For much of the book I was captivated by the hero of our story who was so young and within weeks became so old.
The book chronicles the flying career of Theodore (call me Ted) Franklin Norman, drafted, before his time, to fly B-24 Liberators out of sleepy Southern England during the last two years of the war. His own target is to achieve his 25 missions so that he can return home to the States a war veteran, a hero perhaps.
The author tells it well. The boy (and yet a man) becomes something of a talisman to his crew members but suffers his own recurring nightmares as the mission tally mounts. It is a moving story, sometimes comic, often dramatic and, despite the usual everyday monotony of being a pilot awaiting mission orders, it is never boring.
The reader can empathize with him as he fights his own personal guilt as to why he survives when others, including many of his own crew, don't make it home. The detailing of the bombing runs, the finely tuned dialogue, the action so vividly portrayed, puts the reader almost in the cabin of these cumbersome aircraft as they struggle to deliver bombs or supplies, often not to the right target but always at the mercy of German fighters and indiscriminate anti-aircraft fire.
Ted Norman's own journey through life is a mixture of happiness, sadness and much sitting in bars or taking advantage of the local female company, when not flying. The reader may well recall their own escapades when still a teenager but probably never with the thoughts of death just around the corner.
A young man who says he was not born to fly but this reader suggests he just didn't realise it until a little later in life!
This is not a novel just for aviation buffs; it's a compelling, moving and dramatic account in its own right that just happens to feature flyers drafted into the Army Air Corps in WWII. If the author has a sequel up his sleeve, I'll be the in the queue to buy the book.
Nolan Lewis knew what it was like. Day after day climbing into the crude and truck like shape of a B-24 Liberator in the early English morning, fighting with the aircraft up to 20,000-25,000 ft and then fighting the Luftwaffe when you get there. Liberators (and their American football team sized crews) are vaporised by flak and fighters as your B-24 lumbers on to the target and drops its olive-drab high explosive payload on target (or maybe not). You then struggle home with a high probability of your once healthy crew members being injured or dead. On your way home you may spy a high flying B-17 Flying Fortress group above you, the same crews that rib you constantly in the pubs of Norwich and Cambridge for taking the 'Flying Boxcar' into combat.
Lewis knew what is was like and his novel 'Clouds are Always White On Top...' puts you right there in the cockpit next to him. We follow Ted Norman's experiences with the USAAF 8th Air Force (The Mighty Eighth), his relationships with his crews, members of his bomb group and the local English girls he encounters. He is very young by age but feels old beyond his years - his is a 'hung in suspension' life of a combat crewman and when, or if, he returns home how will he cope readjusting to civilian life? This is a quandary experienced by all serviceman in WW2 (and any other war for that matter) and Ted's journey is fascinating - the reader finds one being concerned for his mental and physical well being, confused at his attitude to the air war and itching to know if he will survive when he is loosing all those familiar around him.
The fact that Norman Lewis experienced the kinds of events that Ted endures (and whilst on leave revels in) adds a unique and heartfelt feel to the novel with an exquisite attention to detail. His descriptions of the B-24, the blustery East Anglian airfield he calls home, wartime London and the wartime United States provide a superb backdrop to the drama unfolding in front of the reader.
Overall this is a highly entertaining and eye-opening novel as well as an important historical document to preserve the memory of the B-24 Liberators and their valiant crews. Personally I feel the action and drama of this novel would make a superb mini-series or film. Nolan Lewis' novel sends the reader back, on an individual level, to the stressful and terror filled combat that the 8th Air Force found itself in flying from the gentle English countryside almost 70 years ago. Highly recommended.
This book is written by a man who experienced World War II first hand. The novel itself is about the experiences of a young B-24 bomber pilot, flying what was at the time one of the largest and most well armed bomber aircraft of the second world war, and at the age of barely 20 years old, little more than a boy.
The young pilots and their crews had to fly across the channel into Germany with very little, or sometimes no fighter protection and then withstand prolonged periods of anti aircraft fire from which there was no protection. Evasive action could not be taken, particularly as they were flying in tight formation. It was just pot luck whether you got through it or got shot down. They then had to drop their bombs at the target and face the flak all over again.
The pilots were told, do 25 missions and then you can go home for a while. Some of them never even made it back from their first mission. The same horrendous conditions also applied of course to the British crews as well as the Americans.
Because of his experiences in the War, the author brings a strong feeling of reality to the book and makes you almost feel part of the crew. Sitting in the base bar, waiting to see if it closed early, which meant there would be a mission next morning. Being stood down again because the weather, either at the target or around the home base precluded the planes taking off. The elation of being spared the mission only to find that the aircraft would leave as soon as the weather cleared. The heartache of losing a close friend, knowing that as the pilot you are ferrying these men to possible death.
It is a book that makes you think, and realise how lucky you were to be spared the almost barbaric conditions of fighting a war in which comradeship is the only thing that kept a lot of men from going insane.
The hero of the book Ted Norman has his own demons. Recurring nightmares of a particular mission on which he was the co-pilot and his captain was killed in the seat beside him, leaving Ted to get the aircraft and the surviving crew back home, although he had several superficial wounds himself.