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- Listening Length: 11 hours and 12 minutes
- Program Type: Audiobook
- Version: Unabridged
- Publisher: Tantor Audio
- Audible.co.uk Release Date: 2 Mar. 2010
- Language: English
- ASIN: B003AO80IM
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Whirlwind: The Air War Against Japan, 1942-1945 Audiobook – Unabridged
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`Whirlwind' claims to be a one-volume comprehensive history of the bombing campaign against Japan covering all its various constituent elements, from the Doolittle raid in April 1942 to the strikes against the home islands by carrier-borne aircraft in 1945. The title `Whirlwind' is a quote from the Old Testament Book of Hosea 8:7, usually translated into English as:
"For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind"
a biblical quote most famously used by Sir Arthur Harris on taking over RAF Bomber Command in February 1942 to announce the instigation of the sustained (and by revisionist historians, controversial) urban-area-bombing campaign over Nazi Germany. Harris' press interview caused the word `whirlwind' to henceforth become synonymous with `retributive' strategic bombing campaigns, a reference perhaps less well-known to American readers than to British students of the period.
Tillman does a workmanlike job of detailing the campaign against Japan, chapter by chapter. The narrative predictably focuses on the operational story of the B29, first on its hit-and-miss operations from China - one of the most interesting sections - and the later more successful operations from the Marianas. These huge and complex aircraft cost the US taxpayer $605,000 each in 1944, and the US Government perhaps understandably saw the loss of each airplane as more the equivalent of the loss of a ship at sea than the more affordable loss of any other airplane (a new B17 cost one third as much).
The China operation of the B29 is revealed as an enormously expensive undertaking for the USAAF involving the construction of a network of air bases in NE India and in a region of western China far enough away from Japanese Army operations to reduce the risk of hostile raids. Due to the shortage of mechanical excavators, these bases were constructed with the employment of vast armies of local manual labour in extremely remote and inaccessible locations, at the end of the World's longest and most difficult supply line. The aircraft even with full fuel loads could barely reach the coast of Kyushu on their perilous 14-hour missions, and bombing results for the resource investment were poor. In appalling weather over thousands of miles of hostile mountainous terrain, crews laboured to keep these temperamental aircraft flying just to get a few bombs on Japan - more for propaganda purposes than anything else. The operation was wound down at the end of 1944 and the 20th Bomb Group moved to The Marianas to combine effort with the 21st, already operating from Saipan.
The bios of all major players in these campaigns are well drawn but Tillman is - perhaps understandably - a big fan of Curtis LeMay. The Marianas operations are covered comprehensively and a chapter is devoted to LeMay's radical strategic decision to change from high-altitude precision bombing (which in reality was anything but precise) to low level nocturnal firebombing raids on urban areas, i.e. to a policy identical to that adopted by the RAF in their strategic air offensive against Germany from 1942 and for the same reasons, though the precedent is not dwelled on by Tillman.
The contribution of the substantial British Pacific Fleet to attacks on Japan in the final months of the conflict is however mentioned (though not in much detail), as are USAAF fighter attacks from Iwo Jima and, in the final weeks of the war, from air bases on Okinawa. An appendix details the largely forgotten campaign against the Kuril Islands from the Aleutians, again with USAAF crews flying in appalling weather over long distances with little chance of survival if hostile action or mechanical failure forced a sea-ditching. This interesting episode might have been fruitfully included in more detail in the body of the book, instead of being confined to a couple of pages as an appendix.
As a writer Tillman is OK, but not in the big league. The writing too often contains passages like:
"Though missing part of one aileron, the ever-aggressive Kanno bent his throttle toward the Americans. He fired at the lead F6F, missed and overshot. Lieutenant Bert Eckard jockeyed stick and rudder and pressed the trigger. He did not miss" (p127)
a style more appropriate to a graphic novel than to a serious work of academia. This is unfortunate, as Tillman has obviously done his homework and knows his subject, and with a more restrained and thoughtful writing style the book could have been better.
The final chapters, on the development and use of the atomic bombs and on the `legacy' of the campaign, do however contain a reasoned examination of the moral issues and effectively deconstruct the disingenuous revisionist perspectives frequently popularised in recent times. These thoughtful concluding chapters ground the work better and are the saving grace of `Whirlwind', making it worthwhile reading - though the entry of the Soviet Union into war with Japan on 9th August 1945, a promise made to the allies in April and honored by Stalin, is barely mentioned as a factor in the Japanese surrender when in fact it was in no small way significant. Often overlooked by revisionist historians (especially considering the use of the A-bombs) are the routine execution by beheading of downed allied flyers over Japan, or wounded men being turned over to civilian bobs to be murdered, and the unwelcome prospect of more than a million American dead if Honshu should need to be invaded. The prevailing norms in this war with Japan were not those common to the 21st century: Tillman reminds us just how much of a life-and-death struggle it was, how many millions had died at the hands of the Japanese and how any weapon which promised a quick end to the slaughter was at the time welcomed with universal approval and gratitude.
