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Customer reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars

on 3 May 2017
Overy can always be relied upon to provide first-class, scholarly work that remains the go-to choice for any professional historian.

As usual, ideal for historians in general, World War Two or specialists in air power.

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on 2 February 2014
Richard Overy answers two key questions: what were the strategic effects of bombing, and was it moral?

Overy says answers to these questions have generated much heat but have relied on a shallow base of evidence. He gives the first full account of the bombing war in Europe 1939 to 1945 (not just in the UK and Germany). His research is impeccable and he is able, as a result of detailed evidence, to come up with a fresh picture.

Bombing in Europe, he says, was never a war-winning strategy and the other services knew it. British Bomber Command wanted to prove its worth as an independent force, but lacking the technology for accurate bombing fell to area-bombing of cities in the belief that given sufficient damage to structures and people Germany would surrender without the need for an army invasion. This aim failed.

Overy also explores how the concept of 'total war' gradually gave acceptance to the deliberate large-scale killing of civilians who were now seen as in the 'front line'.

As a young child I can recall sitting in an Anderson shelter at night hearing the drone of bombers overhead which (it turned out) were on their way to bomb Coventry. We saw the sky lit up with fires. Later, I can recall how the BBC radio news reported the launching of RAF '1000-bomber' raids, with a degree of satisfaction it seemed to me. My young friend's brother was killed - he was a rear gunner in a Lancaster.

This book has allowed me to see the bombing war in a balanced light. Bombing aside, if you have any interest in the Second World War you must read this.
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on 7 March 2017
Good book! The very nature of the Allied Bombing offensive is of concern especially to those whp consider that war should be bound by rules, rules which the RAF were ordered to ignore. This book details the moves by the RAF, (as ordered by Spencer-Churchill) towards a bombing offensive which in essence was in controvention of international law concerning the bombing of civilians. It seems few comanders were prepared to defy illegal orders and were guitly of criminality in consequence. The bombing offensive drove the Germans to desperation and seemed to be the only way that Churchill could claim that the war was being carried on in an agressive manner. This is a good well documented, but disturbing book. I would like to have more information on the decision to adopt the 4 engined bomber.by the RAF in the thirties and why. It is ironic that the Germans never developed a successful bomber, while the Lancaster was a 2 engined bomber "upgraded".
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on 19 November 2015
The Bombing War has received universal praise from serious reviewers. It provides substantial evidence to support strong arguments. The principal conclusion is that bombing failed.

The weight of this evaluation applies above all to Britain. Bomber Command under Arthur Harris placed more faith in strategic bombing than anyone else and dropped more bombs. American strategists were never quite as convinced or as enthusiastic. Germany used air power mainly in support of ground warfare, most obviously in the Blitzkrieg of 1939-40. After 1943 its aerial resources were committed to defence.

Overy surveys the whole of the European theatre. The war in the east is not discussed. There is a sentence or two only on Hiroshima/Nagasaki.

Original sources are used in the many languages in which the author is fluent. His statistical summaries will probably be the last word – no new material is likely to appear. They detail how many bombs fell, where they fell, who dropped them and what their effect was. Casualty figures were often inflated – the initial toll from Dresden of 200,000 has long been revised to 25,000. Nonetheless, 600,000 died throughout the continent. In Germany 350,000 were killed; in the bigger German cities half of all property was destroyed or severely damaged. Attention is also paid at great length to civil defence, to resisting and recovering from air attack.

Some of his findings might make difficult reading. As many Italians died as Britons, and rather more French people – most of them from Allied attacks. 10,000 died in Holland, most after D-day at the hands of their liberators.

Overy is keen not to judge by today's standards [whatever they might be]. However, even at the time, the illegality of much bombing was admitted, as was its questionable morality. He makes it plain that attacks on German cities aimed to hit industry by killing its workforce and destroying their homes. This was accepted by all sides, to a degree, as an inevitable part of total war, when the stakes were believed to be so high.

His analysis is dispassionate to a point – that point being not that war is terrible – though of course it is – but that all this destruction from the air was futile, a waste of resources. A very important issue raised is that in defending against air attack civil defence necessarily tied in millions of ordinary people. It had been expected before 1939 that society would fracture and governments collapse. Paradoxically, it seems the exact opposite happened – resisting the bomber pulled the community together.

Throughout the preferred term is Germany or German, rather than Nazi except when specifically referring to the NSDAP. Ian Kershaw chooses otherwise and has set out his reasons for this. Overy does imply an equivalence of sides that may not sit well with many readers. Occasionally a particular sentence or a phrase bothered me – “For almost 3 months northern France was a battlefield. Like the German attack on France in 1940, or the Soviet Union in 1941, it proved just as difficult for the advancing Allied armies and air forces to avoid heavy damage to the towns, cities and civilians in their path”.

Some have found this book controversial, revising accepted understanding of World War 2. It is important then to emphasise that his arguments are not new. In fact these were very much the conclusions drawn at the time – particularly the substantial United States Bombing Survey of 1946.

An epilogue takes up the post-war world. The current conflict in Syria came after the book was completed – but there too bombing, precise or imprecise, seems to have the same destructive power and limited effect or perhaps unlimited effect.

