on 8 October 2002
I found Wild Blue to be a good account of the men that flew over europe. We start off by meeting these men as they join the AAF and follow them through to there final mission. The book for 98% talks about the men and not how America won the war. However i did find it a little annoying when Stephen E. Ambrose in the final chapter made the AAF to be the major strike force in the bombing campain and that the British with there night bombing killed many civilians. This may be true but i would like to remind him that it was America that dropped 2 atomic bombs on Japan.
But what do you expect from a American Historian? The book altogether is very good, but to sum it up the allies couldn't of done it without the help of each other, and i feel that is what all books like this miss.
on 8 June 2002
No-one in their right mind can knock the contribution the Americans made to winning the Second World War in Europe, but occasionally I had the urge to scream "Where were you before Pearl Harbour, mate", at the author. I also found his contention that the Americans chose daylight bombing as a morally superior form of bombing to the "murderous" night-time approach of the British, to be verging on the obnoxious. Sometimes it seems it's not enough for the Americans to be (the) victors, they have to have God on their side too, and this book landed too firmly in that camp to be completely satisfying.
As an account of what it was like flying on daylight bombing missions over Europe in the latter stages of the war, the book is pretty good - when it finally gets there. You'll read over a hundred pages about the selection and training of the crews before the first mission is flown, chapters which are a bit dry and slow going at times.
Once the missions start in earnest though, you can't help but marvel with the author over the bravery of these men. The descriptions of flying into daylight flak storms are terrifying enough on paper, without having to actually be involved in doing it. As a testament to these men and to what the world owes them, this is a fine book - but let's not forget that bravery, patriotism and heroism are not exclusively American traits.
Review Summary: The Wild Blue is a five-star book from each of several perspectives. First, you will learn about how the United States went from having few aviation resources to fielding a larger air force than that of all the other nations combined in World War II. The complexities and careful thinking through of what needed to be done are most impressive. Second, you will learn about the role that strategic bombing played in the European theater of operations during that war. Third, you will learn what it was like to become a B-24 pilot, from the day a man volunteered to the day he returned home to the United States. Fourth, you will experience combat conditions against German fighters and flak in a lumbering, sluggish bomber in extremely difficult conditions. Fifth, you will find out how such a war-time experience changes a person's view of themselves and others. Sixth, you will also learn about the formative influences of war on one of the most prominent American peace advocates, former senator George McGovern. If you are like me, you will never see the war in Europe in quite the same way again after you read The Wild Blue.
Review: My father served on the ground in England as part of the famous Eighth Air Force in World War II. My father-in-law was a navigation instructor for bomber pilots during World War II. Although both men are proud of their service, they only tell the positive side of the air war in Europe. During rare moments over the years, they have alluded to some of the more personal and challenging sides of those years. My mother shares hints of some recurring nightmares from what other wives have told her at Air Force reunions. Although Professor Ambrose's account is not as dark as the worst that I have heard, his lively and thorough narrative helped me to fill in many spaces where I lacked understanding of what these men had shared with me. For example, my dad had told me that the Fifteenth Air Force often had it worse than the Eighth late in the war. Since The Wild Blue focuses on the Fifteenth, I was able to understand what he was describing for me. I look forward to sharing this book with both my father and father-in-law and hearing what their reactions are to the material here. Very few books have ever helped me to understand these important men in my life as much as this one did.
I have always been impressed by former senator McGovern's commitment to peace and humanitarian concerns. I knew that he had been a bomber pilot in World War II, but little else about his war-time service. The book contains many interesting insights into his character that added to my admiration, and increased my understanding of the stands he has taken. As he characterized his experience of being a pilot, 'I literally exhausted every resource of mind and body and spirit that I had.' You will find these revelations more interesting if you read about them yourself, but I encourage you to pay close attention to stories about bombs dropped inadvertently.
Professor Ambrose has used accounts from many different people to capture the full dimension of the air war. I learned so much that I find it hard to believe that the book was so brief. Normally, I wouldn't learn this much from a book of 1000 pages. The mechanism of primarily following former senator McGovern's squadron was a good way to capture the grit of the small details while using them to illustrate the important, larger picture. Each perspective enhances the other.
The book also contains some excellent black-and-white photographs that usefully elaborate on the written materials.
I liked the way that Professor Ambrose took on the moral issues involved in the bombing. The civilian deaths were enormous from these raids, even though civilians were not the targets. Briefings described the important cultural sites in each area, and ordered the bombers to avoid them. Some bombing raids went near the death camps, but did not target them. At various times, the rate of lost crews approached suicidal levels. How much risk was it fair to ask these brave crews to take? Without imposing his own answers, he provides lots of room for your own thoughts on these and other important ethical issues.