The book is, due to a campaign like this, large in its scope. The Doolittle Raiders attack in 1942 is considered in the prologue, Tillman then switches to 'before the Beginning', where he studies American thought on strategic bombing, about its many shortfalls and its positive strategic vision. The Air War Planning Division efforts are studied along with theory and morality of bombing with a 'view from Tokyo' tossed in for good measure. The campaign in China is examined displaying the nightmarish logistical effort required to sustain missions against the empire. The bombers moved south to the now-famous Marianas where attacks under Haywood Hansell were launched until "the ice man landeth", Curtis LeMay took over. Tillman switches lines of examination to jump over to the air assault from the Navy. Firestorm is chapter number five displaying the catastrophic March 9/10 raid on Tokyo which claimed upward of 80,000 lives as well as analysis of the 'blitz week'; discussing how Nagoya, Kobe, Osaka were all bombed with incendiaries. The people's experiences on the ground during those terrible raids are displayed, adding an emotive side to the assaults. 'Pacific Ponies' displays the USAF and navy air support, mainly the USAF escorts from Iwo Jima, a fascinating insight into lives of Mustang Jockeys - affectionate terms for P-51 pilots. The Harbor War looks at USN efforts of attacking Japan's coast, merchant shipping, airfields, and Imperial Japanese Navy. A Most Cruel Bomb examines the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Legacy encompasses all about the conduct of the war, moral issues, new types of warfare and the roles/successes of air power. Before ending, he looks at the bombing efforts from the Aleutian Islands which targeted the Kuril islands, Japan's northernmost islands, an oft-forgotten mission.
Tillman tackles the air assault on Japan from multiple angles and doesn't fall into the potential trap of analysing other air-to-air or naval campaigns like the Marianas Turkey Shoot or Midway, instead concentrating on the US assaults on the mainland which offers a new entrance into the war bibliography. There isn't a whole lot in the historiography that deals with such this concentrated joint air action
Tillman's sources are immaculate. There isn't a thing wrong with them and having studied this period, some are enviable. The table of contents are well laid out and the many sub-sections make for easy access to a certain event. The index is functional.
Tillman's writing is good. Bar the odd use of 'action' terms where he describes detailed dogfight scenes it's largely accessible, informative and has a great flow in it. This is vital for those who fear that all history is dull academic tomes; Tillman's Whirlwind is deeply readable.
Tillman does write with some slight bias. He's firmly of the opinion of the good vs. evil, the aggressor vs. the victim and defends all US actions. Tillman does offset this by discussing the major Japanese shortcomings in civil and air defenses were, and through his 'views from Tokyo' he looks at two sides of the war.
Overall Tillman's offering is a welcome piece in the pantheon of World War Two. It encompasses a great deal in a timely manner. The sources are scholarly and offer some great further reading if one is inclined so. The layout is deeply accessible allowing quick passage to key areas. The piece is wide open; it's a great read of important historical events. Whirlwind The Air War Against Japan 1942 - 1945 is one of the better books I've read on strategic bombing in the war and comes with the added bonus of naval and atomic bomb actions too. Highly recommended.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
The mindset of the military at this juncture of the war against Japan is well explained. There is no apology for tactics or the final use of the atomic bomb. If you have read all of the real history of this war you will understand why things were done as they were. The technical challenges, the bravery of the flight crews and the shear effort it took to defeat Japan are further clarified by this book. Well worth the read!
1. The stupendous achievement in engineering technology and industrial production that went into the design, production, and deployment of the plane. The B29 was a gigantic plane, two of which would placed wing-to-wing would cover an entire football field. It was highly advanced with fire control by analog computing and remote-control of multiple gun turrets by a single crewman. The USA was able to produce thousands of these planes and create in the remote areas of China and the Pacific Islands the almost inconceivable infrastructure required to keep them flying.
2. The astounding degree of cooperation among engineers, production workers, and the branches of the armed forces to get this weapon into the war. A remarkably short time passed between the conception of this plane, its production, and its deployment. This was one aspect of America's wartime spirit of intensively hard work to win the war.
3. The huge amount of resources the USA committed to the effort. The first B29's were flown from bases deep inside Japanese-occupied China (I did not know this). The logistics of setting up these remote bases and keeping them stocked with fuel was a war within a war. Then the B29s were rebased to the Pacific islands and the effort scaled up a 100 fold.
4. The amount of effort required to work the "gremlins" out of the highly complex plane and to make it effective. Nearly 20% of the planes aborted due to mechanical failures on the early missions. Most of the planes that did get airborne missed their targets due to bad weather and poor bombing control. Careers of many famous Army Air Corps men were ended while others were advanced in the course of dealing with these problems and turning the planes from a liability into a weapon of terrible effectiveness.
5. The human stories of the men who flew the planes, the generals who conceived of the air campaign, and of the Japanese pilots who tried to defend against them. The story is vividly told through their perspectives and made to come to life. The reader will experience these events so vividly as to feel that he took part in them.
Whirlwind is a well-written, easy-to-read book that provides a detail of information and color that will provide fresh insights even of those who have intensively studied the B29 campaign in other books.
I was quite stunned about his discussion of General LeMay, whose importance I never realized.
What I would have liked more on the Japanese side, maybe someone can do a book on that. The book had some interesting points such as what the Japanese knew of the development of the B-29. What did the Japanese think would happen is if the US got going on the bombing is not covered? They would have known about Hamburg, I wonder if it worried them.