This book is a collection of personal stories of just a few of the young men, some still not out of their teens, whose leaders sent them into battle over the Third Reich.
NOT ANOTHER HISTORY book about the strategy and tactics of the British and German air staffs during WW2, did I hear someone say? Not more commentary on the politics behind night bombing, and another weighing up of whether it was justified? No; far from it. This book is a collection of personal stories of just a few of the young men, some still not out of their teens, whose leaders sent them into battle over the Third Reich.
Some of those telling these tales flew in Blenheims and Wellingtons, Mosquitos and Halifaxes, under orders to bomb the industries, and later in the war, the cities of Germany. Others relate the other side of the night air war story. They took off into the dark skies from Dutch and Belgian, French and German airfields, at the controls of Messerschmitt Bf 110s, Junkers Ju 88s and Dornier Do 215s, tasked with the job of protecting their Fatherland from the bomber onslaught.
Some of the stories are intensely personal, many are horrifying, and all help the reader appreciate just a little of what it must have been like to take part in this long, drawn out battle in the night skies over the Third Reich. You learn the inner feelings of an air gunner in an aircraft coned by searchlights over Hamburg, the frustration of looking for a needle in a haystack felt by night fighter pilots in the days before radar. Conditions in British bombers were horrendous. Aircraft were unheated and the cold appalling. De icing equipment was primitive and wings iced up, guns froze, minds numbed and airmen’s limbs seized with the cold.
Bomber Command’s attrition rate was also appalling, and crew’s life expectancy minimal. Some of the spirit of the campaign shines through from these pages. The reader begins to appreciate at least a little of what it was that kept men facing the imminent likelihood of death, night after night, as they willed themselves on towards the end of their thirty operations ‘tour’ and a personal respite from the campaign. And their ability to lose close friends time and again and to shrug off their deaths; to continue with the war after mistaking a lame duck Mosquito near Hamburg for a German fighter and shooting it down; to parachute from a burning Lancaster and return to operations a couple of days later…
To complete the picture, there are tales from the German radar air defence ground controllers, and of course Luftwaffe night fighter pilots. The book is arranged in five chronological chapters, and as you progress through them it is fascinating to follow the increased sophistication of night air warfare equipment.