) of references to various wartime documents together with a listing of nearly 700 English, American, German and Italian published papers on the subject.
Prior to the beginning of WW2 none of the major players had any meaningful experience of how to conduct a bombing campaign - or what, in practice, it could achieve. The experience of the Italian and German air forces during the Ethiopian and Spanish Civil Wars was inconclusive and Richard Overy clearly brings out the confusion that existed, during the late 1930's, in the minds of those responsible for planning future campaigns.
The value of bombing as a tool that would undermine the morale of the bombed population was grossly overestimated and, during the early months of WW2 there was a reluctance to inflict collateral damage on residential areas adjacent to legitimate military targets. But, as the war progressed, it became more and more expedient (for both sides) to ignore the risk to those population centres and, by the end of the war, bombing had cause the deaths of approximately 600,000 civilians across Europe.
The results of a progressive switch from a predominantly high explosive bomb load to one that was predominantly incendiary was, to a large extent, responsible. It makes extremely uncomfortable reading and, as a deliberate strategy, was responsible for the indiscriminate damage inflicted on many English, Russian and German cities. And as to the moral issues involved in the area bombing of France, the Low Countries and Scandinavia subsequent to the Allied invasion of Europe in 1944...
Richard Overy also shows that, whatever other claims may have been made, bombing was an extremely blunt instrument and, until very late in the war, the technology required for the precision bombing of military targets from a high altitude simply didn't exist. Bombing could not be used to support ground forces efficiently and, without the complete neutralisation of the opposing air force and ground defences, was extremely costly in both aircraft and air crews. This is emphasised by the fact that, during the campaign, 55,000 aircrew of Bomber Command were killed (44% of the total) plus 26,000 out of the US bomber forces total of 350,000 aircrew whilst over 8,300 Allied aircraft were lost during the bomber offensive.
Despite this effort - and losses - the German war machine still produced 35,000 new aircraft (including 25,000 fighters) during 1944, the year Allied forces landed in France. A further 7,000 aircraft were produced during 1945, during the final six months of the war in Europe.
For anyone interested in an objective analysis - nearly 70 years after the end of the campaigns - of the Allied and Axis bombing campaigns (including both the Russian and the near-trivial contribution of the Italian air force) the 'The Bombing War' is almost essential reading.
I read an uncorrected pre-publication paperback copy of the book which, at just under 3 inches thick, prompts me to suggest that the publishers should consider producing the finished version in two volumes!
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Bombing not in itself a war-winning strategy,
This is a huge book, with 640 well-packed text pages, 125 pages of notes, plus bibliography, maps, index and other extras. Reading it entails a very large commitment of time. Yet the book's scope is wisely limited by author Richard Overy to Europe and to the years 1939 to 1945. So whilst Pearl Harbour, the Pacific War, the bombing of Japan, north Africa, the First World War and inter-war aerial bombardments in parts of the British Empire, Afghanistan, Ethiopia and Spain are all mentioned, we get no substantial detail of any of those.
The parameters having been set, how well is the stated ground covered? On some areas of personal interest - the bombing of Soviet cities and of Warsaw, Hamburg, Dresden, London, the Baedeker cities and Normandy ahead of D Day - there is much material, yet I was disappointed there was not more. That, however, is probably just an indication that Overy's historic perspective is better than mine, and is therefore more of a compliment to him than otherwise. He does, after all, offer 30 pages of Bibliography and Sources, so further reading in specific areas of interest is readily identified.
With the exception of what Overy calls the untold chapter, the bombing of Soviet cities, basic information on the bombing raids is in any case not hard to access. The important extra that his book offers - besides that untold chapter - is placing the successive bombing campaigns in the context of the development of the technology and mass production of weaponry, and of the politics. We are also provided with the information necessary to take a view on why and how pre-war ethical constraints on bombing were let slip.
Between the First and Second World Wars, the fast developing potential for aerial bombardment of civilian populations as well as armies horrified many, and some limited agreement was reached constraining the use of some potential weapons. In war, however, moral and ethical concerns were quickly eroded, and from 1941 the intentional (as distinct from collateral) bombing of people and their homes became widespread practice, accepted not least by the civilian populations themselves. Civilians also accepted their role on the 'home front' in auxiliary emergency services, civil defence, 'digging for victory' and more. Fortunately, a reluctance to be the first to use chemical or biological weapons, with which Germany, Britain and America were all well-stocked (and which the issue of gas masks clearly anticipated), endured to the end of hostilities.
Bomber forces and their weaponry absorbed 40 per cent of the direct military budget, yet all but the most enthusiastic bombers knew that bombing was not in itself a war-winning strategy. Until air superiority could be achieved, using fast-flying long-range fighter aircraft, losses of bombers and their crew were often unsustainable. Bombing by night - because daytime flights were too easily shot down - was chronically inaccurate, as was bombing through cloud or smoke. And populations were remarkably resilient to bombing; they were much more fearful of invasion, occupation and defeat.
At war's end, the Canadian-American economist J K Galbraith, a member of an official fact-finding mission, was "shocked" to find that strategic bombing had not inflicted serious damage on the German economy, let alone won the war. It had, he concluded, at best simply eased the path of the ground troops.
This book provides a warehouse of information about the bombing, plus an invaluable and essentially neutral guide to our own consideration of the relevant issues. Sir Arthur 'Bomber' Harris, head of Britain's Bomber Command, was indifferent to the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians and made a buffoon of himself with over-the-top characterisations of opponents, bomber crews and civilian staff. Eighth Air Force wing commander Curtis Le May wrote that "Enemy cities were pulverised or fried to a crisp. It was something they asked for and something they deserved." But those things are only reported; they are not condemned. The conclusions we draw will be our own.
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The Bombing War: Europe, 1939-1945 by Richard Overy