on 23 September 2009
I'll start by saying that I own a huge number of books about Bomber Command and the Lancaster. At first sight, this book has a rather unattractive appearance, and it's written by a journalist - frankly, I wasn't even going to bother, assuming that this would be yet another 'pot-boiler' or 're-hash'.
Well, I was wrong. The author has managed to do something different by telling the story of Bomber Command's war and cleverly threading in the story of the Lancaster and the vital part it played in that war. Although the author (and his researchers ) make use of quotes from many secondary sources (there is a very comprehensive bibliography ) there is extensive use of lesser-known material from the IWM interview archive and also - fascinatingly - from the Harris Papers. Many superb quotations and personal accounts are woven into the narrative Middlebrook-style (and that is a compliment...).
Only 4 stars ? As said earlier, not an attractive book and I found a number of irritating little typos. If you want lots of photos, it's not for you ; neither are there reams of technical data and statistics. But don't be put off - it's a hugely enjoyable and informative 'read'. Above all, it pays worthy tribute to a remarkable aircraft and the even more remarkable men who flew in it.
Highly recommended !
on 6 February 2011
Yes, I enjoyed the book very much but, perspective purchasers should be aware that whilst it IS a history of this famous aircraft, it more of a history of the way the Bomber Command war was (mis)handled by "Bomber" Harris.
Very little of the development, building and operations of the Lancaster have not appeared in print several times before, although some of the anecdotes by flight crew and production line workers add some new interest.
But the book is really an undisguised biography of Arthur Harris between 1939 and 1945. Admittedly Harris and the Lancaster are inextricably intertwined, without whom the plane may never have got past the twin engined Manchester stage.
Leo McKinstry's other similar offering of the Spitfire is rather better in respect of a history of the aircraft.
A good read though.
on 14 February 2010
I bought this book after reading and thoroughly enjoying the author's book on the Spitfire. Only 150 pages in so far, but the enjoyment level is the same. The material is presented in an interesting way - not too technical but with enough detail to suit a lay person. What would have been useful is some extra in-text line drawings. For example, when the Lancaster's instrument panel and controls are being described, a picture would have improved understanding and visualisation considerably.
on 22 February 2010
The title of Leo McKinstry's book, "Lancaster: The Second World War's Greatest Bomber", is quite deceptive. It is not really a narrow nuts & bolts history of another warplane. Instead McKinstry has provided a comprehensive survey and analysis of the role, effectiveness and morality of the British strategic bombing offensive against the Reich. The development and use of the Lancaster bomber is the leitmotif providing central continuity for the account, just as it was the central component of the offensive.
As well as considering past official reports and research as well as the earliest accounts of the bombing such as David Irvings 1960's work, McKinstry has made clear use of new research, especially into the effectiveness of the strategy in 1944-45. In doing so he provides a valuable and very readable campaign history making good use of the now rich seam of witness accounts and memoirs collected from the survivors of the bombing as well as RAF crews to illustrate aspects of the unfolding story (although at times, just as with any good student of history, he also provides information to qualify and place in context several of these insertions).
The key thread may be the Lancaster, but the figure who is most dominant in the account is not Chadwick, the Lancaster's designer, but Sir Arthur Harris, Commander in Chief of bomber command from 1942 onwards. He is behind the policy of area bombing, focusing on the means of production (ie the civilian population), rather than the precision bombing of key strategic targets such as oil stores and arms factories, believing that the destruction and collapse of morale created could bring victory on its own. With the deliberate bombing of civilian areas in raids with up to 1000 bombers officially called "dehousing", this shows that spin is nothing new. Whilst it is possible to argue that Harris's policy was most justifiable in 1942-3 when Britain had no other way of returning the fight to Germany and of taking pressure off the Red Army in the east, McKinstry shows clearly the flaws in Harris's stubborn refusal to amend this policy in 1944-45 when precision bombing of military targets alone, he believes, could have shortened the war by several months. The US daylight raids had taken this approach in 1944 (as had the RAF in assistance of the D Day landings) and it was later shown to be more effective than the RAF night attacks on cities such as Berlin and Dresden. What is surprising from the book is how little Harris's superiors did to force him to change policy when they were clearly unhappy with it. It is clear Harris bullied them, they themselves were too weak. (Churchill however, appears duplicitous, especially over Dresden, presented here as a means of the UK hoping to use the attack to seek favour/respect with Stalin at Yalta.).
The victims of this inability to manage the C in C were obviously the civilians who continued to die in the ever increasing raids (By 1945 the US is also into area bombing), but also the bomber crews themselves. The irony is that Harris saw the bomber offensive as a way to ensure victory without the horrors of another Western Front, yet by sending his men out night after night to bomb heavily defended targets he ensured their casualty rates were the highest of any of the western theatres of war (over 50,000 killed out of a total of 125,000 aircrew, a 44% death rate, a further 8,000 were wounded in action and nearly 10,000 taken prisoner).
Towards the end of the book I began to feel that too much was being devoted to the context, too little on the final (postwar) years of the Lancaster, yet it was soon clear the end of the war was the end of the Lancaster. It's sole purpose was to bomb Germany. It was not well suited to conversion to the Japanese theatre, yet the atomic bombs stopped the conversion being done. However those atomic bombs also meant that huge bomber fleets were now redundant. More depressingly perhaps, their threat for the future rested completely on Harris's belief in the significance of indiscriminate area bombing. Dehousing indeed.
on 5 January 2010
I've read quite a few military aviation books and this is one of the very best. It neatly tells the story of both the planes and the crews, and gives a very good account of the issues affecting the overall picture at Bomber Command. There are no dull descriptions of the background and upbringing of every character (school, university, first pet's name etc. etc.) and the author gets quickly to the action in every chapter.