I was powerfully moved by imagining myself in the various cramped positions in a B-24 over enemy territory, being exposed to danger and observing serious losses of my friends all around. Although I have seen many movies and television shows on this subject, The Wild Blue took my understanding of this experience to a much different and more personal level.
After you have finished learning from this outstanding book, I suggest that you think about ways that your most private experiences can be captured and shared with your children and grandchildren . . . so that the important lessons will be available to all those who need them in the future.
Learn from the challenges of the past to overcome the hurdles of the future.
on 6 February 2010
As a keen aviation buff and pilot myself, I thought this book would be a lot more interesting than it was. For example, there is hardly any exposition of what it was like to fly the B-24, or operate its guns, or navigate, etc. Flying details that are included are sometimes inaccurate (e.g. engines already at full throttle for take-off then somehow being throttled up again on the climb out, etc.) Also, as other reviewers have reported, the book starts far too slowly before moving on to the meat: some good accounts of various missions and the undoubted bravery of the crews of pressing on into terrible flak.
My main criticisms are as follows:
1. It reads more like propaganda than history. All American officers are great, without exception. American technology and morality is superior to that of the Allies, etc., etc. Real life is not like this, so do we really think history was?
2. As other reviewers observe, if you belong to one of the other Allied nations, e.g. British, Canadian, Polish, Czech, etc. your lip may curl at the usual US-centric dismissal of your nation's contribution, or the off-hand accusation that if there was a non-US contribution it was somehow inferior morally.
3. The book is clearly written in great haste. Commercial pressures perhaps, jumping quickly on the bandwagon of earlier success, but distracting to the reader.
4. Modern 'anecdotal-style' history by numbers, with lots of box ticking going on. A good example of this is that only one escort group is mentioned, the Tuskegee airmen. Very popular, very politically correct, but surely there were other P51 squadrons who also did a good job!?
5. Poor choice of main subject crew, McGovern et al to bring out the full B-24 experience. How did the B-24 cope with being attacked by fighters?
SO, in summary, worth a quick read on a long-haul flight, but pretty basic stuff from an author who, presumably, can do much better ...
on 24 August 2003
This is the story of the fifteenth air force and concerns the crew of a B-24. Most people are aware of the eighth arm air force and the B-17s many of which were based in England during WW2. This book was brought for me as a present and I found it hard to put down, it focus on one crew and the experiences they had during the war. It starts with their training and goes on to there combat missions I feel the fiftenth were the fogotten air force along with the B-24. I was sorry to have finished reading it and would like to learn some more about the fifteen air force and their aircraft I feel this book does not deserve some of the poor reviews I have read about it.
on 11 October 2006
I have read Ambrose's D-Day, Pegasus Bridge, Band of Brothers and have the Band of Brothers DVD box set.
Wild Blue is similar in style to his other books insofar as it's written from the perspective of `how the US won the war'. This is the tale of principally one man plus comrades training in the US and flying on missions from Italy during the closing months of the war with barely a mention of any other Allied country's involvement. Compared to his other books the central characters are too isolated from the bigger picture and although Ambrose made some attempt at conveying the danger I couldn't help feeling these particular bomber crews had it easy compared to many others involved in the fighting (which isn't to say it wasn't hell when they were flying through flak). Too many missions were aborted due to clouds, the flight crews not on missions had plenty of time to relax and arriving near the end of the war means the book is almost half way through before the crew even get into combat. I did not feel as drawn into the lives of the characters as the other books. Ambrose writes with his usual perspectives eg that an airman must be a wonderful demi-god simply if he was a college athlete, everyone was a good time joe and how great various US politicians were etc that means nothing to the average non-American.
So from the above did I hate the book? No, I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I find myself disappointed compared to the other books. Was it rushed in research and completion, or was it for that particular crew at that time in that theatre there was little more to say? Ambrose is an All-American Patriot and writes only about the Americans at war, which can be distracting to anyone that thinks some other countries contributed something to the war effort, but a non-British perspective broadens the mind and raises questions to investigate and prove right or wrong, and it IS right every Allied country should feel proud of their involvement to varying degrees. America recovered very quickly from the war with the people having the best lifestyle in the world during the 1950's (compare to rationing and the slow recovery in the UK et al) and that tells us what the US did contribute to the war effort: huge resources and manpower which it clearly could afford (by 1941 Britain was broke). I wouldn't recommend this as a taster for the best of Ambrose's work but I wouldn't discount it. I now want to compare and contrast this history with British bomber command so it was still educational and thought-provoking. Ambrose at his best is an exceptional talent and I will be reading Citizen Soldiers sometime soon, but next on the list is Jon Latimer's Burma: the Forgotten War... after Wild Blue I want something with a bit more meat to it. If Band of Brothers was 10/10 this for me was 8/10.
on 14 July 2005
I've enjoyed some of Ambrose's previous works, and I'd agree with other reviewers that "Band of Brothers" is probably his most accessible work. This book failed to keep my interest, something I wouldn't have deemed possible, given the subject matter. The first half, covering the expansion and training of the AAF suffers greatly from too many characters and not enough focus - it's hard to remember who's who at times. Stylistically, there are some real clunkers of sentences and some jarring cliches - tighter editing would have been appreciated. Other British reviewers have noticed there are some sweeping statements about British bombing policy without any back reference as to why "Bomber" Harris pursued the path he did - from this you get the sense that the US airforce was precision-bombing personified.
