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A powerful analysis of Allied and German bombing campaigns during WW2,
This review is from: The Bombing War: Europe 1939-1945 (Hardcover)
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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!