The Wargamer

26 May 2017

Book Review: Images of War Allied Bombing Raids

Rare Photographs from Wartime Archives

Published on 1 MAY 2014 7:35am by Paul Robinson
  1. world war ii, western front, background / research material, europe, english

This is one of a series of books from Pen & Sword that give access to rare photographs from a whole variety of subjects  and some of them have been reviewed on this site before (other books in the series include “Blitzkreig in the West”, “Russian Armour in the Second World War” and “Korea the Ground War|:Both Sides”). 

This offering, authored by Philip Kaplan, covers the US and British heavy bombing campaign versus Nazi occupied Europe and Nazi Germany during the Second World War (the books strapline is “Hitting back at the heart of Germany”).   It follows a similar layout to others in the series which is a large amount of captioned black and white photographs (I counted one hundred and fifty nine) linked through and supported by a number of chapters of text.

In this case the book’s ten chapters give a concise account of bomber operations from the UK from 1942 onwards with the arrival of the US Eighth Air Force.  Chapter one, Doing it in Broad Daylight, describes the arrival of the US bomber forces and the differences between their approach and that of the Royal Air Force (RAF), plus the Americans first experience of action in this stage of the war.  There is a nice quote from Brigadier General Ira Eaker of the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) at a dinner in his honour:- “We won’t do much talking until we’ve done more flying.  We hope that when we leave, you’ll be glad we came.  Thank you.”  A great example of less being more!

Chapter two, Allies, really gets into the differences between the RAF and the USAAF, basically night bombing for the “Brits” and daylight raids for the “Yanks”.  But also differences in ranks, organisation, unit nomenclature and tactics; in fact everything you’d expect from two nations separated by a common language!  Chapter three, Getting Up for a Mission, takes us through the process of mission preparation for both Air Forces and the different experiences of the various members making up a bombers crew – pilots, gunners, wireless operators, navigators etc

Chapter four, Key Targets, gets more into the operational differences between the two forces, with the USAAF concentrating on precision bombing against key industries whilst the RAF under the influence of ‘Bomber’ Harris directed its efforts (controversially now) against whole German cities.  Chapter five, Take off and Assembly, covers the delicate ballet involved in getting a bomber force to gather together after take-off and set off in formation to the target. Chapter six, Base Routine, is for me one of the most interesting chapters.  This proves once again that how comfortable your war was is always a matter of luck.  Some air and ground crews ended up at RAF air bases and had brick built accommodation with proper heating in the winter and occasionally good food.  The less lucky were in tents and then huts (both inadequately heated) and were stuck with cooks whose culinary skills were somewhat lacking.  This chapter also includes some words on the post mission briefing process and, poignantly, the process for dealing with the personal effects of those who didn’t come back.

Chapter seven, War in the Air, gets us into the aerial clashes with the Luftwaffe.  Those already acquainted with the bomber campaign will understand the costs involved.  The author reminds us of this; in one raid on Schweinfurt in 1943 the Eighth Air Force lost more planes than in the first six months of its operations-twenty one on the way and fourteen on the return (oddly only one bomber was shot down by flak over the target).  Attacking the same location some time later sixty bombers were lost (600 crew dead, wounded or missing).  Chapter eight, Home Sweet Home, returns to the facilities at the operating bases but concentrates on the interactions with the British civilian population and off duty recreation.

Chapter nine, An American Raid, is undoubtedly the best chapter covering a typical bombing mission in 1944 as related by Sergeant Roger Armstrong a radio/gunner of the 91st Bomb Group.  It starts with him being woken for the mission to Cologne and takes us all the way through to his (safe) return.  There are a number of fascinating snippets here including crews being advised not to take personal weapons (eg a Colt automatic) as it was suggested this would give the Germans an excuse to shoot them!.  Also there is a neat description of the escape equipment each crewman was issued with – silk map, plastic bottle, candy, water purification tablets, razor and translation sheets in Flemish, Dutch, German and French.

The final chapter, On the Nose, has virtually no text but has a number of largish images showing the nose art, for which American bombers were famous for (although a number of RAF examples are included).  I have to say having studied a lot of nose art in my youth (never thought I’d type that sentence) the black and white photographs cannot do justice to this particular aspect of the bomber experience.

I have to say that I found the text engaging and well written.  Overall a good summary of the experience of the bomber crews and the trials and tribulations they endured in the air and on the ground.  Clearly there are better books on the history, strategy and tactics of the Allied Bombing campaign but this is not really what the book’s mission is.  So that turns the review onto the photographs.  I have to say that I was a bit disappointed.  Whilst the photos may be rare I think the selection is trying to be too general, the photos, to my mind, are supporting the text.  In a book like this it should be the other way around.  However I would like to balance that negative point to say that there is nothing wrong with the photographs themselves; they show a range of aircraft types (more heavily weighted to the USAAF and almost all heavy bombers with the odd RAF Mosquito) and a good cross section of air crew and ground crew carrying out a variety of tasks on their bases and off duty.  I was satisfied by the range but I wasn’t inspired.

So overall a book that will appeal to those interested in some Second World War heavy bomber action and a useful source for anyone wishing to model or represent air crew and ground crew of the period.  But I am not sure how much general appeal it will have but well written non the less.

The “Images of War – Allied Bombing Raids” available now in paperback from Pen & Sword Books, normal price ££14.95/$24.95 (ISBN 9781783462896). 

http://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Allied-Bombing-Raids-Hitting-Back-at-the-Heart-of-Germany/p/6147/