The reasons for this, I think, are revealed in the telling forward - the author is a friend of McGovern, and hears that another author is planning a book about his wartime experiences. McGovern wants Ambrose to write it instead, and so he does. I get the impression that this was not the subject dearest to his heart, unlike, say D-Day.
As a book about a typical American bomber crew in the latter stages of WW2, it is a sincere and largely successful effort. It is a form of ‘history’ that focuses largely on anecdote and recollection. It is part morality tale (about self-sacrifice, patriotism and growing up in war time) and part description of what it meant to be a crew member on those less than glamorous but effective planes, the B24 Liberator.
The book works well when it sticks to topics such as what it was like to go through training, life on an airbase during operations and the experience of undergoing trial by flak. The author vividly describes the problems of flying the B24, especially those associated with taking off and landing particularly if the plane in question was subject to battle damage or mechanical failure.
Unfortunately ‘The Wild Blue’ is not without fault. I will only focus on two issues that particularly grated. Firstly, I would have liked a serious discussion as to the American /Allied bombing campaign in general in order to give context to the efforts of the Army Air Force in general and George Mc Govern’ s unit in particular. This could have been further enriched by maps showing the location of the bases mentioned and the routes to and locations of, target areas. Furthermore, a few diagrams of the aircraft and a few pictures of aircraft interiors would have aided immeasurably in helping the reader understand just how difficult was for crew members to be comfortable during flight time.
Secondly, this is 'history' as hagiography. George McGovern and his various crew are venerated to an extent that if they had read this text, would no doubt be embarrassed by the hyperbole. Without doubt, they were brave and capable men, patriotic and despite their youth, able to face down terrors that we can only imagine. However, that does not make them saints, nor does it mean they ‘won the war’. The author is guilty as charged when it comes to discussing the effectiveness of bombing and aerial warfare in general in the final chapter. He is far too glib and partisan. There has been plenty of analysis done on the effectiveness of the aerial bombing campaign in WW2 (read economist JK Galbraith /Max Hastings on the subject), so a few paragraphs (and little reference to data) on the subject from Ambrose on the subject is just not good enough. Finally, the author in his rather flimsy attempt at discussing the factors helped win the war manages to lose much the credibility and goodwill he has built up in the proceeding chapters: he is largely dismissive of the RAF and virtually ignores the vital contribution made by the Russians in the European war.
As a sort of social history this book is a fairly good read if it is accepted as infotainment, and if the reader chooses not to apply too much in the way of critical faculty. I get the feeling though that the material was stretched beyond its natural confines. As a result the book can only gain a partial recommendation, sadly.
on 18 July 2002
Ambrose builds on the popularity of the excellent 'Band of Brothers' this time following the crew of a U.S. Bomber through their wartime experiences. Again, this book focus is very much on the individual experience rather than the 'big picture' and the occasional banal bits only add to the 'as it really was' atmosphere.
However, this isn't as good as Band of Brothers. The charm of that came from the 'man next door' heroism, but the fact that the main crew followed in this book is Ambrose long time buddy and one time US Presedential candidate, George McGovern detract from the 'Man Next Door' feel. The 'Man Next Door' don't typically run for President!
That said it is a good read. British readers such as myself may well feel discomfort at the assertion that the US bombed by day to focus on precission bombing, while we bombed at night simply to hit civillians. However, if you want a real study into that then I suggest you look for reading material on 'Bomber' Harris. In fact the author contradicts himself in numerous places by asserting the US moral superiority, yet relating more than one account of clear US war crimes - e.g. an account of the Itallian fishermen mown down on the bridge.
This is war history from the human not the strategic level, and in those terms it is a good enough read. Though if you only have time for one of Ambrose books then go for 'Band of Brothers'.
on 29 April 2015
I don't think this book adds much to the WW2 historical catalogue. This is a shame because the relevant theatre of operation has been much overlooked by popular media. Unfortunatley Ambrose concentrates largely on characters and details which were also typical of other bomber theatres. Ambrose's approach to describing the military personnel is far too psychophantic to be trustworthy, particularly in respect of senator McGovern.
Not a book that I would recommend unless you have a personal attatchment to this squadron. Some libraries have this book on audio, should you prefer to listen to it in the background.