A challenging read , “the indispensable source of knowledge on this important subject” [Richard Evans].
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on 5 October 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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.
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on 3 November 2014
For someone like myself, born a year before WWII started, who had uncles in the War and who served in the RAF in the 1950s, any serious book on British activity in this period involves the challenging of the myths with which one was brought up – Dunkirk (was it really a victory in disguise or was it simply a comprehensive defeat?), Battle of Britain (was it important to anyone other than the British who needed a morale boost after Dunkirk?). And now a peculiarly ambiguous myth – the military importance of an activity which occasioned the highest casualty rate of all British service units during the War, Bomber Command. Of course, there has been far more written about British/American bombing of Germany and German bombing of Britain than of any other facet of the Bombing War and it is one of the real merits of Overy’s latest book that he looks at bombing in all European theatres (with a rather nice use of the bombing of Bulgaria to begin and end this volume) about which so little has been written – especially on the civilian population of Italy and France in Allied raids and the German bombing of Soviet cities.
I suppose one could criticise Overy for being excessively anglo-centric, but I wouldn’t. He is British and, during the period when the only aggressive activity against Germany itself (as opposed to the German army in Russia and N Africa) was based in Britain, this emphasis is entirely justified. Such a big and thorough book deserves several thousand words of review, but in the current context all that is necessary is to state my view that this is magnificent history, very thorough and scholarly but, if you find the topic interesting at all, written in a very readable style. To someone who has (or had) friends who were Lancaster pilots, it is saddening to come to the conclusion that the results of their efforts were both militarily and morally ambiguous, but this conclusion is inescapable after reading this fine volume. When one realises that the casualty rate in a single raid on Hamburg was two-thirds that of British civilians in the entire war, or if one takes the view (as I do) that the raid on Dresden was an abomination which encapsulated what this war had done to European civilisation, a black/white dichotomy is untenable and Overy’s book illustrates this on every page.
But, and it is a big but, one has to be very careful (as Overy is), to distinguish between judgements possible now and those possible at the time. For some – notably Churchill, whose behaviour at this juncture was a disgusting rejection of the thousands of men who had carried the fight to the enemy for four years - Dresden was a massacre too far, but the general view was that the bombing of German cities was militarily justifiable. Whatever, the moral judgement (and that is important in a context where the Allies have always proclaimed the moral correctness of the war against Germany and Japan), over the years the military judgement has moved a long way from what was consistently argued during 1941-5. Overy contributes mightily to this very complex issue.
I have shelves groaning under the weight of literature on WWII, but few of those volumes would contribute more to my understanding of this important aspect of that conflict than Overy’s current volume. A tour-de-force.
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on 3 May 2016
Having read previous books by Professor Overy I found this as expected, a well researched, well argued meticulous history. Even details of the various countries civil defence systems (or lack of them) which could have been a bit 'tedious' in its presentation, is put over in a clear and interesting manner. However, I was left with a view that many others have mentioned, that Overty seems to single out the 'inaccuracy" in the allied bombing of Germany, particularly the night bombing by the RAF as being somehow more morally 'evil' than many other elements of the 'total war', and that somehow those killed by merely inaccurate 'tactical' bombing in Warsaw, Rotterdam, Malta and elsewhere are somehow more acceptable, less dead than those who died in Hamburg, Berlin or Dresden. I have no difficulties in accepting Overy's view that area bombing, and bombing 'the workers' was by design, whether prompted by an appreciation of technological limitations or otherwise, part of the RAF strategy; I have no difficulties with his well argued conclusions about the effectiveness of the bombing campaign, intended, consequential, or whatever. I would certainly never question the bravery, often in the face of combat fatigue (or whatever term one wishes to use) or commitment of those who took part in the bombing campaign - the casualty rates, as seen by the participants at the time cannot but leave one with admiration for the bravery and commitment of these who took part ( a similar view would also be justified of Luftwaffe fighter pilots as they lost air superiority over Germany in 1944 - again clearly laid out and backed up in the book) But, somehow the author cannot resist in coming back, time and time again to the differences between the unfortunate by product civilian casualties of various air forces' poorly executed and inaccurate bombing, and the nature of the allied, particularly the RAF, area bombing. The point is made, and I think by now widely accepted, especially if we take into account what was seen as possible alternatives at the time. I am neither a partisan or detractor of What was done on behalf of the (undoubted) goodies, and obviously, even from the comments to many reviews on this book, passions run high in this area. However, having made the point clearly it is somehow found necessary to make it again, and again, so that every well researched, well presented and well argued chapter seems to have running through it the Fawlty Towers 'you started it' sketch!! Which, to my, no doubt personal, reading of this otherwise masterly piece of well researched, well drawn together, well presented, and accessible history, somehow subtracts from an impressive work.
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on 5 May 2016
Very well researched and documented account of the European bombing war. Despite its length at over 600 pages and its difficult subject matter I found this a very informative and enjoyable read. Thoroughly recommended. It exposes some myths and misinformation in a very well argued manner. It is not a book that is shy of controversy or seeking approval from its readership for its multitude of conclusions . It is what it is and that is a very well researched and referenced work of history.
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on 11 June 2016
I cannot believe that I have actually gotten to the end of this book.It concentrates on the bombing war in Europe.Given its length it has to be said that a considerable amount of the information is already well known.There seems to be an inexhaustible supply of statistics.Once I had started the book I wanted to finish,notwithstanding the great length of this book.
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VINE VOICEon 27 November 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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.
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