The bravery and courage of the crews is amazing and the their modestly told tales hint at the terrifying ordeal they had to face on every raid, as well as criticism from both within the RAF and later from historians. The crews enjoyed little of the prestige and glamour of Fighter Command and the book conveys this message well. It also well balanced in its views; some personnel didn't rate the Lancaster, Bomber Command or 'Bomber' Harris.
A few descriptions are quite technical from an aviation point-of-view, although a knowledge of aviation terms is not required to appreciate the book.
Many aviation historians are not great authors, but McKinstry takes us along for the ride and seamlessly gives us a good insight into this piece of our history.
on 9 January 2010
Don't be put off by the book's comic style cover, this is a serious and comprehensive study of the Avro Lancaster heavy bomber of WWII. Not only is the development and use of the Lancaster described in great detail but the book also presents a detailed study of the operations of Bomber Command throughout the war. The rights and wrongs of the area bombing strategy are discussed in a balanced way as are the strengths and weaknesses of the head of bomber command, and just one of the strategy's main proponents, Sir Arthur Harris. Despite the breadth of the material, Leo McKinstry manages to present it in an easy to read style that is always fresh. I'd say it's a 'must read' for all those interested in WWII bomber aircraft and the strategy and tactics of the air war.
on 4 August 2010
Well written but a bit of a disappointment. I expected a book about the aircraft but I got a book about Bomber Command interspersed with information about the Lancaster.
on 22 October 2015
Forget the Sexy Spitfire, the honest hurricane, and even the revolution that was the Concorde, this book tells the story of the greatest British aircraft of all time, the crews that flew with her and the men and women who put her into the war torn skies of Europe night after terrible night.
That she flew at all was the result of triumph coming out of failure, a true testament to Roy Chadwick's vision, skill and tenacity.
The book also analyses the political backdrop against which she was born developed and fought. It examines the motivations, character and prejudices of the leading players of the time, including Churchill. Its analysis of Sir Arthur "Bomber" Harris, Bomber Command's legendary leader is considerate and respectful if a little coloured by the prism of hindsight held in the hands of the Victor. In the court of popular opinion both during g the war and immediately afterwards, Harris was seen as both a guardian angel and one of those other few who, when everyone else was talking about winning he was winning.
Of course Harris could not have carried the fight to Nazi Germany without the thousands of aircrew who flew, fought and died alongside their lands. And it is to these brave and glorious souls that this book provides a fitting memory and tribute.
An amazing read. Thank you.
on 22 October 2013
Like some other purchasers of this book, I've read many books about Bomber Command and the Lancaster and was sceptical that this book would offer anything new. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that this book does a good job of bringing a lot of disparate facts together in a coherent manner and is a good account of the bombing campaign. It's such a wide ranging account that no matter how well read you are on the subject, you'll probably encounter a few new facts along the way.
Now for the negatives... There are a few irritating, although sometimes unintentionally amusing, typos such as '...green canvas cover removed from the pilot head.' (pitot head) on page 138, the mention of the 'Boeing Liberator' (Consolidated Liberator) on page 435, and the reference to the Armstrong Siddeley 'Mamma' (Mamba) turboprop on page 507.
Of greater concern is that like so many other authors, Leo McKinstry doesn't appear to understand that 'saturation bombing' and 'area bombing' are not synonymous. Saturation bombing was Bomber Command's term for overwhelming the German anti-aircraft defences by the sheer weight of numbers and was therefore merely a tactic for getting the bombers to the target with minimum losses. This confusion leads to meaningless comments about the indiscriminacy of saturation bombing when what is intended is a criticism of area bombing.
I may be wrong but I get the impression that McKinstry is of the opinion that the doctrine of area bombing was ineffective and immoral. While we're all allowed to express our opinions on the subject, this book is probably not the best forum for this. In fairness to McKinstry, it's probably difficult to write about the subject from a modern perspective without imparting some judgement on it, no matter how subtle, and he does balance the criticism of the strategy with comments and observations from Goering, Galland, Speer, and recent research, indicating that it did have a substantial detrimental effect on the German economy and military resources.
If these criticisms seem a little harsh then it's only because they've marred what would otherwise be one of the best books written on the subject.
on 7 March 2011
Lars Lundstedt's review is right on the money. Having read McKinstry's "Spitfire" I got my daughter to get me this for Christmas. You get a lot of book for your money, and the writing isn't bad, but a book about the Lancaster, written in the same way as the Spitfire it ISN'T. It does bring to the fore the whole argument about area bombing (not specific to the Lancaster). It does deal with the Dams raid (but there are better texts). It does deal with the Lancaster's structure (but not in any detail) and so the list goes on. McKinstry would have done better to come clean and title it something like "The Development of British Bombing Policy in the Second World War". Not having read Mckinstry's biographies, I expect that his format is the same. With "Spitfire" he was able to turn those skills to write the biography of the Spitfire, with "Lancaster" he missed the target and went for area saturation. Notice how the "sales blurb" reviews are mainly from obscure publications? - I wonder why?